What to Expect While NATO is Expecting
NATO members, with very special guests Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, are kicking off their summit in Madrid, Spain; one of the few places that Vladimir Putin is not currently threatening to invade.
The club is expected to confirm a new “strategic concept” – what people with normal jobs call a mission statement. The last one, signed in 2010 strove for a “true strategic partnership with Russia” – and it hasn’t aged well. The 2022 Strategic concept now cites Russia as “the most immediate threat to our security.” As always at these high-level get-togethers, the rub isn’t the revised statement, so much as what members plan to do about it.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO ’s secretary-general, has promised that summit will be “transformative.” And the summit is living up to its hype; Finland and Sweden’s application to join the alliance have been approved now that Turkey has removed its veto. The three countries publicly agreed to address the activities of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a radical Kurdish separatist group (Turkish President Erdogan calls the PKK terrorists, and they well may be, but he calls everyone that.) Behind the scenes, President Joe Biden greased the wheels of the agreement by telling Erdogan that the US Congress would block his requested new F-16 if he didn’t knock it off.
Sophomore NATO members like Poland and its eastern neighbors are truly transformed – they’d better or they’re next. Seniors like Great Britain, with its hard-won experience with appeasement, are hawkish as well. Germany is softer, which may be because they want cheap energy, or that their military is a train wreck. They won’t say.
Paris is more vocal. Although it’s never exactly clear if they are an active member of NATO or not as they’ve always go one stylishly shod foot out the door. President Emanuel Macron, being very French about it – is talking (a lot) to hide the fact that its feet are getting cold. On 16 June, after a visit to Kyiv, he said “We are Europeans, we share a continent, and geography can be stubborn: it turns out that at the end of it, Russia is still there.” That’s true enough, mon président, but if France had been a little more stubborn ahead of the wehrmacht the last war would have been over a lot quicker. But you be you.
As for the United States, which is going to foot the bill as sure as dad pays for dinner, Washington is starting to act like it’s World War II as well – agreeing in concept to defense but being very vague about what, exactly, we’re going to do about it.
Transformation is taking place though and that is key. Prior to 2014, NATO had no troops stationed in Eastern Europe. After Russia’s is-it-or-isn’t-it invasion of 2014 and the annexation of Crimea, battalions were stationed in the Baltic; hardly enough to stop an invasion, but would trigger a war Russia can’t win. NATO troops are being beefed up in Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovenia, and those battlegroup are being reimagined on the brigade level (about three times as big) as a force that will stop Russian tanks in the first place.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Vladimir Putin is wrestling the evidently novel concept of “unintended consequences.” China’s limitless support of Russia has yet to leap off the paper it was printed on. That is might is why Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea are there – hoping for support to check Beijing’s rising power. They’ll get it from the Washington and London, but Paris is still cheesed at Australia over its nuclear submarines. Then there is Moscow’s other ally – that powerhouse called Belarus – which is being tempting with Russian nuclear capabilities. And that is what really scares France and Germany, both of whom are trying not to poke the bear. Apart from the terrible track record of appeasing tyrants, this don’t poke the bear strategy seems a little pointless when said bear speaks openly of invading all of its neighbors.
A recent poll shows that most of the West thinks that we are now in a Cold War with Russia. The last Cold War had two main adversaries trying not to die. Putin is treating the conflict like a geopolitical fight club where he and his taller alter-ego Peter the Great are planning to go out in a nuclear blaze of theatrical stupidity.
In other words, there is nothing cold about this war.