Carmen Romero: "Terrorism from the Sahel is a priority for NATO"

The Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy of the Atlantic Alliance visited the microphones of "De cara al mundo" on Onda Madrid and analysed the current Russian and terrorist threat

 -   Carmen Romero

In the latest edition of "De Cara al Mundo" on Onda Madrid, we had the participation of Carmen Romero, NATO's Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy, who analysed the main conclusions drawn from the NATO Summit in Madrid and the Atlantic Alliance's new Strategic Concept. 

NATO at the moment is proving its usefulness and its need to exist...

Absolutely, because it is essential to do everything possible to protect the more than one billion people living in NATO member countries. Moreover, in a context where we see the end of peace in Europe, with Russia's aggression against Ukraine, it is more important than ever to defend Ukraine's right to self-defence. It is a right enshrined in the United Nations Charter, and we cannot allow President Putin to get away with this, as it would mean that any other country can use force to overthrow a democracy and the territorial integrity of another country. So this is about defending the international order of values and, above all, what NATO is doing is increasing its deterrence to prevent conflict, not provoke it, telling not only Russia, but any potential adversary not to think about messing with any member country of the Alliance because there will be thirty of them behind it.

Should we try to get Putin to the negotiating table instead of militarily attacking Ukraine? Right now NATO is giving the right signals to respect a model of society that has taken us a very long time to build...

Indeed, this is about defending our way of life, our values and our freedom and democracy. We see how from one day to the next Ukrainians have lost their freedom to decide where to live, they are facing a conflict that is totally unjustified, it is about defending our way of life. It is obvious that we are all paying a very high price, there is higher inflation, we are going into a winter that is going to be very hard, but we have to think about how Ukraine is paying for this. The 40 million Ukrainians are losing their families, they have to leave their country and take refuge in another state, so this is about doing everything possible to continue to help Ukraine. Obviously wars always end up at the negotiating table, and this is probably the case here as well, but the situation on the ground dictates very much the positions of strength of the two negotiating parties. In other words, it would be logical for Russia, which started this war, to stop and put an end to this conflict; on the other hand, if Ukraine stops fighting, it will lose part of its territory, and that is unacceptable. At the moment we must continue to support Ukraine, NATO cannot provide arms to Ukraine, that is what the EU member states are doing, but what NATO is doing is something very important such as non-lethal assistance to Ukraine, another type of assistance that is vitally important for Ukraine to be able to resist. We have to bear in mind that the price we are paying for assisting Ukraine is high, but not supporting the Ukrainians would be a higher price because it would be a far more dangerous situation, it would be not having a rules-based international security system that we have worked so hard to build, because we would be giving the signal that if one leader wants to impose force on another, he can do so and nobody will stop him. The stakes are therefore very high, and we must continue to support Ukraine here.


At the Madrid Summit it was clear that the enemy is Russia because Putin wanted it to be so. What has changed since the summit in the Spanish capital?

The Madrid Summit was a great success because of the substance of the decisions that were taken. NATO is a politico-military organisation, so the political decisions are far-reaching. What has changed with respect to Russia is essential, and we are in a very sad position, NATO has spent decades working to have a good relationship with Russia, to have a deep dialogue with Russia and also practical cooperation. Moreover, we have spent many years having a constructive agenda knowing that politically we had many differences, but we managed to get a lot of things done together. Russia's first aggression against Ukraine was not in this February, it was in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, already then we started to have a worse relationship with Russia because we could not accept the accession of Crimea since it is not Russia's territory. At that time, let's say we started to become weaker in terms of dialogue, dialogue became more complicated, we stopped having practical cooperation and already with the full-scale invasion launched in February and with our Madrid Summit we stopped saying that Russia is a partner. For many years, Russia has been a partner of NATO, having the most advanced partnership relationship NATO has ever had with another partner; unfortunately, it was Vladimir Putin who ended this partnership relationship. Now, as stated in NATO's new Strategic Concept, the Alliance's grand political strategy for the next decade, our greatest security challenge is Russia and terrorism, not just Russia as our enemy. We have to continue to work with Russia to avoid miscalculations, to avoid escalation and let's say a military incident, we have to work towards a predictable relationship with Russia and we will continue to maintain channels of communication to avoid that, but we are in a very complicated situation where Russia has gone from being a NATO partner to being an enemy.

Now we are talking about Ukraine, but the Arctic is a particularly sensitive area, very sensitive because of the riches it holds and also because of the navigability due to the melting ice that is taking place. The Arctic is the key to many of the things that are happening right now. 

