Prospects for the NATO Summit in Madrid

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A NATO summit meeting is scheduled to take place in Madrid on 29 and 30 June as a tribute to Spain on the 40th anniversary of its accession to the Alliance. Secretary General Jens Stontelberg has thanked the Spanish government for hosting the conference and said that Spain was a committed and valuable ally. One of the main objectives of the meeting will be to draw up a new "Strategic Concept", as the one adopted at the Lisbon Summit in 2010 has become outdated, because at the time NATO maintained good cooperative relations with Russia. The annexation of Crimea, its recognition of the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics, and the invasion of Ukraine have completely changed the landscape and require an update of NATO's strategic objectives.

Evolving NATO's Strategic Concept

The Strategic Concept is NATO's most important document, second only to the 1949 Washington Treaty establishing the Organisation. As the Elcano Royal Institute has observed, the concept codifies what has changed in the security field in the years prior to its adoption and prescribes what must change within NATO in the years that follow, through political and military guidelines, to adapt NATO's roles and capabilities to the circumstances of the day.

As Ignacio has pointed out, from 1949 to the present day, the Alliance has adopted seven strategic concepts. The first - adopted in 1950 - stated that its primary objective was to deter aggression by the Soviet Union and that it was prepared to resort to the use of military force if deterrence failed. In 1952, NATO adopted the "Strategic Concept for the Defence of the North Atlantic Area", which aimed to "ensure the defence of the NATO area and to destroy the will and ability of the Soviet Union and its satellites to wage war". In 1955, NATO renewed its strategic concept inspired by the notion of "massive retaliation", involving the use of all available weapons, including nuclear weapons, and decided to strengthen its political role. Deterrence based on nuclear balance became known as "mutually assured destruction" or "MAD", but the increase in Soviet nuclear capability rendered the strategy of massive retaliation obsolete, because a limited crisis - such as the Berlin crisis - did not justify the unleashing of an all-out nuclear war. Hence the shift in 1968 to a concept advocating a "flexible response", combining military, diplomatic, political and economic measures to deter an enemy attack beyond the use of nuclear weapons. 


The first four strategic concepts were based primarily on deterrence and collective defence, but gradually gave way to dialogue and détente. The Soviet Union and its allies became NATO "partners". The reunification of Germany, the break-up of the USSR and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact after 1990 were important milestones in relations between the two blocs. NATO was sensitive to the passage of time and the transition from the bipolar Cold War world to a multipolar one, and adapted to changing political and geostrategic circumstances, which was reflected in the modification of its strategic concept because the geographical limits set out in Article 6 of the Washington Treaty were no longer sufficient. After the disappearance of the fixed threat posed by the dissolution of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, it had to recycle itself in order to justify its own existence. As its Secretary General, Anders Rasmussen, pointed out, the first phase was a purely defensive alliance - NATO-1 - but, after the end of the Cold War, NATO-2 emerged. As enemies became partners, the fifth strategic concept adopted in 1991 complemented the basic criteria of deterrence and defence with those of cooperation and political dialogue, while expanding the Alliance's scope of action beyond the Treaty area.
Despite promises to Mikhail Gorbachev that the Organisation would not expand beyond Russia's borders, NATO began to expand eastwards, seeking to draw former Pact members into its sphere of influence, but the United States pushed NATO's expansion. As Bill Clinton commented, the question was not whether NATO should admit new members, but "when and how". NATO created the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, which the former Warsaw Pact members joined. As a result, relations between the two sides were set on the path of dialogue and cooperation, as I witnessed from my post as ambassador to Russia. During Juan Carlos I's visit to Moscow in May 1997, Boris Yeltsin complained that the inclusion in NATO of states that had been part of the USSR would be a provocation and a huge historical mistake, and the King replied that NATO did not want to undervalue Russia, as they considered its security indispensable to their own, since it was part of Europe and should be increasingly integrated into it. He invited Yeltsin to attend the NATO Conference in Madrid in July and made it clear to him that his presence at the Conference would show the world that NATO enlargement was not against Russia, but in its presence and with its participation. Yeltsin, surprised, was grateful for the invitation and - although he did not attend - relations between the two sides relaxed. 

