The meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Vilnius will be the second meeting of this magnitude to be held amid the backdrop of one of the most dramatic armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War. Further resolutions may be made at it that will lead to systemic changes in the functioning of the Alliance. The enormity of expectations for the upcoming summit comes not only from the member states, its partners (especially Ukraine, which has recently redoubled its diplomatic efforts on this line), but above all from Western societies, which for the first time since the Cold War are confronting the various consequences of brutal Russian aggression. Although the countries on NATO’s eastern flank were most affected for obvious reasons (the refugee issue, the stream of illegal immigration from Belarus, the missile incidents that fell on Polish territory), there is no country today that has not been affected, if only psychologically, by the negative effects of Russia’s assault on Ukraine. The deep fear of the Kremlin’s unpredictable actions has been most evident in the Scandinavian states, which have decided to apply to join the Alliance, and thus to be covered by the guarantees of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Ukraine and Georgia are also seeking NATO membership. The Vilnius summit could fundamentally determine the future of the former’s functioning in the European security architecture, and even determine its fate as an independent state. Unfortunately, today there is scant indication that Ukraine will be offered membership in the Alliance.
The most important context for the proceedings will therefore, of course, be the ongoing conflict from February 2022, which will remain NATO’s most important formative event for decades to come. The war in Ukraine has already led to the approval of the wording of the Alliance’s new strategic concept, which leaves no doubt about the purpose and legitimacy of NATO’s existence as the most important alliance grouping Western countries and defending the legacy of Western civilization. The document accepted in Madrid in 2022 clearly defines the direction of change in NATO, both at the political and strategic-military levels. The document identifies the deconstructive actions of two countries – Russia and China (although the latter was lumped together with Russia mainly due to US pressure) as the most serious threat to the Alliance’s security for the coming decades. Some of them, such as the Baltic states (or Sweden, which remains outside the Alliance for the time being) even point to the possibility of Russia attacking these countries, based on the increasing number of incidents and disinformation narratives. The uncertain outcome of the ongoing war heightens the fears of the transatlantic area’s societies about whether its civilizational accomplishments can be preserved and their stable development prospects maintained. Among the most important fears, even under the scenario of a ceasefire or Russia’s defeat in the currently ongoing hostilities, remains concern about the possibility of rebuilding its military capabilities in the years to come, especially since imports of some components (such as microchips and processors) have recently returned to pre-war status as a result of resale by third countries, despite sanctions. Recent incidents (Prigozhin’s rebellion) further reinforce concerns about how events will continue in Russia itself, whether it will become internally destabilized, and what impact this will have on Europe’s security, especially in the context of the security of its nuclear arsenal.
Therefore, the most important premise of all decisions made at the upcoming and subsequent meetings of the North Atlantic Council will be the development of such solutions in the military sphere that they will be of such a nature as to permanently deter Russia from any possible intention to attack any of the Alliance’s member countries, regardless of who comes to power in the Kremlin. The possible dislocation of the headquarters of Wagner’s mercenaries also poses additional threats to the two eastern flank states (Poland and Belarus) in the form of various diversionary activities.
For years now, NATO has been undergoing a dynamic process of adaptation to threats generated by Russia (both strictly military and those of a hybrid nature), but it is important that this process is sustainable, not subject to the dynamics of electoral campaigns in individual countries, and reflected in defense spending, cementing the presence of allied troops in the eastern flank countries and the purchase of arms and ammunition, which after the outbreak of war in Ukraine proved to be a real problem for many European NATO members. It will also be crucial to continue building resilience to possible hybrid attacks and to work in the sphere of countering Russian disinformation.