What Happened at NATO’s Madrid Summit?

“We, the Heads of State and Government of the North Atlantic Alliance, have gathered in Madrid as war has returned to the European continent.” These were the opening words of the Madrid Summit Declaration agreed by the leaders of NATO as they met in Spain this week at a crucial time for European security.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has already seen NATO respond with strength and unity, providing military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and boosting its forward presence to deter further Russia aggression. This has included adding four new forward-deployed multinational battlegroups and activating its response force for the first time in a collective defense role, putting over 40,000 troops under direct NATO command in Eastern Europe.

The Madrid summit provided the opportunity for NATO to go further and meet Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s commitment to “reset our deterrence and defence for the longer-term.” The “history-making Summit” (as President Biden described it) focused on two main objectives:

  1. Agreeing further immediate measures in response to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.

  2. Agreeing a new strategic concept to drive alliance adaptation and modernization over the next decade.

NATO’s Response to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Q1: How has NATO reset its defense and deterrence posture?

A1: NATO’s reset comprised a “fundamental shift to our deterrence and defence” based on three pillars:

  • More forward deployed combat formations. NATO allies committed to scaling up the existing multinational battlegroups to brigade sized formations—although only “where and when required.” This included a notable increase in U.S. forces—including a Brigade Combat Team in Romania, more rotational deployments to the Baltics and permanently basing the 5th Corps headquarters in Poland—and a commitment to work towards division-level NATO command structures in the Baltics, such as the United Kingdom’s support to Estonia.
  • More high-readiness forces. NATO response forces will increase from 40,000 to 300,000. This is based on a new NATO Force Model comprising two tiers of high-readiness forces: 100,000 forces at up to a 10-day readiness to deploy (compared to the previous model of 40,000 at 15 days), and 200,000 forces up to 30 days. For the first time since the Cold War, NATO will have “forces pre-assigned to defend specific Allies” so they can sharpen contingency plans and become more familiar with the local terrain. For example, France is ready to deploy a brigade to Romania on short notice while the United Kingdom has allocated a brigade to Estonia.
  • More pre-positioned equipment. To boost the credibility of NATO’s “deterrence by reinforcement” model, allies agreed to pre-position military equipment, stockpiles, and facilities in frontline nations. This will be supported by forward-deployed enabling forces, such as air defense units, strengthened command and control, and preassigned forces.

Taken together, according to the Secretary General, this is “the biggest overhaul [of] our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.” Yet he also admitted it will not happen straight away: “We'll take the decision now and then we'll start implementation and then they will be available and ready next year.” NATO planners still have plenty of work remaining in the coming months to allocate national forces to meet this new level of ambition.

Q2: How is NATO assisting Ukraine?

A2: Since the beginning of the war, NATO allies have increased their military aid to Ukraine, providing its military much-needed equipment, including antitank weapons, armored vehicles, and artillery systems. Most of this assistance has been coordinated through the U.S.-led “Ukraine Contact Group” which is composed of 50 nations and has already met several times.

Allies agreed in Madrid to step up NATO’s direct support to Ukraine through a “comprehensive assistance package.” This includes nonlethal defense equipment—such as secure communications, fuel, and anti-drone systems—and improving its cyber defenses and resilience. Over the longer term, NATO is also committed to support Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction and reforms.

Q3: What’s next for Sweden and Finland?

A3: After Turkey’s initial opposition to Finland and Sweden’s membership applications, all three signed a memorandum of understanding before the summit. Although Turkey obtained minor commitments on counterterrorism from Finland and Sweden, the Biden administration’s statements supporting a delayed F-16 sale to Turkey may have been the real prize.

After the obstruction, Sweden and Finland are back on track to membership: NATO has formally invited them to apply. The next step is the signature of an “accession protocol,” reportedly as soon as July 5th. Allies then ratify this document, which could take months—although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey has indicated ratification in his country could yet depend on his perception of whether Finland and Sweden deliver on their commitments.

NATO’s New Strategic Concept

Q4: Are there any changes to NATO’s core tasks?

