NATO (western military alliance) held a historic summit this week, which formalized the new reality of world politics brought about by the war in Ukraine. In it, Russia is no longer seen by the West as a potential partner, but as the greatest threat to the alliance.
China was classified, in turn, as a “challenge” to security , the interests and values of the international order. The Madrid Summit Declaration also highlighted that NATO remains concerned about the threat of global terrorism and climate change.
The summit was an attempt by the West to demonstrate strength and cohesion. But it is not yet clear whether this union will continue amid the energy and food crises, which were drastically worsened by the war in Ukraine.
The point of view that seems to predominate among the alliance countries it is that of leaders such as the United States and Great Britain. They advocate a reinforcement of troops on NATO’s eastern front, an increase in military spending in Europe and support for Ukraine until the complete expulsion of troops from its territory.
The idea is to make the Russia will no longer be able to militarily invade another neighboring country, British Chancellor Liss Truss told the BBC. London said during the meeting that it will send 1,000 fighters to defend Estonia.
The United States said it will send two squadrons of F70 (which are some of the most advanced in the West) to Britain, two destroyers to Spain and thousands of troops to Romania.
The idea is that this mobilization continue until, next year, troops on NATO’s eastern front (next to Russia) go from 30 thousand to
thousand. To get an idea of this dimension, Moscow used about 200 a thousand troops to invade Ukraine in 70 from February.
NATO troops in Europe will also begin to organize themselves no longer in battle groups, but in brigades and army divisions – larger units better suited to face high-intensity wars. In parallel, Finland and Sweden, historically neutral countries, should join the alliance.
Strategically, the objective is for Europe to spend more on weapons so that its defense depends less on the US – freeing Washington to focus more on the Indo-Pacific region (because of Chinese expansion).
The recent Madrid Summit Declaration says that “the Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to the security of allies and for peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”.
Russia, in turn, has been claiming that it was NATO that adopted an aggressive posture, with its expansion movement towards east since the end of the Cold War. Russia’s geostrategic motive for invading Ukraine was to create a neutral area between the Western military alliance and Russian territory.
At the Madrid summit, no dissenting voices emerged from the alliance’s stance of arming Ukraine. and strengthen the military capabilities of Europeans. Its biggest supporters, in addition to the USA and Great Britain, are the countries closest to Russia, which already suffered from invasions and domination during the Soviet period – such as Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic countries and Ukraine itself.
When I visited a civilian recruitment center in Ukraine in March of this year, I was impressed by the volunteer placements. They said they would rather die on the battlefield than see their families murdered or starved at the hands of the Russians. These atrocities committed by the Russians are part of the history and culture of these countries.
However, in nations further away from the Russian border, criticism of the confrontational approach, which was made official at the Madrid summit, began to emerge. His argument is that Ukraine should cede part of its territory to Russia in exchange for a ceasefire. In theory, this would prevent further slaughter for both Ukrainians and Russians. It is estimated that Ukraine loses around 200 soldiers per day in the Battle of Donbas.
However, criticism of the NATO stance are not motivated solely by humanitarian reasons. Economic sanctions on Russia have caused a rise in the price of oil products and the blockade of the Black Sea – through which Ukraine’s grain production was transported, an impasse that raised the global cost of food.
In practice, most countries have been experiencing population dissatisfaction, caused by the continuous rise in prices at gas stations and in stores and supermarkets.
According to analysts, this can lead to the strengthening of politicians or populist and isolationist parties in the West. In theory, their rise could, in the future, dampen NATO’s appetite for confronting Russia. The biggest example is the “America First” policy of the Donald Trump administration. The former American president even considered withdrawing the US from NATO in 2018.
However, even if an isolationist government is elected in 2024 in the US, the country is unlikely to withdraw from NATO. In 2018, Trump raised this possibility in a scenario of discontent with his European allies who were not complying with the established in the alliance of investing 2% of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) annually in defense.
The will of the West to support Ukraine against Russia for the time being does not seem shaken, but the situation could change. With the arrival of winter in the northern hemisphere, there may be a shortage of gas to heat homes. Furthermore, companies in the West are already beginning to feel the effect of competition from Asian companies – which have been buying oil and derivatives from Russia at lower prices than the rest of the market.
It is known , for example, that Russia is already among the biggest suppliers of oil to China and India. This type of price negotiation is confidential, but it has already been confirmed that Indian refiners are buying Russian oil with at least US$ 30 discount per barrel. They refine oil and resell their derivatives at higher prices to the Western market, bypassing the Moscow embargo.
Industrialized European countries, such as Germany and Italy, are already feeling the effects. competition and are also looking for alternatives to Russian gas. However, despite their displeasure, they continue to support the resolution of their NATO colleagues.
