Blinken: NATO is ‘more united, more focused’ after historic summit

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On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed for world leaders to continue sustained action—in supporting Ukraine, in pressuring Russia, and in reinforcing NATO on the heels of its historic decision to invite Finland and Sweden to join the defensive alliance. 

“NATO is emerging from this summit more united, more focused, and with more assets to deal with a multiplicity of challenges,” Blinken said, praising the solidarity shown in this week’s gathering in Madrid. 

The conversations at the two-day NATO Public Forum, taking place on the sidelines of the Madrid summit, brought together a number of global leaders in person and virtually, including US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who reaffirmed US support for Article 5, the principle of collective defense, as “ironclad.” 

“This alarming challenge to national sovereignty must be met by a unified global commitment to peace and security,” Pelosi said of Russian aggression, while also calling for action to defend against China through continued “cooperation with our Asia-Pacific partners to bolster cybersecurity, counter disinformation, and preserve our collective defense.” 

This week, NATO nations agreed on a new Strategic Concept that declares the Alliance’s priorities in staving off military and economic threats from Russia and China, reasserting shared democratic values and human-rights protections, and battling new threats from the realms of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

“All of these things are challenges we have to meet and face,” Blinken said, “but we know that we’re going to be more effective in doing it if we actually have a shared, common approach.”

Read on for more highlights from the gathering of global experts and decisionmakers, hosted by four leading civil society organizations—the Atlantic Council, the Elcano Royal Institute, the German Marshall Fund, and the Munich Security Conference, in coordination with NATO.

Looking beyond Madrid

  • NATO countries further from the eastern flank are still feeling the urgency of the moment, said José Manuel Albares, Spain’s minister of foreign affairs, ”because it’s a change in the European order of avoiding war as a way of solving conflicts.” Blinken agreed that there has been a broad recognition that the aggression against Ukraine is aggression against Europe as a whole: “If we allow them to be challenged with impunity, then we risk opening Pandora’s box, and I think people feel that.”
  • A diplomatic end to Russian aggression continues to be elusive. In “Vladimir Putin’s mind, the idea for dialogue, even of a ceasefire, is very, very, far,” Albares said, suggesting that a peace deal remains unlikely in the short term. Added Blinken: “Unless and until [Putin] gives up on this fixation on trying to end Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence, it’s going to be hard to get anywhere.” 
  • With one hundred million forcibly displaced people around the world—from Ukraine to Myanmar to Venezuela—Blinken said that “collective approaches to” irregular migration are needed. “We have shared responsibilities when it comes to trying to deal with migration, because not a single one of us alone can deal with it effectively,” Blinken said. 
  • Blinken noted that in NATO’s last strategic concept, released in 2010, Russia was seen as a potential partner and China wasn’t even mentioned. So NATO must be on the lookout for even those challenges not captured in its brand-new concept. “Threats are going to appear, and they can transform,” Albares said. “The challenge is for us to keep united.”

Taking on a changing world

  • With Sweden and Finland now officially invited to join the Alliance, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde pointed out how citizens previously wary of ending the country’s longstanding policy of non-alignment shifted quickly after seeing the war crimes committed by Russia against a similarly unaligned, sovereign, democratic country: “That shocked the Swedish people, really. And it shocked the Finnish people, who have a 1,340-kilometer direct border with Russia.” Now 85 percent of the parliament and 60 percent of the population is in agreement, after coming to the conclusion that “we’re not safe anymore. We need security guarantees,” Linde said. “Russia has become totally unpredictable, and they have warfare that is really dangerous.”
  • Both the Italian and French foreign ministers voiced support for the soon-to-be NATO allies. “The Alliance will be stronger thanks to this,” Italy’s Luigi di Maio told moderator Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. “It’s clear that Putin started this aggression against Ukraine in order to avoid more NATO borders at Russian borders, and the result is that two new countries are joining NATO.” 
  • The efforts by the United States and NATO members to arm Ukrainian forces have been “enormous,” Linde said, “but, of course, we need to [be] enduring in this.” The Swedish foreign minister pointed to the difficulties in passing a sixth sanctions package through the European Commission, as public attention and support wanes with the war dragging on. She also warned that Russia poses a threat not just to NATO’s eastern borders, but also its southern flank, as Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group are operating from Mali to the Central African Republic and Libya. 
  • NATO members face a balance in acknowledging the threats posed by China without stoking a West vs. East confrontation. China “is a competitor,” said French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna, but “we nevertheless have to be attentive not to play [into] that narrative.” Climate change can be one area for cooperation, Colonna said, while stressing NATO’s ability to work with many nations: “We are not simplistic. We are open to dialogue.” 
  • But technology is becoming an increasingly contested space, with NATO allies pushing back against the use of Huawei 5G networks, for example. “We need to invest more attention, and keep our attention, on the technologies,” di Maio said. That also means balancing trade needs with security. “We need Chinese investment and Chinese trade,” Linde said, “but we also need to not be naive to let Chinese interests into things that are sensitive for security.” 
  • NATO’s looming expansion also plays into the global contest between democracy and autocracy. Democracy is “not just a value. It’s something that creates good things,” said Linde, who cited Sweden’s public works actions and “case for democracy” messaging to show that democracies are more stable, more peaceful, more sustainable. “We need to defend democracy much more [vigilantly] than we have done before,” Linde said.

Keeping the electorate on board

  • Government officials must continue to reinforce the importance of backing Ukraine, even as high inflation and other economic challenges threaten to undermine support. US Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said she tells constituents that Ukrainians are fighting not just for their freedoms, but for global freedoms—echoing similar sentiments from Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko earlier in the day. “If we support the Ukrainians, then hopefully we won’t have to send our soldiers,” Shaheen said. “We have to understand that, if Russia succeeds in Ukraine, it puts us further away from settling the economy,” added US Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC).
  • In many Eastern European countries, opposition to Russia and support for NATO has remained high, said Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs of Latvia, which secured independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Rinkēvičs said it was important to engage with allies outside of the region, particularly in an age when short attention spans and economic concerns can distract from the Russian threat. “There is no point preaching to Poles or Lithuanians. But the farther we are from Ukraine, the farther we are from Russia, the more basic things, sometimes, we need to explain,” he said.
  • The high prices of gas and oil threaten to destabilize support for Ukraine, leading Shaheen to urge countries to reduce their energy usage and further develop green alternatives: “Boy, you don’t need any stronger argument for why we need to get off of our dependence on fossil fuels—whether you believe in climate change or not. Look at the security challenge.”
  • That economic pressure also has global leaders thinking about China. “We are aiding and abetting the ascendancy of China as the world economic and military power if we don’t look at how they’re using economic policy and investment as a strategic weapon,” Tillis said. In particular, he noted that China’s refusal to condemn Russia is “a message to the rest of the world about what could occur in the South China Sea.”
  • Reflecting on Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 and occupation of Crimea in 2014, Rinkēvičs rejected the idea that NATO enlargement had “provoked” Russian aggression. “Knowing Russia very well, the whole neighborhood wanted to join NATO as quickly as possible,” Rinkēvičs said, adding that the historic additions of Sweden and Finland are the result of Russia’s “aggressive kind of foreign policy, bullying of its neighbors, [which] actually pushed all of the countries to apply for NATO membership.”

Nick Fouriezos is a writer with more than a decade of journalism experience around the globe.

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Further reading

Image: José Manuel Albares, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, and Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, speak at the NATO Public Forum in Madrid on June 29, 2022.