The Spanish diplomat analysed the Atlantic Alliance Summit on the programme "De cara al mundo"

Gustavo de Arístegui: “El Sahel es la asignatura pendiente de la OTAN”

Gustavo de Arístegui

In the latest edition of "De cara al mundo", on Onda Madrid, we had the participation of Gustavo de Arístegui, diplomat and international analyst, who spoke in depth about the NATO summit held in Madrid.

What is your assessment of the latest NATO summit held in Madrid?

First of all, we must congratulate the government for organising a summit that the government of Mariano Rajoy achieved, remembering that it was the previous government that requested it and it was granted. In any case, this is a collective effort by a great many people, the national government, the Royal Court of His Majesty King Felipe VI, the protocol services, the security forces, including the Madrid Municipal Police, who surprised everyone with the magnificent arrangements organised around the summit, the Government Delegation in Madrid, the Guardia Civil, the police, the restaurateurs, I thought it was an excellent idea to hold a dinner in the Prado Museum, for me the best art gallery in the world, and so on. Beyond the purely logistical and material aspects, it is indeed a historic summit, the Strategic Concept makes a qualitative leap compared to Lisbon and we are at a crucial moment in a qualitative leap in terms of risks. Some of the most reputable analysts of history made a huge mistake when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union imploded, remember Francis Fukuyama's unfortunate work "The End of History", where nothing of the sort has been seen. How many times have we heard that puerile and counterproductive expression that has caused so many subsequent problems, which was the peace dividend, leading to the reduction of conventional forces. How many times have we heard international analysts, supposedly experts in geo-strategy, say that terrorism cannot be combated with fighter planes, let them explain to me how this is done in Syria or Afghanistan or on the border between Turkey and Syria. Surely they need to have a bit more of an idea.

Raising the defence budget seems the most logical thing to do...

Indeed, one cannot oppose something as sensible as increasing defence budgets, which are essential for the peace and stability of a country like ours, which is the southern border of the Atlantic Alliance and which is in contact across the sea, even with land borders, with countries that have serious problems of terrorism and stability, I am referring not only to Morocco, but also to Mauritania and Senegal, the natural outlet for the hyper-terrorism that the Sahel region harbours is normally the Western Sahara. Therefore, a country such as ours must have defence systems that are at the forefront, perhaps more at the forefront than those of other countries, because we have outermost territories such as the Canary Islands, and therefore our aircraft must be twin-engine aircraft, with the capacity for prolonged flight and a large cargo capacity, our navy must be important. Honestly, when talking about foreign policy, defence policy, security policy and geopolitics, political differences must be put aside. Once and for all, Spain must learn to create State policies in different areas and foreign policy must no longer be used as an element of political dispute and confrontation.

Gustavo de Arístegui

In Madrid, the people of Madrid have set an example of how to organise an event as important as the NATO Summit. However, we have not seen the mayor or the president of the Community of Madrid at any of the events. 

They should have been invited, as should the leader of the opposition, at least to the gala dinner, which was not a working dinner. The dinner at the Prado Museum was a working dinner and no one other than the Head of State or Government could enter, but at the dinner at the Royal Palace the Mayor, the President of the Community of Madrid and the leader of the opposition should have been invited. 

As far as I know, the NATO Secretary General wanted to have a meeting with the host of the summit, who was the Mayor of Madrid, but he was told that this was not possible. 

As the mayor of the city hosting the summit, he should have been invited. 

Controversies like Ceuta and Melilla, when we are in such a delicate situation of Cold War, a war more than declared because of how sanctions and gas cuts are affecting the price of energy, it is affecting inflation, etc. Has NATO stood up and taken a step forward?

I think so and it was the right moment. Many of the member countries of the Atlantic Alliance have understood that NATO is not a club for others to protect us, but a club where efforts must be collective. The synergy of the union of thirty cannot produce thirty, and for that to happen, everyone has to be committed. What is incredible, and I am going to make this very clear, is that for a long time countries that were hitherto neutral, such as Sweden, had a much more intense and better coordinated presence with NATO in Afghanistan than many members of the Atlantic Alliance. It is worth remembering the extraordinary role that Swedish special forces have played in major operations and the courage and competence of these forces. The fact that such leading countries as Sweden and Finland, which have world-class technological industries, have joined the Atlantic Alliance and where, moreover, the Swedish navy, but above all its air force, is also one of the most important in the world, is the worst news for Vladimir Putin. 

I think this is the worst news for Vladimir Putin, who thought that NATO was flat on its back and now it is stronger than ever, with the enlargement to include Sweden and Finland. Do you agree that enlargement is one of the worst pieces of news for Putin?

Without a doubt, if he was trying to prevent the Atlantic Alliance from being closer to his borders, what he has achieved is that the Atlantic Alliance is closer to his borders. If there is one country in the world, in this case in the West, that has the longest border with Russia, it is Finland, the only country that has defeated the Russians, the former Soviet Union, in conventional warfare.

Gustavo de Arístegui

The Atlantic Alliance's new Strategic Concept assumes that China is a new challenge, as they perceive it to be the new challenge. To what extent is China crouching and using Putin's aggressiveness? 

