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NATO summit opens amid controversy, internal discord

(from right) French President Emmanuel Macron, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and his wife Linda Rama visit the Prado Museum in Madrid on June 29, 2022. (BERTRAND GUAY, POOL VIA AP)

MADRID – The 2022 Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization opened here on Wednesday amid mounting criticisms of the military alliance's aggressive security policy and lingering conflicts among its members.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference Wednesday afternoon that the leaders had decided to "transform and strengthen" the alliance at a "pivotal time for our security."

The decisions include strengthening NATO's forward defenses, enhancing the bloc's battlegroups on its eastern flank and increasing the number of high readiness forces to over 300,000, the NATO chief said, adding that the leaders had also agreed on a "comprehensive assistance package" for Ukraine.

At Wednesday's meeting, NATO invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, following Turkey's decision to lift a veto on the two countries' membership applications a day before

At Wednesday's meeting, NATO invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, following Turkey's decision to lift a veto on the two countries' membership applications a day before.

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"In any accession to the alliance, it is of vital importance that the legitimate security concerns of all allies are properly addressed," NATO leaders said in a joint declaration.

Turkey had initially been blocking the Nordic states' membership bids citing their ties with the Kurdistan Workers' Party and Syria's Kurdish People's Protection Units, which Turkey labels as terrorist groups.

But Turkey changed its position on Tuesday after a meeting of the leaders from the three countries together with Stoltenberg.

Despite Turkey's green light, the NATO chief acknowledged on Tuesday a lingering discord, saying "there will still be conflicts within the defense alliance."

With the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and the increasingly tougher western sanctions on Russia, strains among NATO allies have also intensified as the prices of energy and other essential commodities continue to soar, analysts have said.

The 30 NATO leaders on Wednesday also approved the military bloc's new strategic concept, which outlines its priorities and core tasks in the next decade. The document calls Russia the "most significant and direct threat" to NATO's security.

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Analysts say while NATO is portraying other countries as its imaginary adversaries, it is NATO itself that has been expanding its influence at the expense of other countries' security and inciting bloc confrontation with an outdated Cold War mentality.

Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the United Nations, noted on Tuesday that NATO's five eastward expansions after the Cold War have not only failed to make Europe securer, but also sowed the seed of conflict.

"The Cold War ended a long time ago. It is necessary for NATO to reconsider its own positioning and its responsibilities, completely abandon the Cold War mentality that is based on bloc confrontation, and strive to build a balanced, effective, and sustainable European security framework in line with the principle of indivisible security," he said.

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Before this week's NATO summit, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Madrid on Sunday to call for peace and protest against the alliance, which they see as a threat to peace.