TAG Virtual Conference: NATO: From Madrid to DC via Vilnius

By Julian Lindley-French

TAG Virtual Conference, July 6th, 2023

The consensus of this TAG Virtual Conference on the eve of the NATO Vilnius Summit was that the preservation of NATO consensus on how best to support Ukraine short of offering immediate membership will be the core issue. Consequently, those expecting a transformational summit will be disappointed, as will those Ukrainians hoping for a clear path to eventual membership of the Alliance. There will be no Membership Action Plan for Ukraine because the more cautious NATO members continue to be concerned about offering the prospect of membership to a nation at war.

Ukraine will receive substantive assurances of further support that will reinforce the commitments made at the June Ukraine Recovery Conference in London. President Zelenskyy is invited to attend the Summit and further security assurances will be offered not dissimilar to mutual security assurances between Finland, Sweden, and the UK. The new NATO-Ukraine Defence Council (or a High-Level Group) could report back by the Washington Summit with language that would enable Ukraine to eventually join the Alliance whilst preventing Russia exerting a de facto veto by maintaining a permanent state of war. No formal discussion will take place about how to end the war or the threat posed by Russia in the wake of the Prighozin insurrection.

Vilnius will also address progress on the defence-strategic issues established by the 2019 Military Strategy and 2023 Madrid Summit and establish the foundations for the NATO 75 Summit planned for Washington DC in April 2024. Progress will be noted on the Deterrence and Defence Posture, Regional Plans and Forward Presence, although Poland and the Eastern European allies want more permanent basing in the region, and the planned 300,000 strong Allied Reaction Force. A new Defence Investment Pledge will be formalised with 2% GDP spent on defence now the floor rather than the ceiling of ambition, and proposals put forward for greater cohesion with the EU’s European Defence Fund. Howe

There will also be an announcement on Sweden’s aspirations to join the Alliance against the backdrop of continued resistance from Turkey and Hungary. Other issues will include proposals for a Defence Production Action Plan to improve the affordability and fielding of new equipment and the reinforcement of NATO’s ‘Digital Backbone.’ Whilst there will be no more language in the Communique about China the presence of the Asia-Pacific 4 at Vilnius will reinforce the strategic partnerships called for in the 2022 NATO Strategic Concept.

Contentions remain. There are divisions between the members over when and how to offer Ukraine eventual membership with the White House particularly cautious. There are also profound divisions over who should eventually replace NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenburg in October 2024. The American preference for EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is particularly contentious, as are calls by France that the next ‘Sec-Gen’ should come from an EU Member-State, thus excluding Britain. In conclusion, there was a sense within the TAG that the Vilnius Summit, whilst not a missed opportunity, will not be another transformational meeting. Rather, the hope was expressed by the Group that Vilnius would at least lay the groundwork for just such a transformational summit in Washington DC.

Julian Lindley-French

Photo Credit: The attached photo belongs to NATO and is used under NATO’s newsroom content policy.