China, so far, I am not going to call it an adversary, but a rival. China is in the hands of Xi Jinping, who wants to turn China into a rival that goes up several notches so that he can call it an adversary. Obviously, it is a step from there to becoming an enemy. For a long time China's expansive and aggressive policies were very worrying and this has not been taken into account in the West. When I was ambassador to India this was the great headache for everyone, those of us who have served in that area realise that China's increasingly intense, aggressive and active presence in the South China Sea, the number of artificial islands they have created and on which they have placed naval and air bases precisely in order to later claim territorial waters where they have never had a presence, the permanent air incidents between the Chinese air force and the US air force, where one day these sparks could escalate. So far we had seen how China's presence was mostly in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean, but today it is mostly in the western part. Its special relationship with Sri Lanka was very worrying not only for India but for any country in the northern hemisphere of the western hemisphere, and now its growing presence in the Maldives is like an aircraft carrier. From the north to the south of the Maldives is 1,500 kilometres, which means that the presence of the Chinese navy in the Maldives is something that is indefensible.

The possibilities of China's strength have not been taken into account....

There are two issues here, China has two souls, the commercial soul where expansion and economic influence is fundamental for China, in recent years it has made a clever commercial and financial strategy of expansion towards countries with serious financing and infrastructure needs, and at the same time they have a good opportunity to show their claws without doing it themselves directly, but, through Russia, at the same time this Russian aggression in Ukraine is causing very serious problems for an essentially exporting economic power. Let us not forget that one of the serious consequences of this global inflationary and macroeconomic crisis is not only the rise in prices and production inputs, which is extremely serious for any producer, but above all for any exporting country. A forty-foot container from Shanghai to Europe has gone from 900 to 1,500 dollars to 15,000 dollars, which is a tragedy for an exporter. As a result, China is telling the world that for the moment it has an alliance with the Russians, and I'm putting a corrective on countries that are my adversaries or competitors, but at the same time, I'm hurting my economy. 

On the southern flank, is the Strategic Concept rhetoric or do we need concrete plans to deal with the threats?

I think the big problem is the unfinished business. Too often the leaders of the Atlantic Alliance have been countries from Central, Eastern and Northern Europe. In my opinion, the problems have always been more to the east than to the south, but the problems of the east are going to be constant and are now pressing, but the problems of the south are permanently pressing, that's the difference. Others, the less wealthy countries of the European Union, the less wealthy countries of NATO, have suffered, and we have been the gendarmes of the EU and the rest of NATO. Terrorism in the Sahel is chronic and it is not getting better it is getting worse, the presence of Wagner, Russian mercenaries, and Russia in other countries is not helping to quell terrorism. What's more, it is preventing the presence of Western forces from being effective and preventing Daesh and Al-Qaeda from spreading very strongly to the north and south, contaminating and recruiting very quickly young people in the region who are not radicalised into jihadism. I think this was an unfinished business and we have fallen somewhat short, but the best is the enemy of the good. 

Gustavo de Arístegui

Issues in which NATO is involved as a novelty: the fight against climate change, cybersecurity, immigration on the southern flank, the use of energy as blackmail, space... NATO is taking a more political approach to today's problems. 

All the things you mentioned are part of geostrategy.

Well, and I left out innovation so as not to lose technological superiority.

I'll start with the latter, and move on to the former. Technological superiority is evident, when one looks at the list of the world's leading companies in artificial intelligence, which is the next industrial revolution, there are seven Chinese, one Israeli, one American and one European company in the top ten, and this should give us pause for thought. In the same way that at one point in the 1980s the Chinese produced ten times more than the Americans, this is no longer the case. We Europeans need to get on board with the production, manufacture and design of a sixth-generation fighter jet, otherwise we will be left out. What people don't realise is that the production of the Taifun has been one of the elements that has kept Europe at the forefront of technology. If Europe does not get on board with the sixth-generation aircraft, we will have lost that battle forever. Issues such as climate change, immigration, etc., are all part of geo-strategy. Climate change forces massive immigration, when there are no more pastures for herders, herders move to where there are farms and there is a confrontation between herders and farmers, as happened in the United States during the westward expansion. Moreover, because they are of different religions, the gurus in the West talk of religious warfare, not realising that climate change has caused these migrations and that it has to do with the lack of pastures and not with religion. Finally, there is the problem of water, if there is a new war in the Middle East it will not be over territory, it will be over water and this is an increasingly pressing reality. The concept of security must take into account that many of the countries most affected by these risks today form part of that list, which in English is made up of the acronym "M.N.N.A" (Major Non-NATO Ally), a list of thirty-odd countries, including Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco.

And Mauritania, where I was a month ago, and the concern about destabilisation, the terrorist threat, but also about immigration and above all about the actions of Wagner's Russian mercenaries, in a country with access to the Atlantic and a key geostrategic position, is something NATO must take care of.

It is one of the buffer countries, a very large country, very unpopulated and complicated to control. There is a very serious possibility that destabilisation caused by drug, human, arms and terrorist traffickers could have a destabilising effect on Mauritania. Mauritania must therefore become a priority for the Atlantic Alliance and, dare I say it, for the European Union's most strategic concept, as must a large part of the northern Atlantic coast, such as Morocco. 

The Royal Court has played a very important role in the reunion between Spain and the United States, and the role it has played has been its due role. Joe Biden's decision is clear: when it comes down to it, the American ally is Spain. 

How essential it is for the two main political parties in government to create a serious state policy, a security policy and a foreign policy, so that our partners abroad can see that whoever is at the helm of the Spanish government, there is reliability. One of these guarantees of the visibility of this survival and persistence of a serious policy in which we form part as members of the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance is His Majesty the King. Felipe VI, like his father before him, is one of the basic pillars of Spain's image in the world. The King of Spain is a fundamental element in diplomacy and as a great ambassador of Spain, which is the best and the most important. I like to repeat many times that it is a blessing to have a constitutional monarchy because the richest, most democratic, free and tolerant countries in the world are democratic constitutional monarchies.