I remember a cartoon by the brilliant Peridis in "El País", in which Yeltsin - who had Solana on his back - was seen holding a banner reading "NATO, NO enlargement", and a smiling Juan Carlos said to him: "You're lost, Boris. That's how Javier started and now he's the Secretary General of the Alliance". On 27 May, the Founding Act on Mutual Security and Cooperation Relations was signed, committing both sides to build a genuine peace together, based on the principles of democracy, security and cooperation, and to develop a stable partnership based on common interest, reciprocity and transparency. A Permanent Joint Council was established for consultation, cooperation and joint decision-making and, in 1998, Russia established a Permanent Mission to the Alliance.

In 1999, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland joined NATO. Hungary and Poland joined, followed by Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia. Russia tolerated this because these were states that had been independent outside the USSR. However, NATO-Russia relations deteriorated sharply when the Alliance bombed Kosovo and - in order to do so - had to adopt its sixth strategic concept to enable it to conduct humanitarian interventions and crisis management outside its geographical scope, thus moving from the European to the Euro-Atlantic space. Russia accused the Alliance of violating international law and withdrew its representatives from the NATO-Russia Council.

In 2003, Russia together with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan created the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a collective defence pact that was a poor imitation of NATO. Relations between the two sides were considerably strained when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the Alliance as former USSR states, but tensions grew further when Georgia and Ukraine were invited to join in 2008. Russia strongly opposed this as a serious security risk and its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that further expansion of the Alliance to Russia's borders would take relations back to Cold War times. Russian troops invaded South Ossetia and Abkhazia on 7 August and Georgia was forced to capitulate. Russia imposed independence on these two artificial states. It was an exemplary punishment and a warning to sailors. 


Ukraine escaped similar punishment thanks to a change of government in 2010. The pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko had decided to withdraw the co-official status of the Russian language, announce that the Agreement granting bases in Crimea to the Russian fleet would not be renewed, adopt an Association Agreement with the EU and apply for NATO membership - measures that were totally unacceptable to Russia. But in the general elections in January of that year, pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych was elected president, extending the base agreements until 2042 and withdrawing the application for NATO membership. Yanukovich aligned his policies with Russia's and in 2013 refused to sign the Association Agreement negotiated with the EU, which provoked the anger of young people and - in March 2014 - led to the Maidan Square revolt. The peaceful demonstrations were brutally suppressed and the Ukrainian Rada ousted Yanukovych. The interim president, Alekxander Turchinov, signed the Association Agreement with the EU and the elected president, Petro Poroshenko, initiated a policy of rapprochement with the West that was unacceptable to Russia, leaving the way open for Russia to launch an attack on Ukraine, which was not long in coming.

Since his election in 2008, Barack Obama had expressed his desire to normalise relations with Russia and began what his Vice President Joe Biden called a "reset". Already at the Brussels Conference later that year, NATO decided to relaunch relations with Russia. As Secretary General Jaap de Hook Sheffers commented, NATO's divergent positions on Georgia or Ukraine should not prevent the two sides from having normal relations. The 2010 Lisbon Conference adopted the Seventh Strategic Concept, which committed NATO to defend its members against all threats and to "deploy robust military forces where and when required for our security, and to help promote the common security of our partners around the globe". The Alliance placed no limits on its geographic scope and believed that it should have the capacity to act globally, thus closing the debate on whether the Organisation should be regional or universal. I believe this decision was a mistake, as the Alliance became involved in conflicts such as Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya, which were not its concern, and left a lot of hair in the cat's hair.

Medvedev attended the NATO-Russia Committee meeting, which adopted a Joint Declaration announcing the start of a new phase of cooperation towards a strategic partnership, "based on the principles of mutual trust, transparency and predictability, in order to contribute to the creation of a common space of peace, security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area". The Parties would refrain from the threat or use of force against each other or against third states, their sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence.  This commitment was not fulfilled because the Crimean Parliament agreed to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. On 26 March 2014, an unfair referendum was held in which the people of Crimea voted to join Russia, which had stealthily sent military contingents into Crimea, triggering - according to John Simpson - "the softest invasion in modern times", which ended before the outside world realised it had begun. Putin formalised Crimea's reincorporation into the motherland and the international community reacted weakly as, despite condemnations from NATO and the EU - which applied low-intensity economic sanctions against Russia - and from the General Assembly - which adopted resolution 68/262, continuing to recognise Crimea as part of Ukraine - the fait accompli was taken for granted.

