What to Expect From Madrid?
When NATO heads of state and government meet in Madrid at the end of June, they are expected to adopt a new Strategic Concept, the high-level document that sets out the threats facing the Euro-Atlantic area and NATO’s role in dealing with them. Camille Grande, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Defence Investment shares his expectations for what is likely to be NATO’s most significant summit in decades.
Martin Hurt: When NATO last adopted a Strategic Concept, in 2010, Europe was at peace and Russia was seen as a potential strategic partner. China was not mentioned at all. Today, Russia has determinedly turned its back on cooperation with the West and has launched a full-scale war of aggression on NATO’s border, while China has emerged as a major global player. Clearly, there is a lot to do at Madrid. Can we begin this conversation with the deliverables you expect the summit to produce?
Camille Grand: There is every reason to believe that we will have a momentous summit in Madrid, as it comes at a very specific time in Europe’s post-Cold War history – with the return of major war on NATO’s borders and the brutal use of levels of force not seen since World War II. In this context, this NATO summit is critical in terms of deliverables – let me highlight three.
The first one is, of course, NATO’s Strategic Concept – a document that is endorsed only once in a decade. The last Concept dates back to 2010. Madrid will present an opportunity for the Allies to deliver the most important document after the Washington Treaty. It will also be an opportunity for the heads of state and government to share their vision for the years to come. This document, currently being negotiated by the Allies, aims both to capture the state of affairs in the world and in NATO itself and to formulate our core objectives.
The second point concerns the further adaptation of the Alliance. Since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, we have embarked on a significant effort to adjust our military posture and defence spending, and we have, indeed, achieved much progress. Now is the time to take it to the next level. We started our discussions as the crisis in Ukraine was unfolding, and it is going to be a major element on the agenda in the runup to the Summit.
Clearly, NATO will need to focus on collective defence and reinforcing our capabilities to shield the Allies from any potential threats on the eastern flank, while retaining the 360° approach because challenges on both the southern and south-eastern flanks (including from Russia) remain. This is a very significant aspect that will drive the Alliance from the military standpoint in the coming year.
Last but not least, there is the implementation of the package, known as ‘NATO 2030’. This envisions making the Alliance fit for purpose, as well as guaranteeing that it can address new threats and new challenges. It revolves around climate change, innovation, and technology with the goal of preserving our military edge.
Since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, we have embarked on a significant effort to adjust our military posture and defence spending, and we have, indeed, achieved much progress. Now is the time to take it to the next level.
Let me clarify the third point – implementation of the NATO 2030 package. Is this going to be a progress report, or is it a strategic paper to be adopted?
It is a series of concrete decisions that we expect, regarding common funding, tackling climate change, innovation, our priorities across the board and mechanisms for consultation. All of these were already adopted in principle at the 2021 Brussels Summit. Now is the time to enact these decisions.
It must link well with the Concept: we will have a vision in place and some concrete decisions to implement. But moving forward, how did the events that unfolded on 24 February impact what had already been in the pipeline in January and February from Brussels’ perspective?
What has happened in NATO since 24 February is, indeed, impressive. Not only did we stand together politically and preserve our cohesion, but we also demonstrated a very strong unity in our response to the crisis in Ukraine – both in terms of supporting Ukraine and in terms of what is necessary to protect all Allies from a possible Russian escalation on NATO territory.
All national leaders, as well as the Alliance itself, have repeatedly sent a crystal-clear message. And this has not been in words only. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, a large portion of our troops in the Euro-Atlantic area (more than 40 000 people) have been put under SACEUR’s direct command. Such swift and decisive action is unprecedented. NATO sent a very strong signal, indicating that an escalation of the war in Ukraine into our territory would not only be a terrible idea, but would also be met with our collective resolve and exceptional military capabilities.
Of course, the lingering issue is what lessons we should draw from this conflict. We have seen not only Russia’s weaknesses but also President Putin’s willingness to use massive force and his complete lack of restraint in military conflicts. This knowledge obliges us to be very solid in our collective defence commitments and our defence posture. NATO might be gradually shifting from forward presence to forward defence on the eastern flank. This probably does not mean a return to a Cold War posture – the numbers on both sides are not there yet. However, it demands that we think through the requirements of collective defence and the risks of a major conflict – specifically, how we can prevent and deter a conflict by taking the right decisions. It is about pushing further and harder towards military adaptation and strengthening our defence and deterrence posture across the board. NATO must be capable of addressing any potential threat and sending a very clear message: there is no loophole or gap in our defence and deterrence posture, and all the Allies will be protected.
If we speculate about the potential accession of at least Finland and possibly Sweden to the Alliance, how would this development affect security in the Baltic Sea region specifically and in Europe more generally?
It is, first of all, their decision. This is a core difference between NATO and Russia: it is for countries to decide whether they apply and then to go through their national democratic processes. We ought to respect the outcome.
