NATO defies Putin with more military spending

PHOTO/Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto/NurPhoto via AFP - El presidente de Ucrania, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, se dirige a los periodistas durante la rueda de prensa nacional final de la cumbre de alto nivel de la OTAN en el centro de conferencias Litexpo de Vilna (Lituania) el 12 de julio de 2023
photo_camera PHOTO/Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto/NurPhoto via AFP - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses journalists during the final national press conference of the NATO high-level summit at the Litexpo conference center in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 12, 2023

More weapons, more military spending, more deployment of soldiers and turning NATO into Ukraine's headquarters was the conclusion reached at the most recent Transatlantic Alliance Summit in Vilnius. 

If defence spending was already rising, the return of war to Europe, with the invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine, has meant that better weaponry and a more modernised military have become a top priority. Security and deterrence are priorities.  

According to NATO's 2022 Annual Report, European Allies and Canada gave more support to Defence for the eighth year in a row. From 2021 to 2022, military spending increased by 2.2% in real terms, and in cash terms, it amounted to $350 billion over that period.

"In 2022, seven allies met their commitment to spend 2% of their GDP on defence. In 2014, only three did so. The United States alone spends 54% of allies' combined GDP and 70% of combined defence spending on military spending," according to the paper.

The United States remains the world's largest military spender with $821.83 billion and plans to increase its military spending by 2.5 to 3% in the next budget. The US spends almost four times the budget of China and eighteen times the military spending of the Kremlin on defence.  

Last year alone, NATO's total military spending was more than $1 trillion, but the commitment of its member states to greater defence and deterrence capabilities. This was reflected at the most recent NATO conclave in the Lithuanian capital on 11 and 12 July.

Moreover, with Ukraine having become a priority since last year for military, economic and logistical support to counter the invasion it has been waging against Russian troops since 24 February 2022.

According to the NATO report, since the invasion began, allies have provided unprecedented support to Ukraine: "With around $120 billion in military, humanitarian and financial assistance in 2022 alone".

While the US is the largest single contributor, Europe and Canada provided more than half of the overall assistance. Europeans also welcomed nearly five million refugees from Ukraine.

Countries once unwilling to spend even half a tenth of GDP on defence are dusting off their military arsenal overtaken by technological advances.  

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been a vitamin for NATO.  Eastern European countries are pushing for a greater Transatlantic Alliance presence and involvement in reinforcing the Eastern flank.

In addition to increased military spending, there has been a shift in the collective security paradigm, thanks to the new Strategic Concept that identifies Russia as the most significant and direct threat to allied security and includes, for the first time, the People's Republic of China as a high risk; and other challenges such as threats from cyber technologies, hybrid threats and even the implications of climate change for border security.

A range of issues that were once again endorsed at the Vilnius Summit a few days ago, where there is still a certain air of triumphalism that Russia has not succeeded in its plans to take over the whole of Ukraine. 

If at the NATO Summit in Madrid, Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan stole the show by giving his approval for Sweden and Finland to join the Alliance, the same thing happened again in Vilnius: in the run-up to the meeting, after several negotiating tables and thanks to the mediation of NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg, Erdogan agreed to lift Turkey's veto against Sweden's accession.

Finland officially became the 31st member in April this year, but Sweden was blocked by the Turkish parliament in the face of constant accusations that the Swedish government protects and harbours Kurdish terrorists.

The intricacies of the negotiations have not been made public. What has the Alliance offered Erdogan in exchange for his vote first for Finland and then for Sweden? Some of the European press has reported that Erdogan put Turkey's EU membership on the table in exchange for Sweden's approval. 

Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952 and has been in the process of applying for EU membership since 1959 without succeeding in overcoming the stumbling blocks, especially on a number of issues related to democracy, human rights and corruption.  In 1987, it formally applied for EU membership; in 1995, the EU-Turkey customs union came into force and in 1999 the EU granted Turkey candidate status, but to date it has failed to be included as a member of the European club. 

Erdogan has of course lobbied both Finland and Sweden for something in return for their vote. The Swedish government, headed by Ulf Kristerson, is awaiting approval of membership by the parliaments of NATO member states, a process that could take until next December before it is officially inside the defensive wall. 

"Finland and Sweden being in NATO is good for all of us.

It's good for Sweden, it's good for Turkey, because it's a NATO member that will benefit from a stronger Alliance, and it's good for the whole organisation," Stoltenberg told the media

Zelenski's whimsy with NATO

In 2008, Ukraine and the Transatlantic Alliance launched a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine that has only gathered dust over the years. 

