Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Joe Biden shakes hands as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson look on during a round table meeting at a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain June 29, 2022. Susan Walsh/Pool via REUTERS

The heads of state and government of the 30 NATO members met in Madrid to set the course for the future of the alliance in the course of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said before the start of the two-day deliberations on Wednesday that the alliance was facing a “historic” summit. He referred to the decision to invite Finland and Sweden to join. In addition, a new strategic concept for NATO is to be adopted at the summit, in which dealings with China are to be formulated for the first time.

US President Joe Biden also spoke in Madrid of a “historic” summit and underlined that the obligation to provide assistance under Article 5 of the NATO treaty is “sacred”. The “undoubted message” that NATO is strong and united will go out from the summit, Biden said in a brief appearance with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

At the same time, the US President announced the relocation of other American units to Europe, including a fifth headquarters for the European US armed forces in Poland. Biden stressed that NATO would be equipped to counter threats from all directions, on land, in the air and at sea.

On the impending accession of Finland and Sweden as a result of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, Biden said: “Putin wanted Europe to be Finlandized. He will get the Natoization of Europe.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reaffirmed his determination to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank militarily. “If Vladimir Putin was hoping to get less NATO on his western front as a result of his unprovoked, illegal invasion of Ukraine, he was dead wrong. He’s getting more Nato,” Johnson said.

Further steps to support Ukraine are now being discussed. Johnson: “We also need to make sure we reflect on the lessons of the past few months and the need for NATO to change its eastern flank deployment.”

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,” Stoltenberg said on Tuesday evening after a more than three-hour meeting with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and his Turkish colleague 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.

Chancellor Scholz welcomed Turkey’s approval of Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership. “Both countries fit very well with our alliance,” he said on Wednesday before the summit. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the planned northern expansion “a huge step forward for our alliance”.

Scholz emphasized that the heads of state and government of the 30 alliance countries would make “important decisions” at the two-day summit. The states in the eastern part of NATO should be better protected. Germany has “very great skills” and will “do its share accordingly”. Arms deliveries to Ukraine will continue as long as necessary.

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.