On the eve of NATO’s annual summit, the head of the Western defence alliance called for member states to boost their military spending in an increasingly “unpredictable” and “dangerous” world.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a “fundamental shift” in NATO’s approach to defence, the NATO chief said. As preparations for the summit talks began on Tuesday, that shift was underscored when the military alliance announced that it will be joined by two new members: Finland and Sweden.
Russia’s war on its nearest neighbour has prompted Sweden and Finland to abandon their long-held nonaligned status and apply to join the military bloc.
Alongside welcoming new members, NATO allies will also agree at the summit to increase the strength of their rapid reaction force by nearly eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops.
The new forces will be based in their home countries but will be dedicated to rapidly deploy to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank with Russia, where the alliance plans to also build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the summit meetings on Wednesday and Thursday would chart a blueprint for the alliance “in a more dangerous and unpredictable world”.
“To be able to defend in a more dangerous world we have to invest more in our defence,” Stoltenberg said.
Top of the agenda for leaders is strengthening defences against Russia and supporting Ukraine in its fight against Moscow, both of which require more financial commitment from NATO members.
Just nine of NATO’s 30 members meet the organisation’s target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defence.
Spain, which is hosting the summit, spends only half of that.
With the Russia-Ukraine war serving as the backdrop, the three-day summit in Madrid will set the course of the alliance for the coming years, including NATO’s new Strategic Concept – a once-a-decade set of priorities and goals.
“A big point of the discussions will be just how far to go in assistance for Ukraine by NATO – with everyone here deeply aware of the real danger involved in allowing President Putin to paint this conflict as between Russia and NATO,” Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull said.
Speaking from Madrid, Hull said there is already a reinforcement of battle groups in the Baltics and four Eastern European countries since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war.
“They will become brigade-sized battle groups as a further deterrence to President Putin’s onward advance towards NATO countries,” he said.
China: friend or foe?
Member states will also attempt to mitigate their division over how to deal with China, a formidable Russian ally.
The alliance’s new Strategic Concept is expected to set out NATO’s approach on issues from cybersecurity to climate change – and the growing economic and military reach of China, as well as the rising importance and power of the Indo-Pacific region and how that relates to NATO.
For the first time, the leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand are attending the NATO summit as guests.
Some European members are wary of the tough US line on Beijing and do not want China cast as an opponent of NATO.
Stoltenberg said last week that “we don’t regard China as an adversary,” but he added that Beijing “poses some challenges to our values, to our interests, to our security”.
Turkey backs Sweden, Finland membership bids
After initially blocking the membership bids of Finland and Sweden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a joint memorandum with the Finnish and Swedish leaders on Tuesday “to extend their full support against threats to each other’s security”.
The trilateral agreement “confirms that Turkey will at the Madrid Summit this week support the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in a statement.
Erdogan had previously insisted that he would only allow the Nordic pair to enter NATO if they changed their stance on Kurdish rebel groups that Turkey considers terrorists. In a statement on Tuesday, the Turkish president’s office said Turkey had “got what it wanted” from Sweden and Finland.
According to the Turkish Communications Directorate, the Nordics have agreed to take concrete steps on the extradition of wanted individuals, as well as to prevent “terrorist propaganda” against Turkey. Furthermore, Finland and Sweden have agreed not to impose embargoes on the Turkish defence industry and to increase cooperation.
‘Wake up, guys’
A Russian missile attack Monday on a shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk was a grim reminder of the war’s horrors, and some saw the timing of the attack – as G7 leaders met in Germany and just ahead of NATO – as a direct message from Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is due to address the NATO leaders by video on Wednesday, called the raid on the mall a “terrorist” act.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko travelled to Madrid to urge the alliance to provide his country with “whatever it takes” to stop Russia.
“Wake up, guys. This is happening now. You are going to be next, this is going to be knocking on your door just in the blink of an eye,” Klitschko told reporters at the NATO summit venue.
Russia’s state space agency, Roscosmos, marked the summit’s opening by releasing satellite images and coordinates of the Madrid conference hall where it is being held, along with coordinates of the White House, the Pentagon and the government headquarters in London, Paris and Berlin.
The Russian space agency said NATO was set to declare Russia an enemy at the summit, adding that it was publishing precise coordinates of the meeting place “just in case”.