As Sweden and Finland aim to free up their path to membership, NATO strengthens its eastern flank, and war-torn Ukraine is desperate for more military support, RFE / RL Europe Editor-in-Chief Rikard Jozwiak is looking at what is likely to be the summit’s main development.
A breakthrough for Sweden and Finland?
The status of the alliance’s newest aspirants is probably the most pressing issue ahead of the summit. Many expected Sweden and Finland to come to the Spanish capital as NATO-invited, with the accession protocols signed and the ratification process already underway in the parliaments of the current 30 NATO member countries.
But in mid-May, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled his opposition to the Nordic countries’ applications and expressed concern over both the informal Western arms embargo imposed on Ankara due to its military invasion of northern Syria and foreign support for various Kurdish causes, in particular in Sweden. A process that was supposed to be accelerated has now almost stopped for over a month now.
All eyes will now be on a meeting alongside the June 28 summit between Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto – a meeting chaired by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. This comes after what Stoltenberg described as a “good conversation” with the Turkish president over the weekend and negotiations between the three countries’ diplomats in Brussels.
SEE ALSO: Finland, Sweden will discuss NATO bid with Turkey’s Erdogan on June 28, says Finnish Presidency
The Swedish Prime Minister also arrived at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on 27 June, which increased speculation that a compromise was under way. However, NATO has been keen to dampen expectations, saying the summit “was never a deadline”.
The question now is whether Erdogan is ready to reach an agreement and how far Sweden is willing to go to compromise. NATO officials, who are familiar with the matter and asked to remain anonymous, told RFE / RL that there was some “calibrated optimism” that an agreement could be reached, suggesting that the Turkish leader may want to present himself as a “business brokers on the international stage”. ‘
In order for Sweden and Finland to receive Erdogan’s blessing, they may have to agree not to fully implement the arms embargo on Turkey (a practice many Western powers have already adopted) and to strengthen their anti-terrorism legislation, which Ankara is pushing for.
For Sweden, with a significant Kurdish migrant community, it may also mean less open support for Kurdish organizations in both Syria and Turkey – and perhaps the extradition of certain individuals who are wanted by Turkish authorities.
Sweden And Finland Inch Closer To NATO
If some kind of pact of goodwill between the trio is signed, which allows the accession process to start, do not be surprised by another Turkish veto later on if Erdogan feels that the Nordic commitments will not be fulfilled.
How to best support Ukraine
The summit will, of course, be dominated by the ongoing war in Ukraine, which is particularly urgent after G7 leaders called a Russian missile attack on a crowded shopping center in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk a “war crime”. It had been speculated that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy would attend the Madrid summit in person, but he will now speak to NATO leaders via video link.
SEE ALSO: Death toll rises in Russian missile attack as fighting rages in the east
There will almost certainly be more concrete support for Kyiv, including what NATO calls a “new comprehensive assistance package” consisting of equipment such as drones, body armor, secure communications tools and fuel. It is also possible that individual allies will also promise heavier military equipment.
The discussions behind closed doors are likely to focus on how much military equipment will be provided to Ukraine and for how long. NATO’s line at the moment is that everyone must be prepared for a long time and that there is a political and moral obligation to provide significant support to Ukraine. But as the war becomes more and more exhausting and Western voters’ sympathy for Ukraine diminishes, this stance may resume later this year.
Strengthens the eastern flank
What you will hear repeatedly in Madrid is that NATO is a “defense alliance” that is “ready to defend every inch of allied territory” – messages aimed at Moscow as a deterrent and at the people of NATO as a guarantee.
When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, NATO deployed combat-ready battle groups in the eastern part of the alliance for the first time ever. These battle groups – located in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – are now expected to be strengthened from battalions to brigades. And since last spring, battle groups have also been created in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
SEE ALSO: Lithuanian President promises to abide by Kaliningrad’s restrictions
But despite this troop increase, there are still plenty of nerves. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas recently said that her country would be “wiped out” under current NATO plans and liberated only afterwards, and called on the alliance to defend Allied territory with a larger number of troops from day one instead of having less so-called “travel” wires. ‘forces waiting in the wings.
NATO is currently “allocating” forces to defend specific allies. For example, the German armed forces are moving weapons and military equipment to Lithuania but are still keeping their troops in Germany, ready to deploy to the Baltic country at a moment’s notice.
As Vilnius is currently under threat from Moscow as it blocks EU – sanctioned Russian goods from reaching the Kaliningrad Russian eclave, a key issue is whether these “trip-wire” forces will be seen by member states – and, most importantly, by Russia – as sufficiently dissuasive.
A new strategic concept for NATO
About every decade, NATO agrees on a new strategic concept, which is intended to describe the Alliance’s main focus in the coming years. The latest concept was already agreed upon in Lisbon in 2010 in a world that looks radically different than today. The document then stated that there was peace in the Euro-Atlantic area and that Russia was a strategic partner. China was not even mentioned.
Expect it to change in Madrid.
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Stoltenberg has noted that the new text will clarify this [the NATO] Allies believe that Russia is the most significant and direct threat to our security. ‘ China will also most likely be mentioned for the first time ever in a NATO strategic concept. Although China will not be described as an “adversary”, it is expected that it will be recognized that Beijing poses challenges to NATO’s values, interests and security.
China’s growing influence will also be reflected in the fact that the leaders of NATO’s partners in Asia and the Pacific – Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea – will attend a NATO summit for the first time.
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE / RL, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036