Russian President Vladimir Putin has miscalculated. He will not be less NATO, as he demanded earlier this year, but will instead be confronted with a larger alliance.
Sweden and Finland now look set to join at a record pace. In addition, NATO’s door will remain open – as promised in 2008 – to Ukraine and Georgia, as well as other European countries. Putin’s deadly attacks on Ukraine have welded NATO together harder than ever since the end of the Cold War. It is not hyperbolic to describe the NATO summit in Madrid as historic or a turning point in time.
The Alliance will not only grow larger but will also adopt a new strategy that sees Russia as the biggest threat and no longer as a possible partner. Putin is forcing Europe, the United States and Canada to refocus on territorial defense along NATO’s eastern flank. This will have far-reaching consequences for armies and societies in Europe. More money, more personnel, more weapons and new strategic thinking are needed to deal with the return of imperialist war to Europe. The 300,000 soldiers to be kept on standby in the future are just the beginning. Permanent deployments on the eastern flank, including German Bundeswehr soldiers, will be necessary if Putin and his system continue to hold power.
Blocking Sweden and Finland was pointless
Turkey waived its meaningless veto against Sweden and Finland joining the alliance just in time for the summit. Rejecting the Nordic candidates would have sent the wrong signal, weakened NATO unity and provided Putin with the perfect gift.
In the end, Turkey, Sweden and Finland, with strong American support, did what could be expected of friendly countries in the midst of one of the most serious crises since NATO’s founding and agreed on the best for the bigger thing. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has secured promises of counter-terrorism, better access to buy US fighter jets and a boost to his domestic position as he struggles with an economic crisis. He can sell it at home as standing up for Turkish interests.
At the same time, Sweden and Finland can easily take the promises they have made to Turkey. They will investigate the possible extradition of Kurdish terror suspects to Turkey. Whether that happens also depends on whether Turkey can guarantee the rule of law, which seems unlikely. In return, Sweden and Finland will have more security and solidarity as members of the alliance.
An additional 1,300 kilometers will be added to NATO’s eastern flank due to Finland’s direct border with Russia. It must be protected at all costs. This is what the other 31 NATO members have promised Finland, which in turn brings an excellently trained and equipped army to the alliance that should keep all Russian ambitions to attack in the north at a distance. The Finnish and Swedish armies will be a valuable addition to NATO. Soldiers from Finland and Sweden will soon play a greater role in defending the Baltic states and dominating the Baltic Sea.
“Brain death” NATO is still a danger
NATO’s future course is clear: to provide a unified defense against the Russian threat by all conventional means, with deterrence, with massive troop assemblies. The outcome of Russia’s war in Ukraine will determine the next challenges for NATO. If Ukraine falls, the Baltic states, Moldova or Georgia could be the next target for Putin’s megalomania. If Russia is repulsed, NATO will have to pursue a massive inclusion policy.
The success of NATO’s future strategy is largely due to its largest and most important ally, the United States. The Biden administration is firmly committed to the alliance, so there is little to worry about there. But if a Republican, or even Donald Trump, wins the 2024 election, NATO could face the next crisis. Whether Europeans will follow the French proposal and be “sovereign” enough to defend themselves is doubtful.
For now, the alliance is alive, but French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments in 2019 that NATO is experiencing “brain death” should serve as a warning. After all, Trump and company would be willing to sacrifice Ukraine to receive Russia’s rulers.