In parallel, Russia had sent military units to the Donbas to support the Ukrainian rebels, who had risen against the government and declared the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, and Russia facilitated their "de facto" independence militarily and politically. The civil war ended with the signing in 2014 of the Minsk Protocol by Russia, Ukraine and the rebel republics, but the ceasefire was not respected and hostilities continued. In 2015, Russia and Ukraine signed the Minsk Agreement, which did not put an end to the confrontations between the government, which considered it to be too favourable to the People's Republics, and the latter, which sought recognition of their independence.

 Russia massed large numbers of troops on Ukraine's borders and Putin issued an ultimatum to NATO to renounce NATO membership, threatening a "military response" if the organisation did not return to its 1997 borders. NATO and the EU offered Russia disarmament agreements and confidence and transparency measures, but Putin had already decided to invade Ukraine and - after recognising the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk - on 24 February 2022 ordered the invasion of Ukraine, thinking that he would conquer Kiev in a few days and overthrow the "Nazi" government of Valdimir Zelensky. His calculations were thwarted by the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian people and the current war stalemate has resulted, despite intense attacks that have caused the destruction of many Ukrainian cities, the death of thousands of civilian citizens, the internal displacement of eight million inhabitants and the exodus of six million refugees.

Putin's claim that the Alliance intended to attack Russia from Ukrainian territory was a falsehood. For Mira Milosevich, NATO enlargement was more a psychological issue than a real threat, since no NATO expansion has ever upset the military balance of Russia, which has coexisted smoothly with NATO member states bordering Russia and has long maintained cordial cooperative relations with the Alliance. The problem has arisen when Putin has sought to reconstitute the Soviet space and return to the "status quo ante" of 1997, for which he had to bring the countries that had been part of the USSR under his sphere of influence. As Juan Manuel de Faramiñán has observed, Putin has been pursuing a policy of expansion and occupying "zones of influence" in the vicinity of his borders, thus blowing up the chessboard on which world security and peace are based. This is the root of the war, not NATO enlargement.

Spain's attitude towards NATO

From the moment of his investiture, Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo had already announced his intention to apply for Spanish membership of NATO, which aroused the total and inexplicable opposition of the left to an Organisation based on democracy, individual liberties and the rule of law, while accepting defence agreements with the United States in which Spain was in a situation of inferiority. Spain joined the Alliance shamefully and almost nocturnally, and Felipe González promised that he would call a referendum to leave the Organisation.  He kept his word, but changed his message from "NATO, NO for entry" to "NATO, YES to stay". The Socialist government won the referendum thanks to the support of the opposition, although conditions were imposed, such as the non-integration of the Spanish Armed Forces into NATO's military structure. This absurd imposition - which lasted for 17 years - hindered the modernisation of the Spanish army by preventing it from taking advantage of NATO's synergies and technical resources.

It was not until 1999 that Spain fully joined NATO and, since then, it has been a loyal ally of the Organisation and has contributed very positively to its activities, despite the smallness of its defence budget, which is second to last among the Member States, behind only Luxembourg. At its Cardiff Conference in 2014, the Atlantic Council recommended that, by 2024, states should devote a minimum of 2 per cent of their GDP to the defence budget. Spain is very far from meeting this target, as its percentage is no more than 1.03 per cent, and in recent years it has only progressed a few tenths of a per cent. President Pedro Sánchez has made a lip-service commitment to making an effort to reach this percentage, but - two years before the deadline - it seems unlikely that it will be met, especially because Spanish society has not become aware of the need for it.

