European Union National Security NATO Politics & Diplomacy Security & Defense Turkey
Fast Thinking June 30, 2022

The triumphs and question marks from this week’s NATO summit

By Atlantic Council


This summer blockbuster lived up to the hype. In Madrid this week, NATO allies substantially boosted their forces in Eastern Europe, struck a deal to invite Sweden and Finland into the club, and dropped a once-in-a-decade strategic concept that strove to break new ground on China and climate change. What do these developments mean—and which ones flew under the radar? How will history judge this consequential gathering? From Madrid to Washington, our experts are here with answers.


  • Chris Skaluba: Director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security’s Transatlantic Security Initiative and former principal director for European & NATO policy at the US Defense Department
  • Gabriela Doyle (@gabrielaraquela): Assistant director at the Transatlantic Security Initiative
  • Ian Brzezinski (@IanBrzezinski): Resident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for European & NATO policy


  • While most NATO meetings are “choreographed to showcase solidarity,” Chris tells us, “the feeling on the ground in Madrid is that this summit genuinely delivered the goods.” Leaders managed to overcome concerns about potential cracks appearing because they “under-promised and over-delivered on a diverse agenda, showcasing tangible progress on a number of issues.”
  • And thanks to Turkey lifting its blockade of Finland and Sweden’s bids for membership, he adds, Madrid became an “enlargement summit” and “served to highlight NATO’s democratic culture: What might have been a narrative of allies and partners bickering instead showed those divisions as a source of strength” as Alliance members worked “through their differences constructively.”
  • Gabriela notes that if the theme of last year’s Brussels summit was “the US is back,” this year’s was “the West is back.” She adds: “NATO is emerging from this week with more unity on the political and military fronts than it has had in a generation.” 
  • Overall, Ian says the Madrid confab may well go down in history: “The summit may mark the end of the post-Cold War era and the beginning of a new sustained and tense era of military confrontation with Russia.”

Subscribe to Fast Thinking email alerts

Sign up to receive rapid insight in your inbox from Atlantic Council experts on global events as they unfold.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


  • Still, Ian adds, when it comes to capability commitments, “declarations are easy to make. It will take real political will and resources to deliver on the promise to expand the NATO Response Force sevenfold, from 40,000 personnel to over 300,000. NATO needs to do that, and with real haste.”
  • He added: “It will be a challenge for the European dimension of this expanded force to meet required readiness levels and put in place the logistics and supplies the force will require for high-intensity war.” Ian says this new force will require “large-scale exercises”—something the NRF has never done—to be credible.
  • Chris adds that the United States’ new commitments to European forces “surprised in scope and robustness,” but doubts remain about whether the Alliance can pull off its new deterrence model. NATO deserves the benefit of the doubt until details are clearer, but there was some skepticism on the ground in Madrid about the ability to balance clear short-term deterrence requirements with this new, longer-term vision.


  • With much pre-summit anticipation around how NATO would tackle China, Chris tells us that its placement in the Strategic Concept was telling: “That China was prioritized behind terrorism—probably as a concession to Ankara and as a nod to the broader concerns of the southern-tier allies—rings truer in Europe than in Washington.”
  • But Gabriela says the Madrid guest list made a statement of its own, with the leaders of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan joining. “The fact that NATO’s Indo-Pacific partners were invited to the summit this year is a strong signal on how NATO views the China threat that will have far-reaching consequences,” she says.
  • And there was also a “pleasant surprise” near the top of the Strategic Concept, Gabriela adds: the Women, Peace, and Security agenda, which is often overlooked. “This positioning and the follow-on nod to gender equality is a good sign, but I’m eager to see how the Alliance plans to follow through.”  
  • As for climate change (a personal priority for Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg), Chris says it “fit awkwardly on the agenda amid the war in Ukraine and fell flat among many on the ground.” But many “next-generation champions” of the Alliance who were in Madrid, Chris adds, wanted even more climate on the menu—perhaps “providing Madrid another point in favor of what is being widely termed as a historic summit.”

Further reading

Related Experts: Christopher Skaluba, Gabriela R. A. Doyle, and Ian Brzezinski

Image: US President Joe Biden holds a press conference during the NATO Summit in Madrid on June 30, 2022. (Photo by Celestino Arce/NurPhoto/REUTERS