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Has Ukraine received a place in the new NATO Strategic Concept, or should it determine this role itself?

On June 29-30, 2022, the Spanish capital Madrid hosted a NATO summit that will have far-reaching implications for the European and global security architecture. The summit adopted a new Strategic Concept, which defines the direction of the Alliance for the next 10 years, and also contains a number of fundamental changes in NATO policy.

The Strategy itself was rewritten during several months right before the meeting in Madrid due to Russia's unprovoked full-scale aggression against Ukraine. Prior to this, the North Atlantic Alliance adhered to the principle of deterrence and dialogue with Russia and considered China as its main rival for the next decade. Now the Russian Federation is defined by the document as the biggest and most direct threat to security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.

The document confirms that the main goal of NATO is to ensure the collective defense of the Alliance based on the 360-degree approach. It defines three core missions for the Alliance: deterrence and defence; crisis prevention and management; also cooperative security. The North Atlantic Alliance has emphasized the need to significantly strengthen deterrence and defence as the backbone of Article 5 commitment to defend each other.

Ukraine did not have high expectations before the NATO summit. The state leadership understood that the country would not receive the MAP, let alone membership. "I look at the draft document of the final, strategic concept of NATO, which they plan to adopt at the summit. I flip through here, flip through there, then turn over, then look again, close, open and I don’t see what exactly is there, what powerful decisions there are concerning Ukraine," Dmytro Kuleba said before the summit. In the finally approved document, it is noted that NATO confirms the policy of open doors, adherence to the decision of the Bucharest Summit in 2008 and the intention to strengthen political dialogue and cooperation with the states aiming to join the Alliance. Ukraine is mentioned in this context.

Ukraine is considered to be a partner country of the Alliance. At the moment NATO has more partners all over the world than members. Officially, Ukraine has the Enhanced Opportunities Partner status. The Alliance pays significant attention to cooperation with countries outside NATO, and the strategy itself indicates the intention to strengthen efforts aimed at strengthening the ability of partners to counter the special threats and challenges they face and boost their capabilities to counter malign interference, prevent destabilisation and counter aggression. In addition to Ukraine, the states of the Black Sea region, the Balkan countries, the Middle East, North Africa, the Sahel and, more indicatively, the Indo-Pacific region are mentioned. Thus, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation goes global. In particular, the concept notes that China's stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge the interests, security and values of NATO. At the same time, the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand attended the summit in Madrid for the first time in history.

In addition to threats from China and Russia, the strategic concept focuses on nuclear non-proliferation, terrorism threats, climate change, the importance of the new technologies, space security, and countering cyber and hybrid threats. An interesting point is that the Alliance allowed the application of Article 5 in the case of using hybrid tactics against allies: “hybrid operations against Allies could reach the level of armed attack and could lead the North Atlantic Council to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty”. Previously, NATO has already faced hybrid challenges from Russia: these are information campaigns, energy blackmail, as well as a migration crisis artificially created on the Belarusian border.

In the context of practical measures, the Madrid summit made powerful decisions to strengthen European and Euro-Atlantic security. Firstly, the Allies agreed to increase its rapid-response unit from 40,000 to 300,000 troops. This is a revolutionary decision, because if earlier it was about dettering Russia, now NATO has set the goal of gradually gaining an advantage over the Russian Armed Forces in Eastern Europe. The Alliance is moving from deterrence to defense. Secondly, the Allies managed to unblock the Turkish veto on the entry of Finland and Sweden. Before the summit, the three states signed a memorandum of understanding, after which Sweden and Finland were officially invited to the Alliance. This means that the Baltic Sea is turning into a lake of the North Atlantic Alliance, which significantly strengthens the position of the allies not only in the Baltic, but also in the Arctic region. Also, Russia's border with NATO is extended by more than 1,200 kilometers, forcing the Russian Federation to stretch its forces.

It was very difficult for Vladimir Putin to "save his face" under such conditions. After all his threats about the non-expansion of NATO, anything he could do is simply to "swallow" this decision. Thirdly, the new concept notes that a strong independent Ukraine is vital for the stability of the Euro-Atlantic region. This thesis is supported by practical initiatives outlined in the last week of June. Initially, Jens Stoltenberg announced NATO's intention to completely rearm Ukraine in accordance with the standards of the Alliance. Then, during the summit, there were new statements and announcements of the supply of important weapons. Boris Johnson said that one of the priorities is the supply of multiple launch rocket systems. And Joe Biden announced at the final press conference that he sees the priority of providing Ukraine with "offensive weapons" and modern long-range air defense systems. Moreover, even skeptical countries, including Hungary, began to talk about the seriousness of the threat, the need to arm and help Ukraine (albeit by hands of others, as the European Pravda material notes). At a minimum, under the conditions of maintaining this level of support, Ukraine will be able to achieve a level of defense capability that will make impossible a new attack by Russia. Other options for the Euro-Atlantic security architecture will largely depend on the further course of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The Madrid summit marks the moment of NATO's transformation. According to the new strategic concept, the North Atlantic Alliance goes global and, for the first time since the Cold War, defines Russia as its main threat. The Alliance is moving towards a defense concept on the eastern flank. An increase in the military contingent, the entry of new members into the Alliance will contribute to the strengthening of NATO forces in Europe, and, consequently, to the overall security, which coincides with the strategic interests of Ukraine. Ukraine remains an Enhanced Opportunities Partner, but with an unprecedented level of support from the Alliance. The Allies will continue to support Ukraine, trying not to be involved in a direct conflict with the Russian Federation.

And yet, along with certain innovations and curtsies, the Strategic Concept lacks an answer regarding what role is assigned to Ukraine in containing this direct threat to NATO from Russia? Ukraine continues to remain outside the NATO's Euro-Atlantic responsibility zone. As a follower of A. Merkel, an ardent opponent of Ukraine's membership in NATO, and now German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, recently noted, "Ukraine's membership in NATO is not on the agenda right now." Therefore, NATO Secretary General Enns Stoltenberg was most concerned that the Russian military aggression "does not go beyond the borders of Ukraine." It is obvious that such a fear of the Alliance and the intention to avoid conflict with Russia at all costs is also caused not least by the unwillingness of NATO to defend its eastern flank, which, meanwhile, is defended by Ukraine who is pulling back the lion's share of the Russian armed forces that could be used by Russia in the war against NATO. 

It is becoming obvious that, trying to rearm Ukraine in accordance with NATO standards, the Alliance is ready to assign it the role of a "buffer" or "outpost" that should contain this Russian threat, and in the event of aggression, defend NATO itself, that is, Ukraine would become a theater of war in the event of a conflict between NATO and Russia. For its part, NATO will do everything possible to avoid this conflict, pretending that it has nothing to do with this conflict. For this reason, it leaves Ukraine outside the security and defense sphere of the Alliance guaranteed by its Article 5.

Thus, the new Strategic Concept condemns NATO to a marginal position in the future in the formation of a prospective security architecture in Europe, and even more so global security, the final updated form of which will largely depend on the further course of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

 Україна повертається до НАТО. Як саміт у Мадриді змінив ставлення до Альянсу, 01.07.2022,