The 31 leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are scheduled to gather for a two-day summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius this week.
Members of the military alliance will seek to reaffirm their support for war-torn Ukraine, overcome differences of opinion with NATO member Sweden, and show a united stance against Russian aggression.
“This week, at the NATO summit, we will strengthen our deterrence and defense, including more investments. We will increase our support for Ukraine, and move Ukraine closer to NATO,” said the Secretary-General of military alliance Jens Stoltenberg to reporters in Vilnius.
“Lithuania wants this summit to be remembered as the summit of decisions – not just declarations,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said in a tweet on the eve of the summit.
No membership but more guarantees
For Ukraine, an important decision after the summit in Vilnius is to obtain confirmation of its membership in NATO.
Kyiv applied to become a member of the alliance in September, seeking to strengthen its borders with Russia.
Since then, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, his officials – and the Ukrainian people within the country and around the world – have been lobbying NATO countries to speed up the process of Kyiv’s accession.
But NATO members remain divided over the issue of offering Kyiv membership in the alliance amid the ongoing war despite a broad consensus to signal strong support for Ukraine.
Countries like the United States and Germany show a strict stance on the idea, compared to NATO’s Baltic members like Lithuania and Poland.
In an interview with broadcaster CNN over the weekend, US President Joe Biden said that Ukraine is still in the middle of a war with Russia, and if Kyiv becomes a member of NATO, then it will drag the entire battlefield alliance – a shared sentiment. in Germany, Turkey and other NATO members.
“For example, if you do that, you know – and I mean what I say – we are determined to surrender every inch of territory that is NATO territory. This is a commitment that we all have made no matter what. If the war continues , then we’re all at war. We’re at war with Russia, if that’s what it is,” Biden said.
The US leader referred to NATO’s basis for collective defense – Article 5, which states that an armed attack against one NATO member is an armed attack against all.
But a day before the start of the summit, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet that “following intensive talks, NATO allies have reached a consensus on the removal of the MAP (Membership Action Plan) from Ukraine’s path to membership”.
He welcomed this decision and said that it gives Ukraine clarity on becoming a member of NATO.
After intensive talks, NATO allies reached a consensus to remove MAP from Ukraine’s path to membership. I welcome this long-awaited decision that shortens our path to NATO. This is also the best opportunity to clarify Ukraine’s invitation to become a member.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) July 10, 2023
In addition, on Friday, when Stoltenberg was asked whether the NATO declaration on the membership of Kyiv in Ukraine is stronger than the 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration of the alliance, when Ukraine and Georgia were promised the same future in NATO, Stoltenberg said there will be differences this year.
“An important difference is that Ukraine has become closer to NATO, because NATO allies have been working closely with Ukraine for many years, especially since 2014. Therefore, it ensures a higher level of cooperation and interoperability between Ukraine and NATO,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin says that Ukraine becoming a member of NATO will demand “a harsh response” from Russia.
But NATO chief Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Friday that at the Vilnius summit, he expects the alliance to agree on a multiyear program to help Ukraine, in the face of threats from Russia.
“We have already pledged 500 million euros [$548m] for critical needs, including fuel, medical supplies, de-mining equipment and pontoon bridges. We will also help build Ukraine’s security and defense sector, including military hospitals. And we will help transition Ukraine from the Soviet era to NATO equipment and standards,” he said.
He added that NATO will also upgrade its political relations with Kyiv by establishing a NATO-Ukraine Council, which Zelenskyy inaugurated as part of this week’s summit.
According to Stoltenberg, the Council will act as a consultation mechanism between NATO members and Ukraine, where if Kyiv feels threatened, specific issues can be immediately discussed and decided by the Council, which will lead Ukraine to closer to the alliance.
“The NATO-Ukraine Council is a step in the right direction for Kyiv because in a way, it [a] NATO membership action plan and it will send a strong message not only to Ukrainians but also to Russian President Vladimir Putin,” said Harry Nedelcu, director of geopolitics at Rasmussen Global and head of the Ukraine Advisory Service, told Al Jazeera.
