NATO this week agreed to the biggest upgrade to its military presence in Europe since the end of the Cold War, reshaping the continent’s security in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
At a summit in Madrid, NATO leaders agreed to put more than 300,000 troops on high alert while bolstering their European defenses with additional forces, increased air power and new equipment, including two additional squadrons American F-35 stealth fighters. After Turkey dropped its veto over membership applications from Sweden and Finland, the alliance is also expected to add two new members, bolstering exposed Baltic nations.
Signaling a shift to a more global perspective, NATO leaders also identified China’s growing military presence as a “first-time challenge and sought to deepen relations with democracies in the Asia-Pacific region as counterweight in Beijing.
“NATO is back,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters on Wednesday as he arrived for the talks, to which the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were invited.
The agreements mark the culmination of months of negotiations on how NATO members should adapt their defenses to a new reality created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and will bring to life an alliance that the French president Emmanuel Macron described as “brain dead and American president at the time”. Donald Trump has threatened to quit.
“Having a common enemy with a strategic nuclear arsenal tends to focus minds and encourage cooperation,” said Mary Elise Sarotte, professor of historical studies at SAIS Johns Hopkins University.
The revamp ushers in a new era in which Russia has demonstrated its willingness to unleash destruction on an Eastern European neighbor and China is beefing up its military to project force across the Pacific.
US President Joe Biden called the Madrid meeting a “historic high point” as he pledged to further support the alliance’s eastern flank with a permanent headquarters in Poland for the Fifth Army Corps, a brigade of additional rotation of thousands of troops in Romania and plans to bolster further deployments in the Baltic states, adding to the 100,000 US troops already in Europe.
The additional US F-35s will be stationed in the UK, and air defense systems in Germany and Italy will also be reinforced.
In its strategic perspective, NATO called Russia “the most significant and direct threat to the security of the alliance after its invasion of Ukraine”. But China also got its first mention in the document, which sets out the alliance’s priorities for the next 10 years, described as a “systemic challenge”.
The Allies had spent months negotiating language on China, given the different views of member states and in particular its close economic ties with Germany. NATO has expressed concern over Beijing’s recent announcement of an “unlimited partnership with Moscow and its willingness to spread what NATO officials consider Russian propaganda around the war in Ukraine.”
The summit’s outcome document will show that allies have worked intensively on engaging China’s policies for collective security, a senior US official told reporters on Wednesday.
“We know China is watching Ukraine closely,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told a conference on the sidelines of the summit. She said there was a “real risk that Beijing, like Moscow, could make a” catastrophic miscalculation like invading Taiwan.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has become the first Japanese leader to attend a NATO summit. He called for a significant improvement in his country’s ties with the alliance and invited NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to visit Tokyo soon.
The optimistic mood surrounding NATO’s enlargement to two new Nordic countries has also highlighted Ukraine’s languid membership bid, even as it fends off Russia’s invasion. Ukraine is told ‘you are not a member because we don’t want you’, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s deputy chief of staff, Ihor Zhovkva, who is responsible for foreign policy, said in an interview with Kyiv.
NATO allies still touted the message of unity at the summit after Turkey, Sweden and Finland struck a deal on Tuesday night to address Ankara’s security concerns. This lifted Turkey’s block on membership applications from the Nordic countries, which other allies supported.
After the deal, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod tweeted selfies with his counterparts, saying there was “great excitement in Madrid. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that “the relief was palpable when he met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde the following morning.
“NATO has been working to improve its relationship with Russia for decades,” Stoltenberg told a news conference. “It was Russia that gave up on this attempt to build more trust, more partnership and work more closely together. Our relationship with Russia is at its lowest since the end of the Cold War and there is no doubt that the blame lies with Russia.
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