NATO chief says alliance faces biggest challenge since World War II
NATO leaders gathered on Wednesday to try to turn an urgent sense of purpose sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into action – and to patch up any cracks in their unity over money and mission.
General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was meeting in Madrid “in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since World War II”.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shattered the peace in Europe and prompted NATO to pour troops and weapons into Eastern Europe on a scale not seen since the Cold War.
Read also – Turkey lifts its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO
Members of the alliance have also sent billions in military and civilian aid to Ukraine. The 30 NATO leaders will hear directly from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who will likely ask them to do even more when he addresses the rally via video link.
Money could be a sensitive issue – only nine of NATO’s 30 members currently meet the organization’s target of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defence.
The war has already triggered a big increase in NATO forces in the east, and the allies are expected to agree at the summit to increase the alliance’s rapid reaction force by almost eight times, from 40,000 to 300 000 troops by next year. The troops will be based in their home countries, but dedicated to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank, where the alliance plans to build up stockpiles of equipment and ammunition.
Stoltenberg said NATO was undertaking “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War“.
Leaders are also set to release NATO’s new Strategic Concept, its set of priorities and goals for a decade.
Russia is set to be declared the alliance’s number one threat, but the document will also lay out NATO’s approach to issues ranging from cybersecurity to climate change – and the growing economic and military reach of China. For the first time, the leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand are attending the summit as guests, reflecting the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region.
Stoltenberg said China was not NATO’s adversary, but posed “challenges to our values, our interests and our security.”
The summit opened with a problem solved, after Turkey agreed on Tuesday to drop its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. In response to the invasion, the two Nordic nations abandoned their long-standing non-aligned status and asked to join NATO to protect against an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Russia – which shares a long border with Finland. .
NATO operates by consensus and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to block the Nordic pair, insisting they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups Turkey considers terrorists.
After urgent talks at the highest level with the leaders of the three countries, the secretary of the Stoltenberg alliance declared that the impasse had been resolved.
Turkey hailed Tuesday’s deal as a triumph, saying the Nordic countries had agreed to crack down on groups Ankara sees as national security threats, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its extension Syrian. He said they had also agreed “not to impose embargo restrictions in the field of defense industry” on Turkey and to take “concrete steps for the extradition of terrorist criminals”.
Stoltenberg said leaders of the 30-nation alliance will issue a formal invitation for the two countries to join on Wednesday. The decision must be ratified by all individual nations, but he said he was “absolutely confident” that Finland and Sweden would become members.
Stoltenberg said he expected the process to be completed “rather quickly,” but did not set a deadline.