Resurrecting NATO: Will Resolve Survive the Economic Crisis?

For US President Joe Biden, this was “historic.” Emmanuel Macron of France called it “unprecedented in Europe since World War II.”

“The most important conclusion that Vladimir Putin must draw from what has happened over the past few days here in NATO, and earlier in the G7, is that we are completely united,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Hugs, handshakes and camaraderie this week in annual NATO summit in Madrid and the G-7 meeting in Germany were the new climax of Western unity against Russia in response to the war in Ukraine—the apogee of an alliance rejuvenated by conflict on its borders. There were also warnings of a growing threat from China.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron on the first day of the G7 summit at Elmau Castle.
Boris Johnson, who has so often caused European irritation for his support of Brexit, spoke of continental unity. Emmanuel Macron (left), who less than three years ago denounced NATO’s brain death, spoke of its “necessity” © Stefan Rousseau / PA

Johnson, who has so often irritated the EU for his support for Brexit, boasted of continental unity. Macron, who less than three years ago denounced NATO for “brain death,” spoke of its “necessity.” The debate about separating the US from Europe and the debate about the role of NATO and the EU in protecting the continent, so prominent only six months ago, has been silenced.

“At every step of this journey, we mark the unity, determination and profound capacity of the world’s democracies to do what is necessary,” Biden said at the end of the summit on Thursday.

Putin thought he could destroy the transatlantic alliance. He tried to weaken us. He expected our resolve to break,” he added. “But he’s getting exactly what he didn’t want.”

But return cold war rhetoricalliance of values ​​opposing Moscow — and Beijing — in a world torn apart by strategic competition masks growing disagreements over how to weather the growing economic costs wars in Ukraine. These squabbles will test the resolve of the West as the financial, social and geopolitical consequences of the war will shake global politics.

More than four months have passed since the Russian president ordered troops to enter Ukraine. The war has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of military and civilian personnel, displaced roughly a quarter of the country’s population, and plunged the world into a series of mounting crises, from runaway inflation to oil and food shortages, that have triggered a growing chorus of recession warnings.

In Bavaria, the G7 leaders descended from their mountaintop hideout after failing to reach an agreement on a new sanctions mechanism that would hit Russian oil revenues because they disagreed on how to deal with skyrocketing inflation.

And as Biden watched a chorus of transatlantic applause in Madrid from a military alliance more at the mercy of the White House than ever before, at home Washington was in convulsions. sinister details about former President Donald Trump’s attempts to illegally retain power after the last election. With Trump still a potential presidential candidate in 2024, the hearings provided a colorful picture of the political strife and divided society that increasingly ensnare a Biden presidency.

Cassidy Hutchinson, aide to former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testifies during a public hearing of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
Dramatic testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, shed a damning light on Donald Trump’s actions during the January 6 Capitol Hill riot © Andrew Harnick / Pool / Reuters

For Macron and Johnson, the summits have also provided some respite from political headaches at home — unrelated to Ukraine but likely exacerbated by economic woes — that could still undermine both their governments.

“If we talk about what is happening here and now, the answer is yes, it’s true, we are all on the same wavelength – and it’s amazing,” says François Heisbourg, special adviser to Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, a French think tank. .

“The system of sanctions continues and is being strengthened, and the G7 is playing an important role in this regard. . . and, of course, NATO was a celebration of love,” he adds. “But that doesn’t prejudge the future.”

Ahead of tensions lurking behind Western unity rhetoric, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used the closing press conference of the NATO summit to re-announce your potential veto on Sweden’s entry into the alliance – partly reversing the decision to withdraw opposition to membership on the eve of this event.

Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland and Magdalena Andersson, Prime Minister of Sweden

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö (left) © Reuters/AP

Erdogan’s threat to block a move NATO championed as a sign of its unity came so late that the Swedish delegation to the summit was already in the air in Stockholm at the time, flying out of Madrid celebrating what they considered a job well done. .

Cold War rhetoric

NATO, which announced the summit in Madrid “Transformative”declares that in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it will reconsider the methods of work of the alliance.

In addition to formally inviting Sweden and Finland to join it, he agreed to radically rethink his defense posture, unveiling a plan to increase the number of high-readiness forces ready to repel a Russian attack by more than seven times. up to over 300,000. The troops are part of a new security doctrine for the coming decade that will help secure the continent after the divisive war in Afghanistan.