That being said, Finland and Sweden are obviously two very close partners – they are what we call ‘enhanced opportunities partners’ and have been for many years. We have been working with them on interoperability, as well as on a number of other themes. They have recently participated in several NATO-led crisis management missions. These factors make their military interconnectivity significantly easier than with other Allies who had a much longer road to walk in order to reach full interoperability. This is the good news: should they join, their military integration will be relatively easy.
Not only did we stand together politically and preserve our cohesion, but we also demonstrated a very strong unity in our response to the crisis in Ukraine – both in terms of supporting Ukraine and in terms of what is necessary to protect all Allies from a possible Russian escalation on NATO territory.
Their potential accession creates a more robust defence on our northern flank and in the Baltic region. Estonia is, of course, familiar with the fact that it might feel a little bit lonely up there. Having Finland and Sweden on board changes the strategic calculus, facilitates a number of scenarios, and undoubtedly makes a valuable contribution.
The bottom line is that we would bring two serious countries on board – our two very close partners. Should they decide to join, NATO will significantly enhance their security, but so will they complement NATO’s security – not only in the region, but more broadly.
I fully agree with this assessment, and this is precisely how we see it in Estonia. Now, let us pivot to NATO’s approach to Russia. How will it look like in the near future and also in the longer term?
Firstly, we must recognise that NATO did try to engage with Russia and establish a partnership. There were moments in the early 2000s when such a partnership was taking shape: we had a number of exchange programmes, joint working groups and, of course, the NATO-Russia Council.
It was a deliberate decision by President Putin himself to turn his back on NATO. One could say that from 2008 and onwards, he has been continuously escalating in that direction. Unfortunately for Europe, President Putin shattered the pillars of European security: not only the NATO-Russia Council, but also the arms control treaties, the OSCE commitments etc.
We have witnessed an escalation not only in Mr Putin’s rhetoric but also in his actions vis-a-vis NATO. In this context, NATO has to take stock of the situation and finally recognise that Russia does not fall into the partner category at this point.
Finland and Sweden’s potential accession creates a more robust defence on our northern flank and in the Baltic region. Having them on board changes the strategic calculus.
We certainly hope that we will be able to rebuild a mutually beneficial dialogue with Russia. However, under the current circumstances, this does seem increasingly difficult. There is no willingness on the part of Russia to engage. Thus, for the time being, our relationship is primarily meant to preserve some deconfliction measures and avoid escalation by continuing minimal levels of transparency. We maintain that NATO is not at war with Russia. We have always been a defensive alliance, and we intend to stay a defensive alliance. Nevertheless, we do stand ready to defend ourselves in the situation in which Russia demonstrates zero interest in engaging constructively with the Allies on any topic whatsoever.
Let me ask a follow-up question. You mentioned preservation of the existing deconfliction measures. Do those measures work as intended? Do they exist at this point? What is their current status?
I am going to answer with rather general words on this matter, if I may. What I would say is that for the time being, some caution is exercised – certainly by NATO – in order to avoid any misunderstanding of our actions and those of the Russian forces.
With regard to the deconfliction mechanism, we do not have a robust mechanism in place akin to that employed in Syria, for instance. Obviously, there is always readiness on our part to keep the channels open to avoid any unwanted escalation or unfortunate accidents.
I suggest we switch to China. How will the new Strategic Concept reflect NATO’s approach to China?
We do include China in our strategic thinking. It is a relatively new subject for NATO since China was hardly mentioned previously. Today, we have to realise that we have already entered an era of strategic competition. China is no longer a rising power but a major player on both the Asian and global stages. This is the reality we have to take into account.
We also have to recognise that in the context of the war in Ukraine, China has, to a large extent, sided with Russia. It has endorsed the Russian government’s narratives and criticised NATO’s alleged role. As an Alliance, we do have to take note of that.
We also have to understand that even if we were to try to ignore China, it has already come rather close to our shores and our borders. We do see limited joint exercises in the Baltic Sea and in the Mediterranean. We do see China’s presence in cyber space and space proper that could pose challenges to NATO. Hence, we have to think through how this China dimension comes into play.
We certainly hope that we will be able to rebuild a mutually beneficial dialogue with Russia. However, under the current circumstances, this does seem increasingly difficult. There is no willingness on the part of Russia to engage.
I will not elaborate on the exact words for the Concept because they are still under consideration. We are essentially contemplating how to move forward recognising that China is, in fact, part of the strategic competition environment. China is, however, different from Russia, since it remains open for a real dialogue whenever our interests might coincide on some issues, such as arms control and climate change.
To conclude, is there any other subject you would like to highlight that might be relevant in view of the upcoming Madrid Summit?
I would like to focus on my own portfolio and responsibilities to keep NATO’s military edge. We, in the West, have been complacent, believing ourselves to be uncontested leaders in the military domain. But recent events and technological developments by Russia and China, as well as by others, have proven that this is not always the case in all domains. We really need to stay at the top of our game, which means focusing on innovation and defence investment today, as well as investment in the future, to guarantee that not only do we have the best equipment, but also the command and control and cyber defence capability. It is a precondition for NATO to remain what it has always been – the strongest military alliance in human history.