Indeed, that is why the Secretary General has just returned from a trip to Canada, where he was in the Arctic with the Canadian Prime Minister and the Canadian Foreign and Defence Ministers; he was able to see with his own eyes the key role that Canada plays in the Arctic. It is interesting to see the situation of the 8 Arctic countries once Sweden and Finland join NATO, given that 23 of NATO's 30 member countries have already ratified the accession protocols, let's say 7 of the 8 will be NATO members and climate change is making the Arctic an area of increased competition because with the melting ice there is going to be increased activity and here it is important to keep our eyes open and have a de-escalation agenda because we see that Russia is using the Arctic to test new weaponry, building military infrastructure and is working closely with China. We see this strategic partnership between Russia and China to have greater cooperation in the Arctic, so this is an area that is going to become more relevant and increasingly important for Euro-Atlantic security.

As for China, it is also mentioned in the new Strategic Concept, not in the same way as Russia, but we must be very aware of China's movements because of what it represents. 

Indeed, what is said in NATO's Strategic Concept, which for the first time talks about China, is that China's growth brings us opportunities and challenges, obviously China is not an adversary, we need to understand better what it is doing and what it has an impact on our security. We see that China is getting infrastructure in Alliance member countries that is fundamental for our security, we have to think about alternatives and increase our resilience to be more independent from China at the infrastructure level, this is one of the lessons we see from Ukraine, the fact of Russia's dependence on gas and a series of raw materials and therefore now we have to look for alternatives; well, the same thing, but with certain differences in the case of China. We have to be more independent from China from a security point of view because we may find ourselves in a situation where China can control key infrastructures for our security and at a given moment not allow us to do what we have to do to preserve the security of the one billion people who live in the member countries of the Alliance.

On the southern flank, NATO is dealing with the situation in the Sahel, French troops have left Mali and our backyard now has a situation that will require a great deal of attention not only from NATO but also from the European Union. The danger of destabilisation by terrorists and Russian units that are very active in the region threaten our stability and security. 

I fully agree, organisations like NATO and the EU cannot afford to deal with threats coming only from the East, but also from the South. This is a priority issue and a key issue that was taken very seriously at the Madrid summit where there was a session with heads of state and government focused solely on the challenges coming from the south. This is about doing everything possible to strengthen the democracies of the southern flank countries, to help them with capacity building, to help them to have strong security forces and to help them take control of their security, and it is also about doing everything possible to work together and to do everything possible to make them more resilient and to have the south as a priority on the Alliance's political agenda. Terrorism is, along with Russia, the main threats endorsed in the new Strategic Concept, and terrorism comes from the south. I would like to point out to readers that this is a priority for the Atlantic Alliance and its member states, to focus more on the threats coming from the south and, above all, to help the countries of North Africa and the Middle East to have stable security forces and systems. We see that there is a lot of insecurity and if they are more stable, we will be more secure.


Spain in these key moments is reacting

Spain is reacting very well as a very responsible country. We were one of the first countries that, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, offered its forces to reinforce the eastern flank, which is very important because NATO is an organisation that works to preserve peace. Therefore, what Spain did was to participate in this operation to reinforce this deterrence in order to prevent and avoid the conflict in Ukraine spreading to allied territory, because that is the Alliance's number one priority, to protect our own territory and to do everything possible to avoid a war. Spain has been there from the beginning to keep the peace in the territory of the Atlantic Alliance, responding at all times, contributing to what needs to be contributed and, in this case, I am very proud to be Spanish. 

It is essential that we Europeans maintain unity beyond commercial, energy, economic, etc. interests. Because the unity of Europeans within NATO is vital for the strength of its approaches.

It is true, and this is going to be one of the greatest challenges we face in winter, when we are going to have elections, where there are going to be very important domestic interests. What has allowed us to respond to this crisis created by Russia has been unity, the unity of all the European countries, the unity of the NATO countries, which also includes North America, and let us say that this is the strength of the Atlantic Alliance, that in addition to Europe we have North America, to maintain our unity and to think that the cost we are paying is very high, but the cost that Ukraine is paying is even higher because it is paying with the loss of human lives. At the same time, we cannot allow a leader of one country to forcefully impose an end to the freedom, values and democracy of another country simply because he wants to use force. There is a lot at stake here and we have to think with this vision, it is about peacekeeping, it is about respect for values and we have to remain united.