After the breakthrough in the dispute over Finland and Sweden joining NATO, the military alliance’s summit meeting officially begins in Madrid on Wednesday. At the two-day meeting, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden and the other heads of state and government want to decide, among other things, on strengthening NATO’s eastern flank and on a new strategic concept for the alliance.
The summit is under the impression of the Russian war against Ukraine. The first major success had already been achieved on Tuesday evening: after weeks of blockade, Turkey gave up its resistance to Sweden and Finland joining NATO in exchange for concessions.
“I am pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday evening after a more than three-hour meeting with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden President Sauli Niinistö and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This also sends a clear message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that NATO’s door is open.
Turkey, Sweden and Finland have signed a memorandum of understanding addressing Turkish reservations. Among other things, it is about arms exports and the fight against terrorism. This Wednesday, the heads of state and government of the allies would now decide to invite Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
When NATO decided on the last strategic concept in 2010, the world looked different. At that time, the Allies were still counting on a “genuine strategic partnership” with Russia. China wasn’t even mentioned. Now, a good four months after the Russian attack on Ukraine, Secretary General Stoltenberg describes Russia as the “most significant and direct threat”. In addition, the concept will deal for the first time with China and the challenges it poses to NATO’s security, interests and values, the Norwegian said at the beginning of the week.
Especially since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the eastern allies have been pushing for more soldiers on the eastern flank. Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda told the German Press Agency before the summit that in view of the Russian war of aggression in Madrid, the transition from deterrence to forward defense had to be completed. More ground troops are needed in the Baltic states and on NATO’s eastern flank, said the Lithuanian head of state. Air defense instead of air surveillance is also necessary.
Now the number of rapid response forces is to be increased drastically – from around 40,000 at present to more than 300,000. The previous NATO intervention force NRF is to be replaced by a new force model that is to be decided at the summit.
This should allow NATO to react much faster and more extensively to dangers. More soldiers should be on standby for this. According to information from NATO circles, the Bundeswehr’s contribution to the new concept could be the 10th Panzer Division, which leads brigades and battalions under its command from Veitshöchheim in Bavaria.
There are also plans to expand the existing multinational NATO battlegroups in the states on the eastern flank to brigade level. Currently, for example, the one in Lithuania includes 1600 soldiers. A brigade usually consists of around 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. Germany has already announced that it wants to lead the Combat Troops Brigade in Lithuania.
In view of the Russian war of aggression, the USA also wants to permanently strengthen its military presence in Europe. At the Rota base in southern Spain, instead of the previous four, six US destroyers are to be permanently operational in the future. The number of US soldiers stationed in Rota is also to be increased from 1,200 to 1,800.
A month after the start of the Ukraine war, Stoltenberg had already convened a special NATO summit. Now the 30 allies are once again addressing Ukrainian calls for more support. Selenskyj, who is to be temporarily connected via video on Wednesday, called for a missile defense system from NATO before the summit. Stoltenberg himself announced further aid for Ukraine to support the country’s self-defense. A new commitment came from Germany and the Netherlands on Tuesday evening: Both countries want to deliver six more models of the Panzerhaubitze 2000 together.