by Giuseppe Morabito

Is the war in Ukraine at its climax?

The war in Ukraine is at a crucial juncture. A bloody battle is underway in Luhansk between the Russian army (with its separatist supporters) and a weary Ukrainian army (which is nonetheless, albeit slowly, being reinforced by Western arms and ammunition). International analysts predict that the climax in the current phase of the war will really be reached in early July.

This prediction justifies the constant call for more military support from the Ukrainian government. In the more than 100 days since President Putin launched the invasion, NATO countries have had a clear indicator of the capabilities of Russia's armed forces, and in late June, at the Alliance summit in Madrid, NATO's Strategic Concept for 2022 will be consequently agreed upon.

In Madrid looking eastward

For now, Russian aggression has gotten Finland and Sweden on the verge of joining the Alliance (Erdogan's Turkish whims and interests permitting), and that even nations like the Netherlands have now decided to reach the 2% Defense Investment Pledge level (2% of national GDP for defense), after years of resistance. Italy has "spread" the achievement of this target over a number of years.

Maybe the most crucial decision that should be made by the Alliance heads of state and government will be precisely the commitment to a new organization of advanced defense forces. There is a kind of paradox in discussion, in that Putin's worldview can be summarized as follows, "I agree to the West's sphere of influence, which includes all existing members of the EU and NATO, but only on the condition that the West agrees to Russia's sphere of influence, which includes Ukraine. If the West disputes Russia's sphere of influence, I will dispute the boundaries of the West's sphere."

The NATO Strategic Concept to be defined in Madrid is expected to be the driving force behind NATO's strategy for the next decade. However, given the centrality of U.S. forces in the Alliance's all-important deterrence and defense policy, the new U.S. National Defense Strategy is perhaps the guideline to which NATO will have to adapt by 2030 if the Alliance is to remain credible in its core tasks.

U.S. strategy and expectations

The core mission of the U.S. National Defense Strategy (NDS) 2022 is to shape and size the future military capability of the United States with the budget that supports it, and, for the first time, NDS 2022 puts a special spotlight on the support from allies and partners, and thus implicitly NATO. In short, NDS 2022 implies a much greater role for allies, which, Washington demands, go forward in assisting the United States to achieve its strategic goals and challenges, particularly in and around the European theater. It should be noted, however, that NDS 2022 gives People's China and the Indo-Pacific a higher priority than Russia and Europe, even though it describes Russia as a threat.

It will be interesting to see whether NATO's Agenda 2030 and the NATO Strategic Concept will live up to this American strategic challenge.

Washington also has the vital need for the United States to be able to counter threats such as North Korea, Iran, and violent extremism, but there are also climate change and (Chinese) pandemics to consider.

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For the future, the U.S. offers other NATO countries a clear direction of travel. The military capability of the future must be built on three principles: "integrated deterrence," the generation of credible combat power (including nuclear forces), and the need to create a lasting advantage by exploiting supremacy in emerging technologies.

As always, it will all depend on the American taxpayers' money invested by Congress. There are already some indicators. While the agreed budget for the "European Deterrence Initiative" for fiscal year 2023 will be $4.2 billion, the "Pacific Deterrence Initiative" will receive $6 billion. For NATO allies, the message is clear: if the U.S. security guarantee for Europe is to be credibly maintained Europeans will have to share defense burdens much more equally (covering 50 percent of NATO's capacity by 2030 is probably the minimum Americans will expect from their allies).

What will NATO decide

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has clearly accelerated NATO defense planning, and it has been decided to activate all phased response plans and appropriate crisis response operations as direct counter-aggression action. It would appear that NATO authorities have become considerably bolder than in the past, and a new military strategy will be adopted at the Madrid summit that, for the first time, establishes a military command of forces engaged on NATO's eastern flank to enable more integrated land, sea, and air operations.

The Alliance and allies will further invest in a range of advanced military capabilities to meet new and enduring challenges in all operational domains. The goal is for NATO to be able to provide a range of important and sophisticated capabilities in sufficient numbers to be rotated effectively for the duration of any crisis. The Alliance will also continue to improve and adapt the sustainability, deployability, and interoperability of its forces. National capability development plans will (hopefully) support the full and timely generation of these capabilities, in line with NATO's defense planning process.

Above all, NATO really needs to start thinking much more convincingly about future warfare and the very concept of deterrence and defense in the 21st century. The automation and digitization of cyber warfare will, perhaps, accelerate exponentially.

NATO's European allies (including Italy) must deliver what they promise or their adversaries may take advantage of them. NATO, and especially the allies on this side of the Atlantic, must understand this.

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Senior Fellow of the Machiavelli Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Brigadier General (Aux.) of the Italian Army, member of the Directorate of the NATO Defense College Foundation. For years director of the Middle East Faculty within the NATO Defense College.