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In a few weeks' time, Spain will host a summit that, according to Spain's Permanent Representative to NATO Miguel Fernández Palacios, will be one of the most important in NATO's history. And the Spanish government is not in the best position to successfully assume this important responsibility. Podemos, its minority partner, is avowedly anti-NATO and advocates Spain's withdrawal from NATO, its ministers have said that - instead of a militaristic conference - Spain should host a peace meeting and have refused to participate in its meetings, it has opposed arms supplies to Ukraine and proposed an unconditional peace - putting the aggressor and the aggressed on an equal footing - and its leaders have gone so far as to accuse their own government of flouting the rules and illegally granting a company the material organisation of the event. The president of Congress, Meritxell Batet, has modified the Rules of the House to allow the presence in the Official Secrets Committee of representatives of Bildu, ERC and the CUP, who oppose Spain's membership of NATO, and the Prime Minister has offered his pro-independence allies the head of the director of the CNI, Paz Esteban, for having fulfilled her duty to control the communications of the perpetrators of a crime of sedition, although the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, has not "dismissed" her, but only "replaced" her. Despite these inauspicious circumstances, I hope and pray that the Spanish government will live up to its responsibilities and that the Madrid Conference will be a success.

Programme of the Madrid Summit

    According to Fernández-Palacios, on 24 February 2022, the current strategic paradigm expired and the 'post-Cold War' that was inaugurated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 came to an end. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has put an end to the global security paradigm and the European defence architecture as it was conceived after the demise of the USSR. The "Madrid Strategic Concept" will have to define a new security and defence system that gives way to a more political, militarily stronger and more global NATO, an Alliance fully capable of formulating an adequate response to the threats and challenges facing the Allies at this point in the 21st century. Summit objectives should include increasing political consultation and coordination among members; strengthening deterrence, defence and resilience; maintaining the technological edge; supporting a rules-based international system; advancing partner training and capacity building; combating and adapting to the security impact of climate change; endorsing a new strategic concept; and providing the financial resources necessary to achieve these objectives. Disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G and the internet of things, Big Data, quantum computing, hypersonic weapon systems, new missile technologies and cyber attacks must also be taken into account. The main political issues to be addressed are the Russian threat to the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, the challenge of China as a systemic competitor and NATO's southern border.

With Russia, the Alliance has so far had a process of dialogue open despite divergences, through the Russia-NATO Council, but the invasion of Ukraine has made this impossible and has put collective defence and deterrence of Russia at the centre of the Alliance's agenda. As Luis Simón has observed, the main external threat to the Euro-Atlantic security and geopolitical architecture comes from Russian revisionism, which has a significant military and direct threat component. This makes the question of how to strengthen deterrence against potential Russian threats in Eastern Europe NATO's top strategic priority.

If Russia is NATO's main enemy in the short term, China may be NATO's main enemy in the medium to long term. The Lisbon Strategic Concept did not even mention China, which is going its own way, not presenting itself as a military danger to NATO in Europe, but as an economic and technological competitor and systemic rival as a promoter of international norms that are incompatible with European values and challenge an open international order. According to the NATO 2030 Report, the Alliance should focus on issues that could affect security in the Euro-Atlantic region. The very fact that China has the capacity to threaten Euro-Atlantic security directly is, in Simón's view, a challenge in itself. The report refers to China's acquisition of important infrastructure nodes in Europe, both digital - 5G networks - and physical - ports and airports - which could affect the interoperability and readiness of armed forces, and its investments should be monitored. 

Since its inception, NATO has identified adversaries on its eastern flank, but not on its southern flank. Therefore, in order to meet its goal of addressing threats wherever they come from, the Alliance must take a "360-degree approach" and pay greater attention to the dangers in the south of its area of operation. As Javier Colomina noted, Euro-Atlantic security is linked to security in the South, as security problems in Morocco and the Sahel affect all Allies, and there are increasing threats and challenges from the South. Spain has defended the need to ensure stability in its strategic neighbourhood, where there are fragile states in bankruptcy, a multitude of transnational terrorist cells, and illegal trafficking in arms, drugs and people. The situation of instability in the Sahel is set to worsen even further following the announced withdrawal from Mali of French armed contingents - with which Spain is collaborating - and the presence of Russian mercenaries recruited by the coup-plotting President Asimi Goita.

