NATO's "Historic" Summit: From Ukraine to China, What's on the Agenda

NATO’s “Historic” Summit: From Ukraine to China, What’s on the Agenda

Ukraine, China and weapons. This triad can be summed up as the agenda of the NATO summit that began today (July 9) in Washington, United States. 75 years after its foundation, the North Atlantic Alliance is preparing for a three-day meeting between its leaders and those of its closest allies in the Indo-Pacific (Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea) that some experts have called “historic”. An adjective that is perhaps excessive, but which nevertheless conveys the idea of ​​the delicate moment that NATO countries are facing on several fronts.

NATO Summit, Decisions for Ukraine

“The most urgent item” on the agenda, as Jens Stoltenberg called it, at his last summit as secretary general before handing over the baton to former Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, concerns Ukraine. On the eve of the summit, the country suffered a series of heavy bombings that caused 41 deaths and 170 injuries, also hitting a pediatric hospital: “We have witnessed horrendous and atrocious missile attacks against Ukrainian cities, which have killed innocent civilians including children,” Stoltenberg said in a meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “At the summit, we will take decisions to further strengthen our support for Kiev: Russia must accept a solution in which Ukraine prevails as a sovereign and independent nation,” the head of the North Atlantic Alliance stressed.

From the summit, Kiev expects progress both on military support from its allies and on its path to NATO membership. According to US administration sources, Patriot missiles and F16 warplanes could be announced during the summit as part of new American aid to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s army. Other bilateral agreements in this sense between the countries of the Alliance and Ukraine have been signed in recent months (the latest one with Poland even includes the possibility for Warsaw to shoot down Russian planes and drones in Ukrainian skies), while the EU has recently signed a “joint commitment to security” with Kiev and the G7 has decided to unblock 50 billion through the use of Moscow’s frozen assets. But Zelensky’s attention is also focused on Stoltenberg’s plan, which includes a five-year commitment of 100 billion dollars in military aid, as well as greater assistance and training for his troops.

Then there is the question of Kiev’s accession to the Alliance: here the negotiations between NATO countries will focus, as usual, on linguistic nuances. No one thinks that the conclusions of the summit will contain a clear signal of the start of the accession process. Rather, in line with the promises of the last Vilnius summit, according to which “the future of Ukraine is in NATO”, a “strong bridge” between Ukraine and the Alliance could be opened in Washington.

NATO Summit, What’s Happening With Russia?

The first point on the summit agenda remains the strengthening of NATO’s defense and deterrence. That is, how to further increase military spending. According to the latest estimates of the Alliance, in 2024 all member countries (with the exception of the USA) have significantly increased their commitments compared to a decade ago. Only 8 states, including Italy, are still below the threshold of 2 percent of GDP set as the minimum base to be reached by all allies.

But deterrence is not just about budgetary accounting. NATO’s goal is to be ready to face a war as early as “tonight,” in the language used by diplomats. For this to happen, investments must translate into “greater combat power, more capabilities, and more cooperation,” explains the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Among the critical points to be addressed in this regard are “known gaps in critical capabilities, such as air and missile defense, long-range missiles, airlift, military mobility, cyber defense, and space capabilities,” explains CSIS. Furthermore, there is the issue of improving industrial capacity, in particular to coordinate efforts to produce weapons and munitions more quickly than currently. Finally, a key NATO goal remains the strengthening of defenses against hybrid threats such as cyber attacks and damage to critical infrastructure, particularly those from Moscow.

NATO Summit, What’s Happening With China?

Russia is not the only source of concern for the Alliance: China’s geostrategic moves are not limited to the Indo-Pacific, and the ongoing training of Chinese troops in Belarus has raised a lot of attention. In recent days, there was a meeting in Kazakhstan of the ten countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which many see as an attempt by Beijing and Moscow to create an “Asian Alliance” to counter the North Atlantic one.

Stoltenberg said on Sunday that the presence of Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea at the Washington summit is a sign that the world is becoming more complex: “The war in Ukraine demonstrates how closely aligned Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are. China is the main facilitator of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine,” the Secretary General said.

Although it is too early to talk about a NATO 2.0 expanded to the Indo-Pacific, it is clear that the direction taken by the Alliance, at least under the Biden administration, is to strengthen ties between the two ocean fronts. “Increasingly, partners in Europe believe that challenges on the other side of the world in Asia are relevant to them, just as partners in Asia believe that challenges on the other side of the world in Europe are relevant to them,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week at the Brookings Institution. The top U.S. diplomat said the U.S. has worked to break down barriers between European alliances, Asian coalitions and other partners around the world: “This is part of the new landscape, the new geometry that we have put in place.”

Words that did not go unnoticed in Beijing: ““NATO should stick to its positioning as a regional defense organization, stop stirring up tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, and stop promoting the Cold War mentality and inter-bloc confrontations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said on Monday.