By Sigurd Neubauer
Norwegian Ambassador to NATO Øystein Bø discusses what’s next for the military alliance and the growing threat from Russia and China.
At the recently concluded North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Madrid, Spain, Finland and Sweden moved closer to formally joining the alliance following an initial standoff with Turkey. The three countries reached an agreement brokered by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, which included Helsinki and Stockholm’s recognition of Ankara’s “legitimate security concerns,” Stoltenberg announced in a statement.
Turkey had initially objected to Sweden’s traditional support for Kurdish rights, which includes hosting various Kurdish opposition leaders in exile, while at the same time barring its defense industry from selling equipment to the country. Ankara, for its part, has long considered the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the PKK, as a terrorist organization.
Finland, most analysts believe, became a collateral due to long-standing Turkish-Swedish tensions over the Kurdish issue as Helsinki and Stockholm made the strategic decision to apply for NATO membership together.
Following the summit, the Biden administration announced that it would approve the sale of the F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. In October of last year, Turkey requested the United States for permission to purchase 40 F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
In an exclusive with Man & Culture, Norway’s Ambassador to NATO, Øystein Bø, discusses what’s next for the alliance.
“The summit was the most substantive and important of its kind in decades,” the ambassador explains as its leaders developed a new Strategic Concept for the military alliance. The previous Strategic Concept, which was adopted at the NATO Summit of 2010 in Lisbon, Portugal, described the NATO-Russia cooperation to be of strategic importance. This has now changed, says Bø, while adding that China is also mentioned in the newly developed strategic concept – for the first time – as a challenge to NATOs interests, security and values.
“Developing the Strategic Concept was a long and thorough process leading up to the 2022 Madrid Summit” - Øystein Bø, Norway’s Ambassador to NATO
The Strategic Concept also mentions the environment, space and cyber, among other issues.
“Developing the Strategic Concept was a long and thorough process leading up to the 2022 Madrid Summit,” Bø adds.
During the Madrid summit itself, the NATO leaders discussed a unified position to preserve and maintain what is popularly described as “the rules-based international order” – or to the important web of international law and international political commitments, – and how its very foundations are consistently being challenged by actors like Russia and China.
“For a small country like Norway, protecting the web of international rules that we have been jointly developing since the end of World War II, such as the United Nations conventions and the Bretton Woods System are of vital importance as they create predictability for international relations,” says Bø.
At the summit, allies also agreed to reinforce troops to NATO’s eastern flank – the Baltic states, Poland and Romania – all alliance members bordering either Russia or Ukraine.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, “NATO responded quickly and forcefully” Bø explains as the alliance is now moving from what he called a “tripwire” response to expanding its defense posture on its eastern flank as part of its long-term strategic commitment to “protect every inch of allied territory,” as it was assured by US President Joe Biden
In addition to discussing Ukraine, “NATO leaders also reached an agreement to increase funding for the alliance to make it more sustainable for the long-term,” Bø says but notes that burden-sharing was also discussed, and allies reaffirmed the need to live up to the Defense Investment Pledge from the Wales Summit in 2014.
The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, also addressed the summit. He expressed appreciation for all support for Ukraine and called on allies for additional military assistance to defend Ukraine against the Russian attack.
While Finland and Sweden formally being invited to join NATO was a key component of the summit, Bø explains that the agreement between Helsinki, Stockholm and Ankara – which was brokered with the participation of Stoltenberg – is between the three countries alone and that it is up to them to comment on the content of the public declaration
“Turkey is an ally, and Finland and Sweden are on their way in,” the ambassador adds.
A Trans-Atlantic dinner
As part of a strategic effort to strengthen the relationship between NATO and the EU, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez hosted an informal dinner – which wasn’t part of the summit agenda – on Wednesday June 29 with all NATO and EU leaders present. Stoltenberg, President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen and President of the EU Council Charles Michel attended as well, “but no staff or political advisers were present,” Bø reveals.
“This was the first dinner of its kind on the leadership level, and an important step in further developing the important NATO and the EU cooperation,” the ambassador adds. He hailed the meeting as an important venue for the leaders to be able to meet and exchange views in an informal setting.
Once Finland and Sweden join NATO, 23 out of 27 EU members will be part of the military alliance. Ireland, Austria, Malta and Cyprus are the only non-NATO EU members.
China and the Pacific Rim
The NATO summit also made history by hosting the leaders of Australia, New Zeeland, Japan and South Korea. The four leaders – Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (Australia), Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand), Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (Japan) and President Suk Yeol Yoon (South Korea) – attended to demonstrate support for the Euro-American quest to present a unified position against an emboldened China and the various threats it represents.
“Their participation represents the development of a partnership that is becoming increasingly important,” Bø explains as it was the first time the four countries had been represented at the leadership level at NATO.
“This is a good thing for the alliance and the partners, given the knowledge they bring with them on the pacific issues and China’s role within the region.”
As part of Washington’s strategic objective to counter China, it is developing an alliance with India, Japan and Australia, which is formally known as the “Quad countries”.
NATO, for its part, seeks to develop its partnerships with Australia, New Zeeland, Japan and South Korea to foster long-term collaboration on issues of mutual interest, the ambassador says.
“Some leaders branded the summit as ‘totally historic’ as it has made NATO stronger and brought us a good step forward,” he concludes.