The upcoming NATO Madrid summit at the end of June will be particularly extraordinary and pivotal under many aspects compared to previous ones. Let us have a look.
For the first time since the end of World War II, the summit will take place while an inter-state war is unfolding at the core of Europe, following Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. A big nuclear power in Europe is waging a classic, even traditional war against another without any moral, legal, or political justification in order to subdue by force and at tanks’ gunpoint an independent and sovereign European country. Only in 1939, with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland, we witnessed anything resembling this during modern European history.
That we were living a paradigm shift in the international geopolitical and security landscape was evident and understood well before the 24th of February, but the Russian aggression was a thunderous wake-up call for Europe and NATO as we all bore witness to a confrontation right at the core of Europe between a democracy and an autocracy escalating into armed confrontation, ultimately assuming the shape of an old, traditional inter-state conflict.
An imperialistic and revisionist Russia under President Vladimir Putin’s leadership aims at regaining its former imperial Russian territory by any means necessary, including force (Georgia first, then Crimea and the Donbass, and now as much Ukrainian territory as it can); disregarding international law as well as both the Soviet-approved post-WW2 world order and the Russian-approved post-Cold War order (from the Helsinki Act to Germany’s peaceful reunification to the NATO-Russia Paris Charter, and the 2002 “Pratica di mare” declaration and strategic partnership).
This new dynamic and Putin’s declared expansionistic policy to regain control of what he — in his outdated vision out of history and time — considers vital Russian space, have put enormous pressure on Europe’s security in general and on Northern and Eastern Europeans in particular. Sweden’s and Finland’s historical decision to apply for NATO membership after several years of military neutrality epitomises, more than any words, the security and threat concerns against all European and Northern and Eastern NATO allies vis-à-vis Moscow’s aggressive posture and policies.
In Madrid, NATO will approve a new Strategic Concept as the previous one — approved in Lisbon in 2010 — has been completely overrun by the paradigm shift of the security landscape both in the Euro-Atlantic theatre and beyond. In the preparatory phase leading to the Concept — besides Russia — new security themes were emerging, such as the shift of the world’s geopolitical centre of gravity away from the Atlantic and Europe towards the Indo-Pacific,China’s rise to super power status in competition with the US and its revisionist ambitions on the world order, the emergence of new disruptive technologies which might dramatically alter the balance of power, the EU’s drive towards greater security and defence responsibility, the security implications of global climate change, and the instability and fragmentation of the global South (also as breeding ground for terrorism), to name a few.
The war in Ukraine will inevitably dominate the strategic concept’ focus alongside Russia’s security threats vis-à-vis NATO’s Northern, Eastern, and South-Eastern flank.
Consequently, we will see greater emphasis towards a substantially reinforced NATO, with a growing military posture in the Eastern flank, increased readiness, and more NATO forces stationed in the area supplied by logistics and heavy weapons. Moreover, the expected invite to Finland and Sweden to join NATO will further move the focus of NATO’s posture to the North and the East.
This is a fact that will happen no matter what. However, it is also a fact that NATO’s strategic concept is a long-term (ten years plus) vision that gives the organisation a sense of direction for its future security as a whole. Therefore, it would be a mistake to single out one ongoing event (e.g., the war in Ukraine), albeit key and dramatic for European security, as it would overshadow all the other key security factors that will shape the Allies’ security environment in the longer term. These include, first and foremost, China’s rise and the growing tensions and competition in the Indo-Pacific (it is not by chance that the recent US national defence strategy places China as its main security concern, followed by Russia). Now, if China is the primary concern for NATO’s number one ally, and considering that we are witnessing an even closer partnership between Beijing and Moscow, I can’t see how China cannot be a key security concern for the Alliance as well. Of the utmost importance is also the Global South’s dramatic instability and insecurity, exacerbated by the adverse effects of climate change, with Africa taking centre stage and being exploited by growing Chinese and Russian interest and presence in the region, and — last but not least — the emergence of a European defence identity, responsibility, and capacity.
Against this backdrop, Italy has a three-fold responsibility:
- Be a primary NATO player together with other key southern Allies (e.g., France, Spain, Greece, Turkey, and the US) to assure the security of the wider Mediterranean southern flank;
- Be a major player in the emerging European defence identity and military capacity initiative, ensuring a close and strict coordination with NATO’s defence priorities and needs;
- Significantly contribute (Italy is a major NATO and European Ally, let us never forget that) to the Alliance’s main defence effort in the Eastern flank, particularly yet not exclusively, in Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. It is a responsibility we cannot avoid not only in the name of solidarity and collective defence but also as a way to gain the Alliance’s and European interest and contribution to the South in return.
That is what Italy should — and can — do, having clear political security and foreign policy priorities and building an effective and technologically advanced military which is well in our political, economic, industrial, and military capacity, both as a nation, as a prominent European country, and as an important NATO ally.