Five challenges facing Nato at Madrid summit

Baltic states, Poland and eastern Europe plead for more alliance troops in shadow of Ukraine war

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Flying into Madrid for a historic Nato summit, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and 28 other leaders are prepared to announce significant new arms supplies to Ukraine and a host of far-reaching decisions to shape the future of the alliance.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato Secretary General, has promised a comprehensive package of hardware that will mean Ukraine goes through a “fundamental transition from Soviet-era equipment to Nato equipment”.

US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will attend the Nato summit in Madrid. Reuters

It is likely that the more hawkish countries will increase the numbers of long-range precision missiles and advanced artillery pieces that can match Russia’s immense formations.

Madrid may well involve Nato deciding to supply Ukraine with weapons that could push Russia out of the territory it has seized, roughly one fifth of the country. Advanced jet fighters, tanks, anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles could all be assigned.

Eastern flank

Soldiers training in Voru, Estonia. About 15,000 troops from 14 countries are taking part in one of the largest military exercises to take place in the Baltics. Getty Images

With President Vladimir Putin accused of crossing the red line of invading another country’s sovereign territory, far greater emphasis will be put on reinforcing those countries on the Russian frontier.

The Baltic states, Poland and other Eastern European countries have all been pleading for more Nato troops on the what is known as the eastern flank.

Currently, battle groups from Britain, the US, Germany and France are stationed as a tripwire force in case Russia invades. Mr Stoltenberg announced on Monday that the force available to Nato on high-readiness would be expanded to 400,000 personnel from about 40,000.

An MV-22 Osprey assault support aircraft prepares to land on the flight deck of the 'USS Kearsarge' during military exercises in the Baltic Sea. AFP

But there is a desire among some Nato members to boost these forces to brigade strength — about 10,000 troops each — with division headquarters, to deter Russia from any further invasions.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said this month: “You don’t have 60 days to get your tanks to Estonia, because by that stage there will be no Estonia, given what the Russians have done in Ukraine."

Setting up headquarters would mean Nato countries commit advanced air defence systems, such as the Patriot, as well as more fighters and drones.

Other battle groups will be stationed in Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, particularly to reinforce the south-eastern Black Sea flank.

Sweden and Finland

As a result of the Russian threat, Finland and Sweden last month formally applied to join the alliance after decades of studied neutrality.

It was hoped that the Madrid summit could be used as a big occasion to announce the addition of the Nordic countries, taking the alliance to 32 member states.

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg shake hands at a joint press conference in Brussels. EPA

But Turkey’s objection to them joining, based on what Ankara says is support for Kurdish separatists, has held up the application.

It is hoped that talks between the three countries, set for Tuesday, will result in progress. This could be significantly helped by the Americans becoming involved, cajoling Ankara with diplomacy and the potential for advanced military hardware, such as the F35 fighter.

Strategic concept

At the culmination of talks on Thursday, Nato will announce its new strategic concept. The document will provide an assessment of the security challenges and the military tasks the defence alliance will undertake to address them.

It will ensure that Nato “adapts to a changing world and keep its one billion people safe”, the organisation said. “How has Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the new security reality in Europe affected Nato’s approach to deterrence and defence?”

Since the Cold War ended, the concept has been updated once every decade to ensure the alliance is prepared for any potential threat.

The concept will address the military role in space, as well as cyber warfare and climate change.

It will provide the blueprint for Nato in a world where “authoritarian powers try to push back against the rules-based international order”, leaders said.

China

The rising might of the Chinese military is still the greatest concern for the US and others. Before the Ukraine invasion, Britain and other European countries had signalled a “Pacific tilt” by sending warships to Asia and into the South China Sea.

Nato’s leaders will know that at some point the Ukraine conflict will end and China will potentially be even stronger and more closely aligned to Russia with growing influence via its 5G technology.

This is why the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand are all in Madrid to garner long-term support in relation to China's Pacific role.

Climate change

At the Cop26 conference in November, global rises in temperature were considered a serious issue for Nato. Rising sea levels and extreme weather events were creating territorial problems and immense pressure on food security.

Mr Stoltenberg raised the issue in several speeches, stating that armies needed to reform their hardware to make it more environmentally friendly. Electric-powered tanks were not discounted. Neither were with solar-powered divisional headquarters, which would cut energy costs and an over-reliance on Russia for energy supplies.

But Mr Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has changed the dynamic and Western powers know they have to move into renewables rapidly, weaning themselves off Russian oil and gas. They will also realise that once the Ukraine war is over, climate change will present a security challenge that will last for decades.

Updated: June 28, 2022, 1:43 PM
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