The past returns to offer us the Second Cold War

The past returns to offer us the Second Cold War

The restaurant in the press area at the NATO summit offered this Tuesday Russian salad ("potatoes salad Russian style" in the English translation) as one of the first course options for a price of eight euros. That was the only detente option towards Moscow at the Madrid summit that has been described as "historic", if only because it serves as the starting point for the Second Cold War that will accompany us for years. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called it "a more dangerous and unpredictable world." Which means that this summit will talk about war and preparing for war.

The rooms of Ifema where the conclave is held are decorated with large photos of places in Spain. There is one that squeaks a bit and is placed in the area reserved for leaders. It is a reproduction of the painting 'El abrazo', by Juan Genovés, which is usually considered a symbol of the Transition or of reconciliation. It will take some imagination to think that you want to define with that image the summit of the most powerful defense organization – that is, military – on the planet.

The international meeting is a meeting of governments that watch carefully what their respective public opinions think to know how far they can go in the response to war. Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine has received massive backlash across Europe. In addition, it has caused a chain of economic consequences with an inflationary spiral in Europe and the US and worse in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where tens of millions of people face the specter of hunger.

A recent survey commissioned by the 'think tank' Council on Foreign Relations reveals that only a third of Europeans support the idea of ​​an increase in military spending. Poland, Sweden, Germany and Finland are the only countries where support for increased defense spending outweighs opposition if it inevitably means a drop in social spending, for example on health and education. The rejection is evident in Spain – 51% oppose the increase – and even greater in Italy with 63%.

Governments have already made the decision for them. Stoltenberg announced this week that the rapid deployment force in NATO countries on the eastern flank will increase from 40,000 troops to 300,000. The idea is that these troops are based in countries like Germany and Poland, but their objective will be to be prepared for any Russian threat to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, countries so small that they could be invaded and occupied in a matter of days. Multiplying that military presence by seven will mean an obvious increase in military spending.

Tuesday was the day before the actual start of the summit. It was of key importance to Pedro Sánchez by allowing him what any president of the Government in Spain always wants: a personal meeting with the president of the United States. The reception was one of those that exceed the normal order of the protocol. Felipe VI went to the Torrejón military base to receive Joe Biden at the foot of the steps of Air Force One. He greeted him, spoke with him for a few seconds and turned to Zarzuela. US presidents are attracted to European kings and the Spanish monarch later had his meeting with Biden.

The political jackpot went to Sánchez, who met with him in Moncloa. Before it began, it was already known that the US intends to increase the number of destroyers deployed at the Rota base from four to six. The VI Mediterranean Fleet is always a basic pillar of the US naval deployment abroad. The point of friction with Russia is in Eastern Europe, but the confrontation will take place in many other parts of the planet.

Anything that the US and NATO also look to the south will be good news for the Sánchez government, which will use it to highlight that the summit has been a success for Spain. The Alliance is not going to change its treaties and include Ceuta and Melilla among the places that would be automatically defended by all its members. What it can do is defend the "territorial integrity" of all its members, an aspect that cannot be ignored after the invasion of Ukraine. In any case, and despite all the problems in the relationship with Morocco, neither Ceuta nor Melilla have been in danger of being invaded since Spain joined NATO.

In the joint appearance in Moncloa, which was not a press conference, Biden made a brief reference to this Spanish priority: "Together, the Alliance is facing the threats that come from the East and also the challenges from the South." It is the class of generic phrases that are included in statements to please the host. The Government hopes that the final statement will be more specific.

Sánchez was full of praise before a Biden with an almost inaudible voice and who dragged the jet lag from the transatlantic trip. "We are grateful for the return of the United States to multilateralism," said the president, in a true definition regarding the change from the isolationism of Donald Trump, but which is far from describing in all its extension the North American hegemony in the Western world. Sánchez boasted about the 1,457 Spanish troops on Alliance missions and the 592 stationed in Latvia without promising any increase, which will probably be inevitable in the coming years.

That helped Biden define Spain as an "indispensable partner" of NATO, in addition to praising Sánchez for his "leadership in these moments of crisis." It's the least he could do after Spain agreed to send two extra destroyers. Internally, his words and his images will serve Moncloa to refute at a stroke the idea held by the PP that Spain is not a reliable ally of the US or NATO because of the Government.

Putin has resurrected NATO, the Alliance that was boycotted by Trump and that Macron said in 2019 was "in a state of brain death." Its revitalization is due not to new ideas about collective defense, but to the tragic events in the Ukraine and the resulting perception of Russia as an imminent "threat" in Eastern Europe. The Madrid summit will be the stage where the new strategy will be reflected. NATO has been searching for enemies since the 1990s to find a reason for its survival and has finally returned to familiar territory to find them. The past has come back to haunt us.

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