The NATO Summit is a key event, not only because of the war in Ukraine, but also because of the appearance of the new Strategic Concept. This document will determine the Alliance's policy for the next ten years with global consequences depending on what is written in that document.
Three things can be taken for granted at this summit:
- Russia is once again the enemy to beat, the invasion of Ukraine being the definitive proof of that fact. Ukraine has been shown political and military support. Such a statement will most certainly be seen by Russia as a provocation. It is quite likely that Russia will react on the ground, increasing its offensive to control the Donbas, thus demonstrating its numerical superiority.
- NATO's military presence in the Baltic States, central and southeastern Europe increases as the Enhanced Forward Presence is reinforced in the Baltic States and Poland and EFPs are established in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia. This is a gesture towards these countries, which have been clamouring for years for a reorientation of the Alliance towards the East. Russia's invasion of Ukraine justifies such a reorientation.
- Finland and Sweden will join NATO following Turkey's decision to lift its veto. These two members bring to the Alliance greater control over Baltic and Arctic waters, as well as a large land border with Russia. Russia is likely to react to this decision with cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns aimed at portraying its membership as a warmongering gesture by the West. Russia could also play the historical card and argue that Finnish NATO membership could result in Helsinki calling for the reclaiming of Finnish territory lost after the 1939-40 Winter War, in addition to its special relationship with Russia.
Spain's concerns - explicit recognition that the allies will support Ceuta and Melilla if attacked and consideration of southern flank threats - have been considered, but not with the attention we probably expected.
Ceuta and Melilla have not been explicitly mentioned as territories to be protected. Their protection is covered in point 20 of the Strategic Concept. It states that the Alliance will protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all Allies. Mentioning Ceuta and Melilla would have been a double-edged sword: while it is certainly an anomaly that two Spanish territories are not covered under the Alliance's umbrella of protection, their explicit inclusion as territories deserving Alliance protection would have implied that they are in danger of being invaded, which is not the case. Moreover, the question of Ceuta and Melilla's sovereignty is a bilateral dispute between Spain and Morocco, the latter being a Major non-NATO ally, at a time when relations between the two are mending after last year's crisis. Morocco is likely to interpret an explicit mention of an invasion of Ceuta and Melilla as a provocation, something that could worsen relations, resulting in a spike in mass assaults by illegal immigrants.
Regarding the southern flank, the Strategic Concept mentions the Sahel several times, but dilutes its focus to conflict, fragility and instability in Africa and the Middle East (point 11) and cooperating with strategic partners to address threats in the area (point 45). No specific paragraph is devoted to threats from the region, nor is there any provision for missions to be launched in the region. Instead, we see the Alliance increasingly reorienting itself towards the Indo-Pacific, with the inclusion, for the first time, of China as a threat, with two points (13 and 14) and the presence of the presidents of South Korea and Japan at the Summit.
The Hispanic insistence on concern for the southern flank opens the door to considering the extent to which the EU has failed in this region for NATO to be called in. Especially when we take into account that so far it has not been asked to get involved. It is France and the EU that have tried to stabilise the region without success, so it is up to them to try to bring the situation back on track. The war in Ukraine and the recent Afghan fiasco make it unlikely that the Alliance will decide to launch a combat or training mission. It would anger both Eastern European countries, which have gained decision-making influence with the war in Ukraine, and France, as Paris sees the Sahel as an opportunity to demonstrate the EU's autonomy in ensuring global security without relying on the United States. It also remains to be seen whether the Sahel countries - where strong anti-Western sentiment prevails - would accept NATO assistance. They are likely to perceive NATO as the same dog with a different collar - it is still a white-led military organisation, but with a different logo. If they reject NATO's assistance, the southern flank will continue to be ignored.
In conclusion, NATO looks to the East and the Indo-Pacific. Russia is the enemy, the troop presence in Eastern Europe is strengthened and Finland and Sweden will join the Alliance. It is Spain's interests that have been weakened. Ceuta and Melilla are not specifically mentioned as territories to be protected, with point 20 implying that the Alliance will protect them if they are attacked. Concern over the southern flank calls into question the EU's and France's ability to ensure security in the area, both of which have proven unable to contain or eradicate instability in the Sahel. NATO, focused on Russia and with little appetite after Afghanistan to embark on a military mission, will not be interested in getting involved. Moreover, the presence of the leaders of South Korea and Japan and the mention of China as a threat indicate that the Alliance is looking more to the Indo-Pacific as the future theatre of operations than to the south.