The summit of the Atlantic Alliance in Madrid, NATO’s most important in three decades and which took place this week, opens a new era for Western allies.
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More than thirty countries strengthened their ties with a military reinforcement in Eastern Europe and designated Russia as the “most significant and direct threat to security and peace” in the region.
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The announcements were embodied in the new Strategic Concept adopted by the Alliance, which shows a significant shift from the previous roadmap adopted 12 years ago in Lisbon, when Moscow was seen as a key player. The change, as the two-day meeting demonstrated, made it clear that this will have significant effects on the ground, straining the balance in the region, according to analysts.
The breadth of the movement (of US troops), added to the efforts that the Europeans are making on their own, says that we are entering a new era. Europe is once again a zone of instability
All this happens because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which brought NATO back to life. The northwestern military alliance lived “in a cerebral coma” (in the words of French President Emmanuel Macron), looking for a target, until President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin gave the order for his Armed Forces to attack their Ukrainian neighbors. The new Russia with expansionist tendencies and the fear that countries such as the Baltics and those of Central Europe have of it are today causing a rebirth of the Atlantic Alliance.
Northwestern governments (and for the first time others on the other side of the world such as Japan, New Zealand, South Korea or Australia) close the period in which they believed that Russia could be a cooperative player to enter another that in certain aspects resembles the Cold War, that of the clash of great ideological blocs with China as a giant hidden behind Russia.
NATO, which will soon incorporate Sweden and Finland and thus expand throughout northern Europe, gaining strategic depth and two countries with powerful and modern armed forces –as well as an arms industry–, leaves this summit with another idea of its role and especially with a much larger deployment. From 40,000 soldiers on alert in Europe it will go to 300,000. USAwhich had gradually withdrawn from the Old Continent after the Cold War, returns to Europe and will increase its presence.
The entry of Sweden and Finland after lifting the Turkish veto leads the Atlantic Alliance to now have 32 member states. The Swedes and Finns, who applied in April scared by the Russian attitude, are more an asset than a burden. In proportion to their population they provide modern and powerful military means.
Its territory, practically empty except for the big cities to the south, offers NATO the strategic depth it did not have to defend the three small Baltic republics. The change for Swedes and Finns is Copernican after decades (more than a century in the case of Sweden) of military neutrality.
The presence at the Madrid summit of the heads of state or government of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand is an obvious signal to China. The United States, Canada and Europe intend to strengthen defense cooperation with these countries, even if they are not part of NATO.
In addition, the Alliance decided at this summit that the threat from Russia is serious enough to turn its deployment on the ground. The United States returns en masse to Europe, increasing its resources in ships, combat planes, tanks, helicopters and other heavy weapons.
The 100,000 soldiers that it already has deployed in Europe will become more than 150,000. The deployment of the United States includes, for the first time, permanently positioning thousands of soldiers in Poland, in addition to increasing the number of destroyers at the Spanish base in Rota (which guards access to the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar), reinforcing its air combat in the United Kingdom and place anti-aircraft missiles in Germany and Italy.
The total of NATO forces that must be available for rapid reaction, in less than 48 hours, will be 300,000 soldiers. Germany already announced this Thursday that it will create a new division for the Baltic that will have 20 ships, more than 60 combat aircraft and 15,000 soldiers.
Putin’s war could also end “peace dividends”, as the savings in military spending that brought about the end of the Cold War and the subsequent decades of peaceful coexistence that this war buried were called in Europe. NATO governments are announcing these days their plans to increase their defense spending to a minimum of 2% of GDP. There will be more weapons purchase programs, professional armies will grow and in some countries (Sweden) there will be a return to compulsory military service.
Max Bergmann, director of the CSIS for Europe, assures that the American announcement to plant a permanent base in Poland is a major change
One of the most listened to geopolitical analysts in France, Pierre Haski, said this Thursday that if the new military deployments, especially American ones, are in principle a way of signaling to Russia not to try to expand the Ukrainian conflict, in reality they go further : “The breadth of the movement, added to the efforts that Europeans are making on their own, says that we are entering a new era.” This analyst says that this movement will last over time and that “Europe is once again an area of instability.”
Haski sees a danger in the short and medium term for the plans of NATO and the northwestern governments, that citizens get tired of accepting economic sacrifices in the form of inflation and an energy crisis to help Ukraine and sanction Russia while increasing the defense spending.
Max Bergmann, CSIS director for Europe, says the US announcement to plant a permanent base in Poland – the first in a former Warsaw Pact country – is a major change. He also highlights the presence of the Pacific allies and their argument that the security of the two regions is intertwined. This specialist, who in the past worked for the State Department, considers that the change made by the Alliance four months after the Russian attack on Ukraine is a historic moment and that 2022 will go down in the history books as a turning point.
Moscow reacted with harsh words. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that NATO seeks “its hegemony” by taking advantage of the war in Ukraine: “The call for Ukraine to continue fighting and to reject negotiations only confirms our hypothesis that Ukraine and the well-being of the Ukrainian people are not It is not the goal of the West and NATO, but rather a means of defending their interests.”
What Putin officially does not seem to care about is the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO. If for months Putin said that he would retaliate, now it seems that he doesn’t mind: “We don’t have problems with Sweden and Finland like we have with Ukraine.” But Putin warns: “In the event that there are military and infrastructure deployments in those countries, we will be obliged to respond symmetrically.”
IDAFE MARTIN PEREZ
FOR THE TIME
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