NATO summit opens in Madrid to chart a blueprint in ‘a more dangerous world’

Alliance leader Jens Stoltenberg cautioned about a fundamental shift in the approach to defense. US President Joe Biden formalizes deal with Spain to expand America’s presence at Rota base

President Joe Biden talks with Spain's King Felipe VI at Madrid's Torrejón Air Base on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden talks with Spain's King Felipe VI at Madrid's Torrejón Air Base on Tuesday.Susan Walsh (AP)
Brussels | Madrid -

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was in Madrid on Tuesday to open a global summit that will decide the direction of the Alliance in the next decade. Stoltenberg said the two-day meeting would chart a blueprint for NATO “in a more dangerous and unpredictable world” marked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has sparked a “fundamental shift” in NATO’s approach to defense.

Stoltenberg also said he was “hoping to make progress” with Sweden and Finland’s application to join the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted both countries to abandon their long-held nonaligned status and seek membership, although their application is being blocked by Turkey over Sweden and Finland’s stance on Kurdish rebel groups that Turkey considers terrorists.

The NATO leader gave a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who added that “the goal is clear: to convey a message of unity on the part of the allies.” King Felipe VI said at a parallel event, the NATO Public Forum, that “the global fight between tyranny and democracy remains as relevant as ever.”

Spain's PM Pedro Sánchez and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Madrid on Tuesday
Spain's PM Pedro Sánchez and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Madrid on TuesdayClaudio Alvarez

US President Joe Biden landed at Torrejón de Ardoz military base at around 3pm, where Spain’s King Felipe VI was on hand to greet him. Afterwards he headed for La Moncloa, the seat of Spain’s government, where he had a one-hour meeting with Sánchez in the first formal face-to-face between both since Biden took office.

“Spain is an indispensable ally,” said Biden after a meeting that formalized America’s intention to increase the number of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers deployed at the Rota naval base, in southern Spain, from four to six, according to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. The plan is also to increase US forces stationed there from 1,200 to 1,800. “You can count on Spain as a solid ally,” said Sánchez.

Spain has already informally accepted this proposal, according to sources at La Moncloa, and now the process to do so formally will begin. This will require reforming the defense cooperation agreement between Spain and the US, which dates back to 1988 and is automatically extended from year to year. The Spanish cabinet will have to approve the decision for subsequent endorsement by parliament.

Other heads of state and government arrived in the Spanish capital throughout the day, including Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose position on Finland and Sweden’s membership application is being closely watched.

Tight security

There is a large security operation in place to protect over 40 delegations from NATO member countries. The Spanish government is deploying 6,550 National Police officers and 2,400 members of the Civil Guard, in addition to 1,200 municipal police officers who will collectively watch over the safety of more than 40 heads of state and government scheduled to attend the gathering.

Each delegation will additionally bring their own security detail, while F-18s from Spain’s Air Force will watch over the airspace.

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