Russia is now the biggest threat: NATO “can adapt its policies accordingly”

As the war in enters its fourth month, NATO leaders will meet in Madrid for their annual conference on June 28-30 to discuss key security issues facing the military alliance, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s growing influence. NATO has also announced its decision to accelerate previously neutral Sweden and membership applications at this “historic” summit.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has described as “historic” this year’s summit from 28 to 30 June Madrid, which brings together the leaders of NATO’s 30 member states and key partners as the Alliance prepares for the largest defense operation seen since the . This includes a significant increase in the number of troops it can deploy at a moment’s notice Russias invasion of Ukraineand formally offer rapid membership to former neutrals Finland and Swedenafter raising concerns from the Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan. Ankara had initially refused to support the bids of the two Nordic countries on the grounds that they allegedly housed Kurdish armed groups that had been involved in guerrilla warfare against Turkey since 1984, and their ban on selling certain weapons to Turkey. Ankara says it will try to extradite 33 “terror suspects” from Sweden and Finland in exchange for its support.

Other important topics for discussion include Chinas growing influence and NATO’s next Strategic concepta document that is updated approximately every ten years to reflect the most pressing security challenges facing the military alliance and describes how NATO plans to address them.

FRANCE 24 spoke with William Alberque, Head of Strategy, Technology and Arms Control at International Institute for Strategic Studies on the historical significance of the Madrid Summit.

FRANCE 24: NATO Secretary General has said that the alliance will meet in Madrid “in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since World War II”. What impact has the war in Ukraine had on NATO?

William Alberque: Both of the Russian invasions of Ukraine have had major consequences for NATO. In 2013, the alliance pushed towards Wales Summit, without clear results – perhaps a declaration of victory in Afghanistan (Do you remember that?) – but militarily the alliance hoped that it would remain viable if it carried out exercises. Instead, the alliance initiated a process that led to it becoming significantly stronger between 2014-2021. This included introducing forward-deployed tripwires (the enhanced Forward Presence, or eFP) [used in booby traps and defence tactics], improved Baltic Air Policing and permanent logistics teams in the territory of the Eastern Allies (NATO Force Integration Units). In addition, most Allies’ defense spending was in free fall from 1990-2013 and NATO forces in Europe began to become scarce. The Crimean annexation in 2014 put an end to these reductions.

The invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has resulted in another sharp change in the alliance, with Finland’s and Sweden’s membership (finally) advancing, around 16 of the nearly 32 allies fulfilled their promise of two percent within two years, and a massive increase in permanent stationing in the East. In addition, four additional EPP forces (, Slovakia, , Bulgaria) will be deployed, as well as existing EPF upgrades to each brigade, with an assigned home division, divisional headquarters and enablers, and a huge increase in USA presence in Poland. Germany Time consuming promises to be the biggest change in German defense policy since the Cold War and even it Netherlands will reach 2 percent of GDP. This is an incredible change.

Last month, Russia threatened “steps of retaliation” if NATO accepted Finland’s and Sweden’s applications for NATO membership. Now that NATO has agreed to speed up their applications at this historic summit in Madrid, what could this mean for the bloc and the ongoing war in Ukraine? Is there a risk that the war will be extended to Eastern Europe?

No, in fact, a Finnish and Swedish membership of NATO significantly reduces the chances of war in the East. Finland joins the alliance with the 2nd or 3rd largest artillery force in Europe (behind Russia and Ukraine), a new fleet of F-35 fighter jets and an excellent defense system that sees them deploy more than 200,000 soldiers in the event of war. Sweden is adding shipping and air capacity that has now, together with NATO, changed Baltic and Nordic security (and secured the entire Baltic Sea), which reduces the risks of all Russian adventure to that degree of improbability. They would lose, and lose badly, if they tried to get closer to Estonia, for example because of the long-distance Finnish HIMARS [a light multiple rocket launcher developed in the late 1990s for the US army.] The Russian Baltic Fleet was to be sunk by the combined NATO, Finnish, Swedish naval missiles, etc.

The Russian retaliation measures are likely to include an increase in the number of nuclear weapons stationed in Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg. Petersburg and Pskov regions, probably some Bastion missile systems on the Karelian Peninsula [neighbouring Finland], and some Soviet-style “ghost units” – that is, units with commanders who have some equipment, but no troops. I say this because, firstly, they do not have the troops, to be honest, to man significant new bases in the region, and will probably not have them for a while if the war continues, and secondly, the Russians reversed Soviet practice. , as they reduced the number of officers’ posts because they would never be likely to need these units. They could probably be restored – the theory behind having them is that in wartime they could gather tens of thousands of recruits to man the ghost units and go into battle.

Spanish Pedro Sanchez, host of this week’s NATO summit, has said that Russia – which was previously considered a strategic partner – will now be established as NATO’s ‘main threat’. Given that NATO was formed to, in its words, “provide collective security against the ”, what is the significance of this new terminology?

The last Strategic concept 2010 Russia called a partner. Allies – mainly but not only Germany – opposed calls over the years to call Russia an adversary. This has complicated NATO’s defense planning, because how can one make military plans to defend oneself against a partner? How can you use missile defense to defend allies against a partner’s cruise missiles? Now, by referring to it as a threat, it means that the Eastern Allies have won the argument and NATO can adapt its plans and policies accordingly to defend itself against what is in fact NATO’s main threat.

China will also be discussed at this NATO summit in Madrid, as it poses “challenges for our values, for our interests and for our security”. For the first time, the leaders of Japan and South Korea will attend this summit as observers. What significance does this have and for the future of this traditionally Western bloc?

They have been close before! Japanese and ROK [Republic of Korea] participated in previous lower-level summits – for example to participate in Afghanistan meeting in Warsaw [in 2016]. And [Japan’s prime minister] Shinzo Abe attended G7 in immediately after the NATO special summit there. Their ministers also attended a NATO ministerial meeting [meeting] for the first time in 2020. But it is the first time that the political leaders are participating. It really shows that NATO recognizes that its security depends on peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. Some Allies have direct interests in that region (eg France, USA, ), and all Allies recognize the security interests of NATO’s key partners in the region – Japan, South Korea and Australia. So this is a historic moment, as the Euro-Atlantic family meets with their Asian friends and partners to discuss common interests, especially with China and Russia.

Originally published on France24

Russia is now the biggest threat: NATO "can adapt its policies accordingly"


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