WThe Spanish capital Madrid will host estern leaders starting in June. 28 to June. 29 to 30. This summit is widely considered the most significant in the history of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The 30 members of the intergovernmental alliance of military states are eager to show their solidarity against Russian aggression, just months after Ukraine’s invasion.
Leaders attending the two-day conference are expected to unveil a “transformative” approach to their security and defense strategy of the kind not seen since the Cold War, according to its Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The summit will be focused on bolstering NATO’s military support in eastern Europe, reaffirm support for Ukraine, and the growing global influence of China. According to TIME, analysts believe that this summit may be an opportunity for the E.U. The U.S. has historically been the driving force behind the expansion of allied military presences in Europe.
But there will be tricky issues to navigate—notably Turkey’s opposition to Finland and Sweden’s bids to join the alliance, and the need to balance defense spending with nations’ domestic budgets amid rising inflation and fears of recession.
This is what you can expect from NATO’s summit.
Who will attend the NATO Summit?
The leaders of the 30 members of NATO meet at least once a year in a member state to coordinate defensive strategy, discuss new policy and the alliance’s response to security threats. In addition to the U.S. government and Canada, there will also be leaders of 28 European and Nordic countries, such as Denmark, Germany and the U.K.
NATO was established in 1949 by North American and European countries, as well as the Nordic nations, to offer mutual military support in case of Soviet Union attack. It has since expanded its membership and its remit since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and has been involved in military operations—from peacekeeping to training and combat—in the Balkans, Africa, and the Middle East.
At this year’s summit in Madrid, world leaders from countries not currently members of NATO —including South Korea and Japan—along with Finland and Sweden, which have applied to join the alliance—will be in attendance as observers.
How about Finland or Sweden?
Three months later, the invasion of Ukraine was overthrown by Russia. Finland and Sweden submitted NATO membership applications on May 18, 2018. Russian aggression in a neighboring non-NATO state had an unprecedented effect on public sentiment in the two historically neutral countries—Finland shares a 830-mile border with Russia. These two countries have worked together on peacekeeping missions in the Balkans as well as the Middle East for many years.
Learn more Finland and Sweden Wrestle With the Benefits—and Risks—of Joining NATO
But Finland and Sweden’s bids to join were blocked by Turkey, a member of the alliance with the second-largest army after the U.S. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the country could not approve the request of two countries which he says were harboring “terrorists”—a reference to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is currently engaged in a conflict with the Turkish government as it attempts to gain greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds, the country’s largest ethnic minority. Although the E.U., including Sweden and Finland, designated the PKK a terrorist organization, Western leaders have supported the group’s Syrian wing, the YPG, in the war against ISIS. Together with other E.U. member countries, Sweden and Finland are imposing a ban on arm sales to Turkey. countries have imposed a ban on arms sales to Turkey since the country’s 2019 incursion against the YPG in Syria.
Ankara also accuses Finland and Sweden of harbouring support for a sect of Islam that was widely suspected to be behind the 2016 coup attempt by Turkey.
Turkey is currently the only member of NATO blocking Sweden and Finland’s accession—but analysts tell TIME that a diplomatic stalemate over the issue could persist for some time. Alissa, the deputy program director Europe & Central Asia at International Crisis Group (Brussel-based think-tank), says Turkey will use the occasion to settle long-standing disputes it had with the U.S. and not the Nordic countries.
“Ankara has been infuriated, quite frankly, with U.S. support for Kurdish groups in northern Syria in the fight against ISIS,” de Carbonnel says. Another issue is Washington’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric who Ankara blames for the July 2016 coup attempt and has lived in the U.S. since 1999.
Are Russia and Ukraine going to be discussed?
Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, will address NATO leaders via video link at the summit. During previous addresses at cultural and diplomatic events, the Ukrainian president has called for tougher sanctions and the implementation of a no-fly zone over Ukraine—a request that has so far been denied by the U.S. and NATO due to fears of escalating the war with Russia beyond Ukraine’s borders. NATO leaders will, however, be able to announce greater military support for Ukraine, including the provision of equipment to fight Russian drones, and secure communications.
Russia’s encroachment on the borders with Ukraine, its invasion on Feb. 24, and subsequent allegations of human rights violations in the country have forced a rapid transformation of European countries’ approach to defense in the region. Leaders at the NATO summit are expected to announce an expansion of the organization’s crisis response and defense unit of 40,000 and a bolstered military presence in eastern European countries bordering Russia, including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg indicated that the alliance was looking for ways to make it more resilient to any Russian threats ahead of the summit. The alliance could have additional soldiers at Russia’s border, as well reserve troops stationed abroad, like Germany. These forces could then be used if necessary. NATO member states will have to weigh up the hefty costs of deploying troops permanently—something that is particularly sought by the Baltic countries—in the context of soaring inflation and a widespread cost-of-living crisis as a result of Russia’s war.
TIME is told that analysts believe this will allow the U.S. the chance to transfer some military responsibility to secure European countries to E.U. who has been leading the coordination of an all-allied response to war. In terms of the proportion of its GDP, the U.S. spends more than any of the other 29 NATO member states on defense which, according to Ben Friedman, policy director at the Washington D.C.-based think tank Defense Priorities, means that the U.S. has acted like a “helicopter parent” in telling European countries how much they should spend on defense. But, Friedman says, the U.S.’s allies have shown that they’re more than capable—last month Germany committed to invest €100 billion on its underfunded military and increase defense spending to the NATO goal of 2% of GDP.
Giuseppe Famà, the head of E.U. affairs at International Crisis Group, says that the summit will demonstrate that NATO is becoming “more Europeanized”, with the alliance following the example of the European Union Military Committee, which coordinated the bloc’s weapons supplies to Ukraine. E.U. has taken on more responsibility. over NATO could be a positive thing for security, Famà says, as it reduced the risk of engaging in a more global confrontation with Russia. “A more forceful response from NATO in Ukraine would have created greater potential for escalation, because Russia would have responded to a U.S. presence much more forcefully,” he tells TIME.
The summit: What can you expect?
Expect the NATO 30 member countries to reveal a revised version of their key policy document. This has been unpublished for more than a decade. The revisions are somewhat out of date due to changes in global security threats, such as China’s rise and cyber warfare, as well the recent climate crisis.
Friedman says the central argument lies in the shift of power from Asia. “The Strategic Concept that was written in 2010 saw the world as a playpen for the United States and its NATO allies to spread democracy and intervene militarily, and that’s no longer the case,” he tells TIME.
Perhaps that’s why, for the first time, South Korea and Japan will attend the NATO summit, albeit as observers. Their attendance signals not only the countries’ concerns over Russia—with which Japan shares a sea border—but also the growing global assertiveness of Beijing, which has refused to condemn Moscow for the war in Ukraine.
Learn more Japan and South Korea’s Attendance at the Upcoming NATO Summit Could Worsen Global Tensions
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