“But at this summit, the serious debate about Ukraine is to give Kyiv more security guarantees in the interim period, until the country joins NATO. These guarantees will include the improvement of military capabilities in Ukraine, and also help the country develop its own military industry to sustain itself,” Nedelcu added.
Currently, the US, Germany, the United Kingdom and other countries have said that they will promise to militarily strengthen Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.
While strengthening and supporting Ukraine remains a key priority at the Vilnius summit, another important matter is Sweden’s future in NATO.
Sweden and Finland applied to become NATO members in May. While Finland joined, Turkey and Hungary blocked Sweden’s membership.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Sweden of providing safe haven to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, which Ankara considers “terrorists”. organizations.
Erdogan also asked Sweden to lift an arms embargo on Turkey that was imposed in 2019 after Ankara invaded northern Syria.
He said these were important “security concerns” for Turkey that needed to be resolved before he agreed to NATO enlargement.
While Sweden passed an “anti-terrorism” law and lifted the arms embargo, the country’s recent Quran-burning incident has once again angered Turkey, and Erdogan has repeatedly stated that Stockholm is not did enough to stop the Kurdish groups. .
Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson will meet in the presence of Stoltenberg before the start of the summit in Vilnius to resolve their differences.
“A good scenario would be if in Vilnius, Erdogan says, ‘I am satisfied with the actions of the Swedish parliament and I am ready to put it before my Parliament’,” a senior NATO official told reporters at a press briefing before. the summit.
“There’s more than a 50 percent chance it will happen, but we’ll see,” he added.
According to Bruno Lete, a security and defense expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Brussels, from a technical point of view nothing can prevent Sweden from becoming a member of NATO.
“Sweden has one of the best armed forces in Europe. So, it’s a political problem,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Turkey used its veto on Sweden’s membership to pursue its own interests. Turkey is interested in regaining access to the US F-16 jet fighter program. The country was removed from the program years ago after it decided to buy of the Russian S-400 systems despite warnings from Washington not to do so,” he said.
“At this point, the negotiations between Turkey and Sweden are still in deadlock. But the real king here is the United States, which has the power to make the decision to pull Turkey back from the jet fighter program. The problem is that the Washington is not very willing to do this,” Lette said, adding that once Turkey approves Sweden’s membership, Hungary will follow.
In his CNN interview, Biden acknowledged Turkey’s ambitions and said Turkey is seeking to modernize its F-16 fleet, along with Greece.
“And so, what I’m trying to do, frankly, is put together a little consortium here, where we strengthen NATO in terms of military capacity in Greece as well as in Turkey, and allow Sweden to come in. But it’s in play. It’s not over,” Biden said.
Before his departure from the Vilnius summit, Erdogan denied the links between NATO member Sweden and the purpose of the F-16 in Ankara. But he said that if Turkey becomes a member of the European Union, it will facilitate Sweden’s NATO membership.
At a press conference in Vilnius ahead of the summit, Stoltenberg said he supported Turkey’s EU membership and stressed that it was still possible that Sweden could join NATO at the summit.
Born in Asia
Another important priority of the transatlantic military alliance is the suppression of threats from China, an important issue for leaders from Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea who also attended the summit.
At last year’s NATO summit in the Spanish capital, Madrid, the alliance recognized China as a “systemic challenge to Euro-Atlantic security” and acknowledged Beijing’s “unlimited” partnership with Russia.
But according to GMF’s Lete, while leaders from Asia, Australia and New Zealand want NATO to evaluate China more, the alliance’s goal is to cooperate with countries only for the exchange of information and situational awareness and not a military partnership.
“A recent proposal to increase NATO’s presence in Asia by opening a representative office in Tokyo was actually blocked by France. The alliance focuses on addressing China’s strategic threat here locally in Europe, not by expanding its presence in Asia,” he said.
“I believe that NATO is well equipped to deal with external threats and the rapidly changing world order,” Lete said. “Its core mission to protect Europe and bind both sides of the Atlantic is more relevant than ever. But in my opinion, the biggest challenge that NATO has to face in the future comes from within.