Seven years after this request, Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, annexed Crimea through a rigged referendum and the presence of its military troops; that same year, a group of pro-Russian rebels supported by the Kremlin took up arms to form the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.

At the time, the US led by President Barack Obama and other EU countries only sanctioned Russia and excluded it from the G7, but no one stepped in to defend Ukraine more actively. 

A few months ago, Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine's Defence Minister, reproached NATO for its slowness to include them as a member state and said that none of this would have happened (the invasion) if Ukraine had been accepted earlier. 

For the Ukrainian president, this lack of a clear timeline is a weakness that makes Putin stronger because "he knows how to play on uncertainty".

Zelenski was dismayed that NATO again at this summit in Vilnius did not have the guts to announce a precise date for Ukraine's inclusion in its ranks. "It will happen when everything gets better.

The Ukrainian leader is desperately seeking an umbrella beyond military and economic aid, institutional and even moral support in the face of Russia's invasion. 

In Vilnius, Zelenski arrived with a heightened sense of leadership: he took a mass bath in front of a crowd of locals and many refugees gathered in Lukiskiu Square. In front of the chanting crowd, the Ukrainian leader spoke emotionally of his dreams of aspiring to European freedom and the European way of life, highlighting its security and progress. 

He did arrive disappointed because he was awaiting the big announcement: the date of Ukraine's inclusion announced by Biden; but the internal division of the member states is evident, and the reality is that the US president himself is not very convinced of this. And this decision weighs heavily within the transatlantic defence conclave.

While countries such as Poland and others in Eastern Europe are pushing for it, the UK, US, France and Germany remain hesitant because of fears of being drawn into a direct war with Russia and other actors that might become involved. 

Zelenski's resistance and the capacity demonstrated by the Ukrainian army and hundreds of civilians who have joined their ranks to defend their homeland from invaders have led the US and other countries to increasingly provide them with military hardware and economic aid.

Over the past months, Ukraine has obtained first small arms, then heavy artillery, even F-16 aircraft from the United States, and even 41 F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets from Australia. 

In the midst of the Vilnius Summit, France announced that it will give Kiev medium-range missiles, and earlier the Pentagon had publicly confirmed that it will give hundreds of cluster bombs to Ukrainian troops.

Although they are banned globally and there is a Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008), neither Russia, Ukraine nor the US have signed the protocol, which is endorsed by some 100 countries.

Cluster bombs became popular in World War II and have been used in more current wars such as in Afghanistan, Syria and the war in Yemen. 

Human Rights Watch describes them as a potential danger to civilians, especially because 20-30% of them fail to explode and can fall on a multitude of terrain and remain unexploded for decades until they are found by a civilian.

It is worth noting that not everyone within NATO is totally committed to Zelenski. Indeed, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told his Ukrainian counterpart to show a "bit of gratitude" for all the help they are receiving and went so far as to say that they are "not Amazon" to give absolutely all the military hardware and imminently to the Kiev government. 

In between the family photo of NATO members, some accompanied by their wives, and joined by Zelenski and his wife, Olena Zelenska, as guests of honour at the summit's opening dinner, the press caught an angry Zelenski waiting for the photo in his seat; next to him, Zelenska was waving to another first lady and he was seen not talking to any of the assembled leaders who were just one step above him with an air of camaraderie. "Zelenski's loneliness", headlined several European media.

What did he achieve at this meeting? Basically the formation of a NATO-Ukraine Council, a kind of logistics and operations centre to help Kiev get more accurate information to win the war and give it more weapons and military aid, as well as training for its troops. 

Within the framework of the Vilnius meeting, President Biden convened a meeting of the G7, which was joined by Spain and other countries that pledged to Zelenski to continue helping Ukraine to modernise its land, air and sea forces.  Thus, the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom plus the EU will give more work to their respective military industries to provide Ukrainian troops with more and better weapons. 

Zelenski, who wants assurances with dates and in writing, fears that the winds of support will be altered by the impending electoral changes to which democratic countries are subject. Indeed, he fears that Biden will lose the 2024 election and with him out of the White House it will all be a dead letter. 

"When Putin and his cowardly lust for land and power unleashed his brutal war on Ukraine, he was betting that NATO would break up; he thought our unity would break at the first test. He thought democratic leaders would be weak. But he thought wrong," Biden said in Vilnius