NATO leaders are set to gather in Vilnius next week for the highly anticipated summit, with the primary objectives of addressing divisions regarding Ukraine’s path to NATO membership and resolving Turkey’s block on Sweden’s accession to the alliance. Against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Lithuanian capital will be heavily secured by forces from 17 nations, Patriot missile batteries from Germany, and fighter jets. The summit will witness the participation of 31 NATO leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The Ukrainian President is expected to use this platform to advocate for Ukraine’s admission to NATO soon after the resolution of the conflict triggered by Russia’s invasion. While Eastern European NATO members strongly support Ukraine’s stance, viewing its integration into the alliance as a means of deterring Russia and preventing future conflicts, other countries like the United States and Germany approach the issue with caution, concerned about the potential of direct confrontation with Russia.
The NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, expressed his expectation that the summit would reaffirm Ukraine’s future membership and focus on strategies to bring Ukraine closer to achieving that goal. NATO is anticipated to present a support package to Ukraine, which includes an upgraded cooperation body, the NATO-Ukraine Council, and non-lethal military aid to assist Ukraine’s armed forces in their reform efforts to meet NATO standards. However, President Zelenskiy insists on receiving assurances that go beyond the vague pledge made in Bucharest in 2008.
Negotiations are ongoing to reach a consensus among NATO members regarding the final declaration of the summit. One possible solution being considered is to enable Ukraine to bypass the traditional Membership Action Plan (MAP) process. Additionally, parallel talks have been held among major NATO nations, such as the United States, Germany, France, and Britain, regarding long-term security commitments to Ukraine, particularly in terms of weapons and ammunition supply.
Turkey’s blockade of Sweden’s accession to NATO will also be addressed at the summit. Turkey accuses Sweden of not doing enough to combat Kurdish militants, while Sweden maintains that it has fulfilled its commitments. Efforts to resolve this disagreement will be made during talks between Erdogan, Stoltenberg, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson prior to the summit.
During the summit, NATO leaders are expected to agree on the commitment for all member countries to allocate at least 2% of their GDP to defense spending, an upgrade from the previous 2014 pledge. Currently, only 11 of the 31 NATO members meet this target. Furthermore, the leaders are set to approve NATO’s first comprehensive military plans since the Cold War, outlining detailed tasks and requirements for alliance forces in defense against potential Russian aggression.
While the adoption of the military plans has been delayed by Turkey’s objections related to the naming of certain geographical locations, officials remain confident that the plans will be endorsed at the Vilnius summit. In addition to these discussions, the NATO leaders will engage with counterparts from Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, as the United States seeks to enhance the alliance’s role in countering China’s influence.
Overall, the Vilnius summit marks a crucial gathering for NATO leaders to address critical geopolitical challenges, bridge divisions on Ukraine and Turkey’s blockade, strengthen military cooperation, and set forth a comprehensive defense strategy for the alliance in the face of evolving global threats.