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Then and Now: The Changes Between 2 NATO Madrid Summits

At the NATO summit in Madrid, alliance leaders — including U.S. President Joe Biden and alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg — stress that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the security environment globally.

How much has changed can be ascertained by looking at the world the last time Spain hosted the North Atlantic alliance in 1997 when President Bill Clinton attended the summit presided over by NATO Secretary General Javier Solano.

Twenty-five years ago, there were 15 nations in NATO. The biggest problem confronting the security alliance was maintaining peace and security in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Officials stand for a photo.
1997 Summit
NATO group portrait in Madrid, 1997.
Photo By: NATO
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The idea of terrorism as a transnational threat was beginning to take hold, but it was still the responsibility of individual countries to handle the challenge.

Russia was cooperating with the alliance in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, and that was encouraging to western leaders. "Most recently, our relationship with Russia has been put on a new, solid foundation," Solano said at the time. "We have created with Russia a mechanism for consultation and cooperation, and we are determined to make this an effective instrument for enhancing cooperative security in Europe."

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in the 1990s, it really was a time when people could envision a Europe "whole, free and at peace" as President George H.W. Bush said in 1991.

China was not a consideration for NATO, as the nation was enjoying the benefits of the international rules-based system and was rapidly modernizing and growing.

Solano signed the "Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Ukraine" at that summit with then-Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.

In 1997, NATO invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to begin accession talks — the first nations of the former Warsaw Pact to be invited. They joined in 1999.

Two men in business attire converse in front of news media.
Biden and Stoltenberg
President Joe Biden, left, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg are among the attendees, as world leaders and heads of state gather at NATO’s summit in Madrid, June 29, 2022.
Photo By: NATO
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A line of men sit at a long desk with microphones and small national flags placed in front of them.
NATO Meeting
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center, delivers opening remarks at the alliance’s summit in Madrid, June 29, 2022.
Photo By: NATO
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NATO was reinventing itself. The alliance extended an open door to newly democratic nations. In 1997, there was much talk of NATO's open door policy. Key to it all — from the Cold War to the Balkans conflict — was alliance solidarity.

Times change, but that solidarity has remained.

Today, NATO is a 30-nation defensive alliance, and Europe is no longer at peace. NATO is united in opposing Putin's unprovoked war in Ukraine.

"President [Vladimir] Putin's war against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and has created the biggest security crisis in Europe since the Second World War," Stoltenberg said during the 2022 summit. "NATO has responded with strength and unity, and [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy's leadership and courage are an inspiration to all of us."

Zelenskyy spoke to the assembled NATO leaders from Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, and made clear that Ukraine desperately needs their continued help, Stoltenberg said. "Our message to him was equally clear: Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes," the secretary general said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks on screen to officials seated at a large round table.
Zelenskyy Remarks
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks from Kyiv to leaders at the NATO summit in Madrid, June 29, 2022.
Photo By: NATO
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NATO allies will continue to provide major military and financial help to Ukraine as it faces the powerful foe. The assembled leaders agreed to a comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine that includes secure communications gear, fuel, medical supplies, body armor, equipment to counter mines and chemical and biological threats, and hundreds of portable anti-drone systems, he said.

"Over the longer term, we will help Ukraine transition from Soviet-era equipment to modern NATO equipment, boost interoperability and further strengthen its defense and security institutions," Stoltenberg said.

President Biden said Putin wanted to fracture the alliance, but he ended up increasing it: At today's summit, Sweden and Finland were invited to join the alliance.

Officials stand in three rows for a group photo.
Official Portrait
Official portrait of NATO heads of state and government in Madrid, June 29, 2022.
Photo By: NATO
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"The decision to invite Finland and Sweden to become members demonstrates that NATO's door is open," Stoltenberg said. "It demonstrates that President Putin did not succeed in closing NATO['s] door. And it also demonstrates that we respect the rights of every nation to choose its own path."

The leaders also agreed on a new strategic concept that will guide the alliance moving forward. "We face a radical change to our security environments, and strategic competition is rising around the world," the secretary general said. "So, today leaders have endorsed NATO's new strategic concept."

The new concept makes it clear that the allies see Russia as the most significant and direct threat to security.

The last strategic concept was agreed to in 2010 and didn't mention China. The new one states that China's policies challenge NATO's interests, security and values.

"The concept also sets out our joint position on countering terrorism, as well as cyber and hybrid threats," he said.

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