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Madrid Strategic Concept

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NATO approves the Madrid Strategic Concept, which defines Russia as the “most direct threat”

  • One of the most interesting points of the NATO Summit in Madrid was the approval of a document known as the strategic concept, in which the alliance establishes its priorities for the coming years.
  • It is very interesting to note that in the midst of the bloody invasion of Ukraine it is not only Russia that is the country pointed out as a danger coma but also China that appears as the greatest long-term enemy for Western liberal democracies.
  • This new strategic concept for Madrid is designed to last for 10 years, which is the deadline the alliance has set itself for renewing its strategic lines.

NATO heads of state and government approved on Wednesday, June 29, the new Strategic Concept for the Alliance, which replaces the 2010 Lisbon Concept. And it has changed radically, according to Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of the organization.

The document defines Russia as “the most significant and direct threat” to the allies, and singles out China, for the first time, as a challenge to the security, interests and values of NATO members. There has been debate on how to mention the Asian giant, with Europe advocating a less tough stance.

On the risks in Europe’s southern neighborhood, the Concept makes references in two of its 49 points. Number 11 reads: “Conflict, fragility and instability in Africa and the Middle East directly affect our security and that of our partners. NATO’s southern neighborhood, especially the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel, faces interconnected security with demographic, economic and political challenges.”

The document reads that NATO will work with its partners to resolve joint threats and challenges in the Alliance’s regions of strategic interest, “including the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel region.”

These conflicts, the concept adds, are exacerbated by climate change, but also by fragile institutions, health emergencies and food insecurity. “This situation also provides fertile ground for the proliferation of armed groups, including terrorist organizations.”
Invisible warfare

Hybrid warfare is defined in the Madrid Strategic Concept as another form of armed attack. This is the first time that NATO has raised the status of this threat in such a way and therefore allies could invoke the help of others if they are subject to an invisible attack: on their computer networks, on their election campaigns, on their economic activities or on the quality of information received by their citizens.

NATO notes that what it has agreed to call “authoritarian actors” (referring to Russia and China, among other powers) “test the resilience” of allies “and seek to exploit the openness, interconnectedness and digitization of our nations.”

For the first time, the Alliance makes an express acknowledgement in its military roadmap that these actors aim to attack electoral campaigns and referendums: “They interfere in our democratic processes and institutions (…) through hybrid tactics both directly and through intermediaries.”

This form of invisible warfare is described in the Strategic Concept with five types of offensives: “They conduct malicious activities in cyberspace, promote disinformation campaigns, instrumentalize migration, manipulate energy supply and employ economic coercion”. Of those five findings, four allude to Russia, and one to Belarus, among other countries.

The Atlantic Alliance’s strategic catechism singles out China as a promoter of “malicious hybrid and cyber operations” and a “rhetoric of disinformation and confrontation” that “damages the security of allies.”

NATO is set to invest in capabilities to defend itself in this type of warfare, but also to deter states and “non-state actors.”

After considerable debate, the People’s Republic of China has finally been included, not as a threat, but as a challenge.

But the final language is harsh. The Asian country, according to NATO, “employs a wide variety of political, economic and military tools to increase its global footprint and project power, but at the same time is opaque about its strategy, intentions and militarization.”

The allies’ focus is, among other things, on China’s control of Western 5G networks and its increasing military and nuclear power, Stoltenberg told a press conference. “China seeks to control key industrial and technological sectors, critical infrastructure and strategic materials and logistics chains,” reads the Madrid Concept. Also of concern are Beijing’s “growing ties” with Moscow.

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