    In his speech celebrating the 40th anniversary of Spain's NATO membership, King Felipe VI called on the Alliance to pay more attention to its strategic southern border, "where terrorism directly threatens our societies". The prospects are hopeful, for - as Stoltenberg told TVE - the "Madrid strategic concept" would reflect the threats coming from the south through terrorism and instability. "We have to look at all the challenges and threats wherever they come from and we will work with our partners in the region to help stabilise the area, because instability in the South is very important for our security. But - in addition to closing the southern gap - the Alliance's northern border should be strengthened with the addition of Finland and Sweden, hopefully not vetoed by Turkey, which is a Trojan horse within NATO.
     The Alliance owes Spain another debt, which is to provide security cover for the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, which are excluded from its sphere of action in accordance with article 6 of the Washington Treaty, which covers the islands under the jurisdiction of the States Parties in the Atlantic north of the Tropic of Cancer, but not the former Spanish presidios. It is only right that the Madrid Summit should correct this anomaly and place Spain on an equal footing with the other Member States. 

The Madrid summit will be conditioned by Russia's aggression against Ukraine and it is essential that NATO maintains its cohesion and reiterates its unconditional support for the assaulted Ukrainian people, since - according to Rafa Latorre - "Ukraine belongs neither to NATO nor to the EU, but it is the only one that is giving its life to belong to them" and - in Gabriel Tortella's opinion - is defending all Europeans against Russian aggression, because "the war being waged in Eastern Europe is a struggle between democracy and tyranny, and Ukraine has taken on the defence of democracy on its own".

It is important to pay close attention because Putin's fallacious arguments that the war is exclusively NATO's fault because of its desire to attack Russia are beginning to make an impression on some naïve people who - consciously or unconsciously - act as the Russian satrap's "fellow travellers". Pope Francis, for example, has justified Putin's actions by claiming that he might have felt compelled to invade Ukraine because "NATO was barking at Russia's door". Or Henry Kissinger, who claimed in Davos that the Allies' position could not be determined by the "mood of the moment" and that extending the contest would turn it not into a war for Ukrainian freedom but a war against Russia.

Even more dangerous were the words of EU President-in-Office Emmanuel Macron that Putin cannot be humiliated. The great strategist Sun Tzu was of the opinion that the enemy should be offered a golden bridge so that he could make an honourable withdrawal, but this is not the case, because Putin has no intention of withdrawing and continues to violate the most elementary rules of international and humanitarian law on a daily basis. His grave crimes cannot go unpunished and Putin should be tried and sentenced by an international court. Condoning, in whole or in part, the atrocities committed against the innocent Ukrainian people, far from facilitating his more or less honourable withdrawal, would confirm his wrong decision and reinforce his expansionist policy.

Putin is scrupulously sticking to his evil plans and is in no hurry because time is on his side, convinced - as Iñaki Ellacuría has pointed out - that inflation and the food crisis - when the autumn winds penetrate Germany - will weaken NATO and EU support for Zelenski. The Franco-German axis and the Anglo-Saxon left - in their role as rearguard partners for a 'peace deal' to certify Ukraine's defeat - have already introduced the inevitable third-party nuance. "The third-party stabbers claim that Putin should not be humiliated and invite the Ukrainian people to think about giving up the Donbas and other occupied areas. A perverse request because it ignores that the current war stems from Western inaction before the invasion of Crimea in 2014; perverse because it wants Ukrainians to condemn several million of their compatriots to live under the yoke of war criminals; and stupid, because it feeds the belief that the Russian problem, its threat to Europe, will be contained with the sacrifice of Ukraine and not with the elimination of Putin and his gangster court". I agree with Ana Palacio's words that "with Ukraine on its feet, with its citizens ready to die for their undiminished freedom, as long as the United States leads the way in its geopolitical engagement and backing, for the rest of Westerners - particularly Europeans - there is only one position: support Ukraine".  

Jose Antonio de Yturriaga Barberán, Spanish ambassador to Russia, Ireland, Iraq and the United Nations in Vienna, among other countries.