The NATO (Western Military Alliance) held a historic summit this week, which formalized the new reality of world politics brought about by the war in Ukraine. In it, Russia is no longer seen by the West as a potential partner, but as the greatest threat to the alliance.
China was classified, in turn, as a “challenge” to the security, interests and values of the international order. The Madrid Summit Declaration also highlighted that NATO remains concerned about the threat of global terrorism and climate change.
The summit was an attempt by the West to demonstrate strength and cohesion. But it remains unclear whether this union will hold amid the energy and food crises, which have been drastically exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.
The point of view that seems to predominate among the countries of the alliance is that of leaders such as the United States and Great Britain. They advocate a reinforcement of troops on NATO’s eastern front, increased military spending in Europe and support for Ukraine until the complete expulsion of troops from its territory.
The idea is to make Russia no longer able to militarily invade another neighboring country, according to British Chancellor Liss Truss to the BBC. London said during the meeting that it would send 1,000 fighters to defend Estonia.
The United States has said it will send two squadrons of F35 fighter jets (which are some of the most advanced in the West) to Britain, two destroyers to Spain and thousands of troops to Romania.
The idea is that this mobilization will continue until, next year, the troops on NATO’s eastern front (near Russia) go from 40,000 to 300,000. To give you an idea of this scale, Moscow used around 200,000 troops to invade Ukraine on February 24.
NATO troops in Europe will also begin to organize themselves no longer into battle groups, but into brigades and army divisions – larger units better suited to fighting high-intensity wars. In parallel, Finland and Sweden, historically neutral countries, are expected to join the alliance.
Strategically, the goal is for Europe to spend more on weapons so that its defense is less dependent on the US – freeing Washington to focus more on the Indo-Pacific region (because of Chinese expansion).
The recent Madrid Summit Declaration says that “the Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to the security of allies and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”.
Russia, for its part, has claimed that it was NATO that adopted an aggressive stance, with its eastward expansion movement since the end of the Cold War. Russia’s geostrategic motive for invading Ukraine was to create a neutral area between the Western military alliance and Russian territory.
At the Madrid summit, no dissenting voices emerged from the alliance’s stance of arming Ukraine and strengthening the military capabilities of Europeans. Its biggest supporters, in addition to the US and Britain, are the countries closest to Russia, which already suffered from invasions and domination during the Soviet period – such as Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic countries and Ukraine itself.
When I visited a civilian recruitment center in Ukraine in March of this year, I was impressed by the volunteer placements. They said they would rather die on the battlefield than see their families murdered or starved at the hands of the Russians. These atrocities committed by the Russians are in the history and culture of these countries.
But in nations further away from the Russian border, criticism of the confrontational approach, which was made official at the Madrid summit, is beginning to emerge. His argument is that Ukraine should cede part of its territory to Russia in exchange for a ceasefire. In theory, this would prevent further slaughter for both Ukrainians and Russians. It is estimated that Ukraine loses around 200 soldiers a day in the Battle of Donbas.
However, criticism of NATO’s stance is not motivated solely by humanitarian reasons. Economic sanctions on Russia have led to a rise in the price of oil products and the blockade of the Black Sea – through which Ukraine’s grain production was transported, an impasse that has raised the global cost of food.
In practice, most countries have been experiencing dissatisfaction among the population, caused by the successive rises in prices at gas stations and in stores and supermarkets.
According to analysts, this could lead to the strengthening of populist and isolationist-leaning politicians or parties in the West. In theory, their rise could, in the future, dampen NATO’s appetite for confronting Russia. The biggest example is the “America First” policy of the Donald Trump administration. The former American president even considered withdrawing the US from NATO in 2018.
But even if an isolationist government is elected in 2024 in the US, the country is unlikely to withdraw from NATO. In 2018, Trump raised this possibility against a backdrop of discontent with his European allies who were not complying with the alliance’s commitment to annually invest 2% of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in defense.
The West’s willingness to support Ukraine against Russia for the time being does not seem shaken, but the situation could change. With the arrival of winter in the northern hemisphere, there may be a shortage of gas to heat homes. In addition, companies in the West are already beginning to feel the effect of competition from Asian companies – which have been buying oil and derivatives from Russia at lower prices than the rest of the market.
It is known, for example, that Russia is already among the biggest suppliers of oil to China and India. This type of price negotiation is confidential, but it has already been confirmed that Indian refiners are buying Russian oil at least $30 a barrel off. They refine oil and resell its derivatives at higher prices to the Western market, bypassing the Moscow embargo.
Industrialized European countries such as Germany and Italy are already feeling the effects of competition and are also looking for alternatives to Russian gas. However, despite their displeasure, they continue to support the resolution of their NATO colleagues.
