Almost everyone agreed: the June 29‒30 Madrid summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), with its cost to the Spanish taxpayer of €50 million, was a “triumph” — for the military alliance and for the host government headed by Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) prime minister Pedro Sánchez.
Even the opposition right-wing People’s Party (PP) felt it had to congratulate Sánchez — leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo said the organisation of the summit presented a “positive image” of Spain.
He welcomed the decision reached between Sánchez and United States president Joe Biden to increase the number of US destroyers stationed at the Spanish naval base of Rota from four to six.
This was one of three immediate moves to boost the US military presence in Europe, together with stationing a brigade of 3000 combat troops in Romania and two squadrons of F-35 fighter planes in Britain.
NATO’s rapid response force in Europe is now set to grow from 40,000 to more than 300,000 troops.
As for anti-NATO protests — previously so vast that they forced the PSOE government to put Spanish NATO membership to a referendum in 1986 — they were tame to the point that not one person was arrested.
Within the establishment euphoria about this triumph, the sour grapes came from the PSOE’s junior partner in government, Unidas Podemos (UP).
Torn between its addiction to cabinet posts and its desire to capture the vote of the still real, if diminished, anti-war sentiment, the radical coalition flipped in March from opposing to splitting over and then accepting the provision of Spanish arms to Ukraine.
UP MPs in the Spanish Congress — when presented with a PP motion on June 30, aimed at wedging the government alliance — voted differently from their PSOE partner on 14 of the motion’s 15 points.
The resolution welcomed the results of the summit, in particular its adoption of a defence expenditure target of 2% of GDP for all NATO members.
UP rejected this goal and also opposed increasing military aid to Ukraine and interpreting NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept as a guarantee of protection for all Spanish national territory, in particular its Moroccan enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
It abstained on “recognising the role of [President Volodymyr] Zelinski at the head of Ukraine and in defence of its independence and territorial integrity”.
In the debate, UP MP Gerardo Pisarello attacked the “warmongering zeal” of the PP and said that “neither inflation nor unemployment are going to be solved by filling Europe with more nuclear missiles or warships”.
He added: “This summit was basically organised to reinforce the strategic priorities of the United States, which are not Ukraine, not Europe, but above all weakening China.”
A shrunken anti-war movement
The Congress debate came after the main Madrid anti-NATO protest, held on June 26, managed to attract between 2200 (local police figure) and 30,000 (organisers’ figure).
Whatever the real turnout, it marked a low point in active opposition to NATO, reflecting that in the Spanish state as in the rest of Europe, support for remaining in NATO has jumped since Russian president Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion.
The invasion has produced the decisions of Finland and Sweden to end their traditional neutrality and join the alliance — each without submitting the decision to a referendum.
According to a pre-summit Elcano Royal Institute poll, 83% of those interviewed were in favour of Spain remaining in NATO.
Washington seizes the opportunity
NATO’s hawkish Madrid meeting booked the political benefits from Putin’s Ukraine invasion to the account of the imperialist power that stood to gain most from it — the US.
- Expanded NATO’s potential sphere of operation to “our East and South” and “High North”, as well as to “our southern neighbourhood” (Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East), the Western Balkans and the Black Sea.
- Specified the People’s Republic of China as striving to “subvert the rules-based international order”.
- “Enhanced” the NATO-European Union partnership, code for stymying the EU from having a military operation independent of the US.
- Made it harder for key country France to once again weaken its commitment to NATO.
- Reaffirmed the alliance’s role in “crisis prevention and management”, especially in Africa.
The criminal disaster of Afghanistan was not mentioned except to say that lessons learned would be applied in future scenarios of “crisis management”.
Of course, the Strategic Concept’s words sound nice: “Our vision is clear: we want to live in a world where sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights and international law are respected and where each country can choose its own path, free from aggression, coercion or subversion. We work with all who share these goals. We stand together, as Allies, to defend our freedom and contribute to a more peaceful world.”
Yet these words got exposed as hypocrisy the day before the summit, in a deal whereby Turkey lifted its veto on Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
According to the office of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, this agreement was another “triumph”: it meant “full cooperation with Turkey in the fight against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and its affiliates”, including the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG).
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the terms of the deal involved Sweden intensifying work on Turkish extradition requests for suspected Kurdish fighters and Swedish and Finnish law being amended to toughen their control of them.
Finland and Sweden also agreed “not to impose embargo restrictions in the field of defence industry” on Turkey.
The Swedish Left Party reacted with a June 29 statement that concluded: “The Left Party is opposed to NATO membership. Sweden has a long tradition of military non-alignment. Membership of NATO is associated with great uncertainty. We would risk being forced into wars and conflicts in which we do not want to participate. Membership of NATO also makes it more difficult to conduct an independent foreign policy with any credibility. This is what we are now clearly seeing happening. It is an enormous betrayal to allow Turkey to have so much influence over Swedish foreign policy.”
These decisions showed that it was possible to separate the issue of NATO membership from that of helping the Ukrainians with the weapons they need to repel the Russian invasion.
However, a lot of the European left — and particularly the Spanish and Italian left — has had great difficulty in separating these two questions, which both US/NATO and the Russian Federation insist are inseparable: if you support arms to Ukraine you must be with NATO (and on the right), if you’re against NATO (and on the left) you can’t support arms to Ukraine.
In the case of UP, the degree of opposition to NATO gets conditioned by the desire to stay in government with the PSOE. Here, opposition to sending arms to Ukraine, where it is not driven by hidden support for Russia, functions as theatrical signalling to the peace movement — look at us, we’re opposed to militarism.
Of course, if that were seriously the case, UP would never have entered government with the PSOE in the first place.
It would have adopted the “Portuguese tactic” — voting to invest the PSOE as a minority administration, supporting it against the right but opposing its support for NATO and voting on its legislation issue by issue, while trying to drive it leftwards through popular mobilisation.
Anticapitalists, the part of the Spanish left that understands and practices this approach towards the PSOE, has not been able to bring itself to support sending arms to Ukraine, even while fundraising for Ukrainian left force Social Movement (which calls for arms to be sent).
This disorientation on the part of the Spanish left with some public visibility has left the PSOE as the only major left force actually supporting what the mass of the Spanish population (70% according to the Centre for Sociological Research’s March barometer of public opinion) feel is right — to support the Ukrainians with whatever they need to repel Putin’s invasion.
The upshot, given the PSOE’s enthusiastic support for NATO, is increased popular confusion as to whether the task of national self-defence requires membership of the imperialist alliance or not.
[Dick Nichols is Green Left’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]