A4: NATO’s new strategic concept maintains the same three core tasks as its 2010 predecessor: deterrence and defense, crisis prevention and management, and cooperative security. Although these tasks have been consistent since the end of the Cold War, the importance of deterrence has risen since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The new concept reflects this, committing to “significantly strengthen our deterrence and defence posture to deny any potential adversary any possible opportunities for aggression.” This pledge stems from the concept’s updated assessment of Russia as a “direct threat.”

To deter and defend against political aggression or “hybrid tactics,” the concept also emphasizes “building national and Alliance-wide resilience against military and non-military threats.” This commitment is based in Article 3 of the Washington Treaty and supports all three core tasks.

Q5: What does the strategic concept say about Russia?

A5: The Madrid concept offers a stark contrast in its description of the strategic environment. Where in 2010 “the Euro-Atlantic [was] at peace and the threat of a conventional attack against NATO territory [was] low,” now “the Euro-Atlantic area is not at peace” as allies “cannot discount the possibility of an attack against [their] sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

This change in tone is most manifest on Russia. While in 2010, allies hoped to build a “true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia,” the new concept describes Russia as “the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security.” NATO assesses Russia as seeking to “establish spheres of influence and direct control through coercion, subversion, aggression and annexation.” In contrast, the concept reiterates NATO “does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to the Russian Federation” and seeks to “keep open channels of communication with Moscow to manage and mitigate risks, prevent escalation and increase transparency.”

Q6: What does the strategic concept say about China and the Indo-Pacific?

A6: In the footsteps of the 2019 London declaration and 2021 Brussels communiqué, the new strategic concept states that China’s “ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.” The threat from China includes “malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation,” control of key technological and industrial sectors, and growing partnership with Russia.

While allies remain “open to constructive engagement,” they also stand ready to enhance “resilience and preparedness” to address the “systemic challenges” posed by Beijing. Interestingly, the concept specifies that NATO and the European Union will increase their cooperation on China, a welcomed orientation to avoid duplication.

The concept also stresses the importance of the Indo-Pacific for NATO, outlining that “developments in that region can directly affect Euro-Atlantic security.” NATO will therefore strengthen its “dialogue and cooperation” with its Indo-Pacific partners, namely Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, whose leaders participated in the summit for the first time.

Q7: How will NATO adapt to new security challenges?

A7: A key question on the road to Madrid was how the alliance would discuss new security challenges related to space, cyberspace, hybrid tactics, climate change, and emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs). Each receives their due in the strategic concept: after Russia, they are the first challenges listed in an overview of the strategic environment.

The most eye-catching may be cyber and hybrid threats, which “could lead the North Atlantic Council to invoke Article 5.” The commitment to resilience is also pertinent. On EDTs, NATO announced a new innovation fund to complement the “DIANA” initiative launched in April. The concept language on climate change was also ambitious: “NATO should become the leading international organisation when it comes to understanding and adapting to the impact of climate change on security.”

Q8: Has the Madrid Summit boosted EU-NATO cooperation?

A8: The strategic concept cites the European Union as a “unique and essential partner” and calls for greater cooperation on countering hybrid tactics, counter terrorism, addressing human security challenges, military mobility, resilience, climate change, EDTs, NATO’s Women, Peace, and Security agenda, and addressing China’s “systemic challenges.”

Existing EU-NATO cooperation already tackle most of these, but the focus on human security and countering China are new. One notable absence is a reference to maritime security, which was one of the original seven areas for EU-NATO cooperation the organizations identified in 2016. It should be noted the European Union has a growing ambition in this space.

Another absence concerns coordination on capability development, which has generated transatlantic tensions: the United States and some other allies have worried a larger role for the European Union on defense might siphon resources and focus away from NATO. The final language reflects a compromise in this regard: “Initiatives to increase defence spending and develop coherent, mutually reinforcing capabilities, while avoiding unnecessary duplications, are key to our joint efforts.”

Sean Monaghan is a visiting fellow with the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Pierre Morcos is a visiting fellow with the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at CSIS. Colin Wall is a research associate with the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at CSIS.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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Sean Monaghan
Visiting Fellow, Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program
Colin Wall

Colin Wall

Former Associate Fellow, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program

Pierre Morcos