When NATO held its annual summit in Brussels two years ago, all 31 presidents and prime ministers of the alliance’s member states dutifully showed up, but their hearts weren’t really in it. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, had publicly declared NATO “brain dead” in 2019, and nobody could find a good reason to disagree.
This week the annual meeting is in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania (July 11-12), and the cast of characters has not changed all that much, but everything else has. This is an alliance transformed, with a clear enemy, specific goals and a real sense of purpose — all thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foolish invasion of Ukraine.
It was foolish not because Putin’s army was too corrupt and incompetent to conquer Ukraine — neither he nor his generals realized that — but because he woke NATO up. If he had just left it alone for another five or 10 years, it would probably have simply moldered away.
Now it’s back up and running. Defense budgets are soaring right across NATO, new strategic plans are being made and Russia is being openly named as the threat. Vilnius, the NATO capital closest to Moscow, has been chosen for its symbolic value, and there are a thousand soldiers there from other NATO countries to provide security for the meeting.
Germany has deployed 12 Patriot missile launchers to intercept Russian ballistic and cruise missiles or warplanes. France is sending self-propelled howitzers and anti-drone technology, Finland and Denmark have sent military jets, and Spain has sent a NASAMS air defense system.
Not to mention Poland and Germany, which are both sending special operations forces with accompanying helicopters in case the Russians try to infiltrate their own Spetsnaz troops to kidnap or kill NATO leaders.
No? You don’t think that the Russians will choose this week to bomb Vilnius or send in the assassins? You suspect that this is a pantomime exclusively designed to illustrate NATO’s new-found unity and determination. Well spotted!
Almost the sole focus of this summit is embattled Ukraine’s desire to join NATO — which is not going to happen at this time. As President Joe Biden said: “I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war.”
That’s understandable, as NATO membership includes an obligation to defend any other member that is under attack. Hands up, who wants to go to war with Russia?
[UPDATE: Reports on July 10 say that Turkey, an original NATO member, has just lifted its objection to Sweden’s NATO application. When Sweden is formally admitted, it will join the other new member, Finland, to increase NATO membership from 30 before the Ukraine invasion, to 32. Both new member nations were previously longtime neutrals. U.S. Diplomats worked intensively to persuade Turkey to withdraw its objections. To Sweden’s entry.]