The main response of the US government of Joe Biden must be an unprecedented attempt to freeze Russian oil prices globally. But analysts are skeptical about the project’s feasibility, as the US does not control most of the world’s oil production.
“We face systematic competition from those, including the People’s Republic of China, who challenge our interests, security and values, seeking to undermine the law-based world order,” reads the text of the NATO Heads of State declaration.
China is the only nation named by name when the alliance describes in the document that it is being confronted by cyber, space, hybrid and asymmetric threats. The joint statement also cites the “malicious use of disruptive technologies”.
NATO does not say exactly what the specific threats related to Beijing are. But China is known to have used cyber espionage to steal technology from the West and is now waging a trade war with the United States.
As a backdrop, Beijing has also been developing disruptive military technology, such as so-called hypersonic missiles – which cannot be shot down by air defenses – and weapons capable of destroying satellites in space.
NATO did not link the nuclear issue and China in the document, but Western intelligence identified in 2021 that the Chinese are building at least 230 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos in the Gobi Desert and Xinjiang province. .
It is not news that China has nuclear weapons. But US intelligence said the country’s goal is to quadruple its arsenal, reaching the mark of 1,000 nuclear weapons.
If that happens, the bipolar balance of global nuclear power, wielded by the United States and Russia (which each have 1,550 active weapons), will be shaken.
The growth of the Chinese arsenal has the potential to create a tripolar system and thus nullify the effects of the current parity of arms and the concept of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), instruments that for about 70 years have been preventing a nuclear war.
Thus, the Chinese escalation could trigger, for a period of a few years, a new nuclear arms race – until the system rebalances itself in a new bipolar system.
Furthermore, before the start of the war in Ukraine, China and Russia announced an unrestricted strategic partnership.
Analysts are divided on the consistency and possible duration of this approximation. The only certainty is that the West will do what it can to try to push the two powers away, as happened in the 1960s during the Cold War.
Climate change is defined by NATO as the “challenge of our time”. The alliance says the matter will have a profound impact on the security of allied countries.
The matter is also not specified in the statement, but it seems to point to the West’s effort to reduce the use of fossil fuels – not only to preserve the environment, but to lessen Russia’s influence on the global energy landscape.
But part of the declaration worried some Brazilian analysts: “We are going to integrate climate change considerations into all of NATO’s main functions”, states the Madrid Declaration. The fear of these analysts is that NATO will use this argument to intervene in the Amazon region in the future.
The possibility cannot be ruled out, although it is unlikely. The Western military alliance’s resources and attention are focused on Europe, the Indo-Pacific region and the Middle East.
The climate argument can be used to try to create trade barriers for Brazilian agricultural products, but this is also unlikely in a context of a possible global food crisis.
However, an alleged invasion of the Amazon can be used in cybernetic disinformation campaigns to generate polarization in Latin America and an eventual feeling of repulsion towards NATO’s global actions.
This type of campaign is already underway in Europe, but involving the issue of refugees. According to a recent Microsoft report, Russia has launched disinformation campaigns to try to exploit possible divisions between Western governments or encourage social unrest.
Russian hackers would have created, for example, fake groups and profiles on the messaging app Telegram, to spread real and fake messages. Its aim is to incentivize hatred towards Ukrainian refugees in European nations – underscoring increased spending by local governments and rising unemployment. An action of this nature would have already been discovered in Poland.
How is Brazil?
NATO points as its adversaries Russia, China, terrorism and climate change, among other challenges. Behind the scenes, economic warfare, the vulnerability of liberal democracies to disinformation campaigns, and political polarization threaten the alliance’s current goals.
At the beginning of the Ukraine war, analysts raised the possibility that Moscow could carry out a restricted attack on one of the NATO countries, to test the alliance’s fifth article – which says that an attack on one member is an attack on the entire group.
An eventual lack of reaction from the West, with the aim of not triggering the Third World War, could make NATO collapse. But Vladimir Putin’s government has not risked such a daring strategy either and now appears to be betting on a new oil crisis to weaken the alliance.
In this context, Brazil has been courted by the BRICS economic bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and depends on the import of fertilizers produced in Russia. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry sees the BRICS as a good economic opportunity, but is uncomfortable with the current Chinese attempt to expand the group, to transform it into a bloc of political opposition to the West.
On the other hand, during the Trump administration, Brazil was accepted as a “non-NATO ally”. This has opened up opportunities to buy Western weapons with restrictions, but which are important for Brazil. Trump worked with the government of Jair Bolsonaro for an even closer relationship with NATO, but the idea did not advance due to the American’s electoral defeat.
The Brazilian government now wants to remain in a balanced position, trying not to lean towards either side. But the Madrid Summit Declaration shows that this will be increasingly difficult in a world that tends to escalate confrontation.