“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine continues. For 500 days, Moscow has brought death and destruction to the heart of Europe, seeking to destroy Ukraine and split NATO. Our summit will send a clear message: NATO will stick together and Russia’s aggression will not pay off“.
With these words describe Jens Stoltenberg the heart of the annual meeting of heads of state and government of the 31 countries of the Atlantic Alliance to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. A meeting that will take place in a “key moment” for transatlantic security, as stressed by the recently renewed Secretary General. The summit is attended by the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, and the ministers José Manuel Albares and Margarita Robles.
Four difficult dossiers stand out on the leaders’ menu: Sweden’s entry into NATO, military aid and security guarantees for Ukraine, approval of new defense and industrial production plans, and increased military spending. And a few hours before the Vilnius summit begins, divergences persist among allies, especially regarding kyiv’s accession schedule.
End of Türkiye’s ban on Sweden
The most far-reaching decision from Vilnius will probably be taken before the official start of the summit. For this Monday, Stoltenberg has called an emergency meeting between the Turkish president, Recep Tayipp Erdoğanand the Swedish Prime Minister, Ulf Kristerson. One last attempt to unblock Stockholm’s entry into NATO, still pending ratification by Ankara and Budapest. The general secretary maintains that adding Sweden “will provide a unbroken shield from the Black Sea region to the Baltic region”.
Why this delay with Sweden if Finland already entered in April? Ankara accuses Stockholm of providing cover on its territory for activists of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is included in the EU’s black list of terrorist organizations. The motives of the government of the Hungarian Viktor Orbán have never been clear. Stoltenberg assures that Stockholm has fulfilled its part: reform of the Constitution, new anti-terrorist laws and lifting of the military embargo on Turkey.
Although no agreement came out of the penultimate four-way meeting held last Thursday, Stoltenberg maintains that it was constructive and there were important advances. Allies expect Erdogan to announce in Vilnius that he is satisfied with the reforms in Sweden and that it will promote the ratification of its entry into NATO. The objective would be for the Turkish Parliament to approve it before its summer recess on July 15, to also prevent the growing protests in Stockholm (including the burning of the Koran) from generating new doubts in Ankara. Hungary has given signs that it will also unlock quickly.
No timetable for Ukraine’s accession
No schedule or roadmap for Ukraine’s entry into NATO will emerge from the Vilnius summit, despite the request of President Volodimir Zelensky, who is expected to participate in the meeting. On this issue, the allies are deeply divided. The Baltics and Poland support kyiv’s claims, while Germany and the United States oppose each other because of the risk of entering into an open war with Russia. Nor does Spain believe that the conditions are in place for Ukraine to be a member of the club in the short or medium term.
Although the wording of the statement has not yet been finalized, a minimum agreement is beginning to take shape. It would consist of reiterating that Ukraine will one day be a member of NATO (as decided at the Bucharest summit in 2008). And to add that the accession process is something for the allies and kyiv to figure out, without Russia having veto power. But there will be no temporary reference, according to diplomatic sources.
The alternative that the Atlantic Alliance will offer Zelensky will be a multi-year (10-year) plan for the defense of Ukraineas well as a rise in the level of political relations with the creation of a NATO-Ukraine Council (whose only precedent is the moribund NATO-Russia Council).
In parallel, the EU and several allied countries (whose identity has not been revealed) bilaterally negotiate security guarantees with kyiv. That is, concrete commitments to continue supplying Ukraine with weapons, training and intelligence. But it has not yet reached a stage of sufficient maturity and these guarantees are not expected to be made public in Vilnius. Spain is not in this group, although it will reiterate its commitment to continue sending weapons and training Ukrainian soldiers.
Defense and industrial production plans
In Vilnius, NATO plans to strengthen its deterrence and defense position to counter what it sees as the two main threats, Russia and terrorism. Specifically, the leaders will approve three new regional defense plans: one for the North, the Atlantic and the European Arctic; another for the center, which covers the Baltic region and central Europe; and a southern plan for the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. To execute them, the Alliance intends to put 300,000 soldiers in a high degree of availability.
The heads of state and government will also support a Defense Production Action Plan, whose objective is to aggregate demand, increase the capacity of the military industry and improve interoperability. Minister Robles threatened to veto this industrial plan in protest at the exclusion of Spanish companies. But the problem is close to being solved. Stoltenberg himself has praised the Spanish defense industry and NATO has agreed to include Spanish suggestions to ensure transparency, equitable treatment and inclusive participation in the Action Plan.
Increase in military spending
“In a more dangerous world, we must invest more in defense,” Stoltenberg says. By 2023, NATO forecasts an 8.3% increase in military spending between the European allies and Canada, the highest in decades. A total of 11 Member States have already reached the goal of allocating 2% of GDP per year to defense: Poland, the United States, Greece, Lithuania, Finland, Estonia, Romania, Hungary, Latvia, the United Kingdom and Slovakia. But Spain is third from the bottom with just 1.26%.
At the Vilnius summit, the heads of state and government will set an even more ambitious goal: 2% will no longer be a ceiling but a minimum. The Government of Pedro Sánchez has promised to reach this threshold in 2029. And it presumes that it more than meets the other two requirements: allocate at least 20% of the investment to defense capabilities (our country is at 29%) and contribute to NATO operations (Spain does so in Estonia, Latvia, Turkey or Iraq).