The main response of the US government of Joe Biden must be an unprecedented attempt to freeze Russian oil prices globally. But analysts are skeptical about the project’s viability, as the US does not control most of the world’s oil production.
“We face with systematic competition from those, including the People’s Republic of China, who challenge our interests, security and values, seeking to undermine the law-based world order,” reads the text of the NATO Heads of State declaration.
China is the only nation named by name when the alliance describes in the document that it is being confronted by cyber, space, hybrid and asymmetric threats. The joint statement also cites the “malicious use of disruptive technologies”.
NATO does not say exactly what the specific threats related to Beijing are. But China is known to have used cyber espionage to steal technology from the West and is now waging a trade war with the United States.
As a backdrop, Beijing has also been developing disruptive military technology such as called hypersonic missiles – which cannot be shot down by anti-aircraft defenses – and weapons capable of destroying satellites in space.
NATO did not list the nuclear issue and China in the document, but Western intelligence identified in 2018 that the Chinese are building at least 230 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos in the Gobi desert and in Xinjiang Province.
It is not news that China has nuclear weapons. But American intelligence said that the country’s objective is to quadruple its arsenal, reaching the mark of one thousand nuclear weapons.
If that happens, the bipolar balance of global nuclear power, exercised by the United States and Russia (which have 1.550 active weapons each), will be shaken.
The growth of the Chinese arsenal has the potential to create a tripolar system and thus nullify the effects of the current parity of arms and the concept of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), instruments that for about 70 years have been preventing a nuclear war .
Thus, the Chinese escalation could trigger, for a period of a few years, a new nuclear arms race – until the system rebalances itself in a new bipolar system.
Furthermore, before the start of the war in Ukraine, China and Russia announced an unrestricted strategic partnership.
Analysts are divided on the consistency and possible duration of this rapprochement. The only certainty is that the West will do what it can to try to separate the two powers, as happened in the 1960 decade during the Cold War.
Climate change is defined by NATO as the “challenge of our time”. The alliance says the matter will have a profound impact on the security of allied countries.
The matter is also not specified in the statement, but it appears to point to the West’s effort to decrease the use of fossil fuels – not only to preserve the environment, but to reduce Russia’s influence on the global energy scenario.
But part of the statement worried some Brazilian analysts: “We will integrate climate change considerations into all main functions of NATO”, states the Madrid Declaration. The fear of these analysts is that NATO will use this argument to intervene in the Amazon region in the future.
The possibility cannot be ruled out, although it is unlikely. The Western military alliance’s resources and attention are focused on Europe, the Indo-Pacific region and the Middle East.
The climate argument can be used to try to create trade barriers for products Brazilian agriculture, but this is also unlikely in a context of a possible global food crisis.
However, an alleged invasion of the Amazon can be used in cybernetic campaigns of disinformation to generate polarization in Latin America and possible feeling of repulsion towards NATO’s global actions.
This type of campaign is already underway in Europe, but involving the issue of refugees. According to a recent Microsoft report, Russia has launched disinformation campaigns to try to exploit possible divisions between Western governments or encourage social unrest.
Russian hackers would have created, for example, fake groups and profiles on the app. of Telegram messages, to spread real and fake messages. Its aim is to encourage hatred towards Ukrainian refugees in European nations – underscoring increased spending by local governments and rising unemployment. An action of this nature would have already been discovered in Poland.
How is Brazil?
NATO points out as its adversaries Russia, China, the terrorism and climate change, among other challenges. Behind the scenes, economic warfare, the vulnerability of liberal democracies to disinformation campaigns, and political polarization threaten the alliance’s current goals.
At the start of the Ukraine war, analysts raised the possibility that Moscow could make an attack restricted to one of the NATO countries, to test the fifth article of the alliance – which says that an attack on a member is an attack on the whole group.
A possible lack of reaction from the West, with the aim of not triggering the Third World War, could bring NATO down. But Vladimir Putin’s government also did not risk such a daring strategy and now seems to be betting on a new oil crisis to weaken the alliance.
In this context, Brazil has been courted through the economic bloc of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and depends on the import of fertilizers produced in Russia. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry sees the BRICS as a good economic opportunity, but feels uncomfortable with the current attempt Chinese active to expand the group, to transform it into a bloc of political opposition to the West.
On the other hand, during the Trump administration, Brazil was accepted as a “non-NATO ally”. This has opened up opportunities to buy Western weapons with restrictions, but which are important for Brazil. Trump worked with the government of Jair Bolsonaro for an even closer approach to NATO, but the idea did not advance due to the American’s electoral defeat.
The Brazilian government now wants to remain in a position of balance, trying to don’t lean to either side. But the Madrid Summit Declaration shows that this will be increasingly difficult in a world that tends to escalate confrontation.