We all know that international affairs are currently dominated by the war in Ukraine. This, however, forms just part of the agenda of the Madrid Summit, which was planned under very different auspices.
Readers who are interested in these matters, which are nothing other than matters of international security, may remember that a Summit was held in London in December 2019, at which it was decided to reform the organisation, for the first time in 70 years.
NATO was founded in 1949 by 12 countries, including Italy, and its membership has increased over the years to 30 countries, all of which need to reach a consensus whenever decisions are to be taken. So perceptions of threats sometimes differ, and cohesion can certainly not be taken for granted.
The central issue is burden-sharing between the United States and Europe, which was criticised by the Trump presidency, but there is also a wide range of other issues.
While the military dimension has grown well over the years and has evolved in step with the times, the political dimension was showing signs of age. In other words, the decision was taken to update the old consultation mechanisms, which were causing NATO to fall behind in relation to newer bodies.
The aim of the reform process was to bring the old Alliance, which had served so well in the Cold War and the crises in the former Yugoslavia, back to the centre of the new international stage – at least as a place of consultation on key strategic issues for the major Western democracies.
Needless to say, concern about the rapid and determined rise of China as a world power was the focal point of American attention.
This formed the basis for a process of reflection that the Secretary General called “NATO 2030”, which is now merging into the new Strategic Concept due to be approved at the Madrid Summit. For the sake of clarity, the Strategic Concept sets out NATO’s guidelines, which establish the priorities that Member States’ governments see on the horizon. So it is a very important official document that is renewed every 10-12 years.
The one currently in force, which is clear and well written, was launched in Lisbon in 2010. It identifies three priority areas: collective defence; crisis management; and new cooperative security.
Coming right up to date, the war in Ukraine has devastated the proposed scenario, forcing member countries to make some very difficult choices. Over the past few months, there has been daily talk and written analysis of this war, which has unleashed a perfect storm.
Driven by a plan to re-establish the geographical framework of the old Soviet Union, the war sprang from imprecise forecasts of an easy victory. It has already caused a deep rift between two peoples, where previously there was none, and this rift will take generations to heal.
We know that almost all Member States have decided to support Ukraine’s tenacious defence against aggression, including by sending weapons, with the subtle distinction of defending the country under attack, without touching the national soil of the aggressor. And events are continually evolving as we write.
It is worth noting, however, that so far we have witnessed an unexpected degree of cohesion between Western countries.
The war has hijacked the summit, with repercussions for the reform process and the assessment of the global situation. The Summit therefore seems to have two parallel tracks: one for further decision-making about the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which is far from easy and inevitably affects a range of different sectors. And another for approving the Strategic Concept, which takes a broader view of international security issues in general.
NATO will remain a regional organisation, but with an emphasis on global partners. The presence of the prime ministers of Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand is a completely new departure, which would generate rivers of ink if the stage was not already occupied by other concerns.
Special emphasis will be given to the role of high technology, from space to artificial intelligence. These are the new frontiers of the human community, and it is therefore painful that so much attention will be diverted to a conventional conflict that is a war of yesterday.
China will be named for the first time, using carefully chosen language, however, that does not define it as an adversary, but as a competitor with which it is necessary to deal in various ways.
Climate change and security, terrorism, environmental disaster, the resilience of human communities in the broadest sense and compliance with the international order are the other major topics to be taken into consideration.
From a national point of view, the geographical framework is important. NATO will not only have to look to the East but also to the South, which is a clear source of threats. We are talking about the Arab world, as well as Africa and the Sahel. These names will appear in the final document for the first time.
The principle of “360-degree” security has been mentioned at other NATO summits. It is to be hoped that this vision will be put into practice.
Italy, which has always played a leading role, has every right to ask partners to take part in burden-sharing in areas that are important to us, such as the Mediterranean and the Balkans.
The horrendous conflict unfolding before our eyes is preventing Western democracies from devoting their full attention to the major issues of the future, as they had hoped to. The Heads of State and Government, however, still have the unenviable task of making wise and far-sighted choices.