China was also first described as “Challenge” NATO “Interests and security,” with leaders agreeing with language criticizing Beijing for its decision to side with Putin against Western condemnation of the war. “We are now facing an era of strategic rivalry,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after NATO met with the leaders of Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, the EU, Sweden, Finland and Georgia to discuss China.

“We see a deepening of the strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing,” he added. “We need to see clearly the serious problems this presents.”

Politicians openly acknowledge Cold War echoes in their new position. “We need to think about why NATO arose. It was about the threat from the Soviet Union. So in that sense there is something from the old days,” says Kaisa Ollongren, the Dutch defense minister. West against the Soviets. . . but now it’s Russia.”

The language has much in common with the G7 summit that preceded it in the luxurious resort of Schloss-Elmau, where the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, spoke of “unshakable unity.”

But talk of shared values ​​has failed to hide growing tensions among G7 members as the economic toll from the war in Ukraine becomes more apparent and urgent. Behind the scenes, officials struggled to maintain a unified line, in particular on the subject of energy sanctions.

Since the spring, the US has been privately urging the EU to consider ways to cap Russian oil prices as an alternative to the partial embargo the EU adopted in late May in its sixth round of sanctions.

The main concern of the US was to avoid a further increase in oil prices, given that annual consumer price inflation is now more than 8 percent in both the US and the euro area, and a recession is feared by a growing number of analysts. around the corner. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is increasingly fearful of losing the midterm elections this November.

Leaders’ concerns about high oil prices were highlighted during the summit, when Macron was caught on camera discussing with Biden the amount of spare capacity that key OPEC members had.

In the run-up to the G-7 summit, the US has been working intensively with the European Commission and the UK on a new version of the price cap through an stimulus framework in which importers’ access to Western financial services will be subject to a price cap. observed on shipments of Russian oil.

Leaders of the G7 and the European Union gather at Elmau Castle in Kruhn, Germany.
Talk of shared values ​​has failed to hide growing tensions among G7 members as the war in Ukraine’s economy becomes more evident and urgent. © Markus Schreiber / Pool / AP

However, in this case, the G7 leaders only agreed to “learn” the concept. Germany, which chairs the G7, is particularly wary of the idea of ​​price caps. Olaf Scholz, chancellor, said the concept was “very ambitious” and that many things had to fall into place for it to take effect.

In meetings the day before, Macron insulted his colleagues by putting forward the idea of ​​capping world oil prices, not just Russian oil. It remained unclear to other leaders how such a feat could be achieved.

According to one senior EU official, the biggest challenge here is not technical but political. “We have to do our homework and convince enough states to sign up for it,” the official says.

Given that the latest package of EU sanctions required weeks of wrangling and compromise to gain unanimous support, a seventh “is highly unlikely at any point this summer,” says a second EU official.

window dressing

As some 40 prime ministers and presidents flew out of Madrid on Thursday night, they flew back to their countries, where an increasingly bleak economic picture has already pushed the war in Ukraine out of the front pages.

On the sidelines of the summit, ministers and senior officials privately noted a growing gap between Eastern European states, whose populations have palpable fears of a Russian invasion, and Western countries, where lower risk means rising food or heating prices. bills are seen as a big problem.

Unity rhetoric is “a lot of show-off,” says Teresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russian, European and Asian Studies in Brussels. “There are big disagreements. . . Everyone seems to be running in different directions.”

“Wars can be divisive, they can be very controversial events,” she adds. “Money, oil price, inflation. . . The economic reality will hit.”

A Ukrainian soldier, wounded by artillery fire, crashed into a bus stop that has become a first-aid post in Bakhmut, Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians and displaced about a quarter of the country’s population © Tyler Hicks / New York Times / Redux / eyevine

Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister, was forced to leave Wednesday’s NATO summit, a day early, to attend a crisis cabinet meeting. Italy paid the next morning highest borrowing costs on its debt after the eurozone debt crisis.

Heisburg says that as various economic, social and political hurdles begin to weigh on Western leaders, much will depend on both Biden’s desire to continue to rally Europeans and whether Putin’s generals continue to commit the military actions that Western capitals consider dishonest. . A missile attack on a shopping center in central Ukraine this week would strengthen the unity of the alliance, he said.

“The Americans decided [at the start of the war] lead unambiguously, although sometimes unpredictably. . . and the Europeans certainly were not the most ferocious in terms of the will to fight,” he adds. “So American leadership is needed. The decisions of everyone else essentially depend on his whims.