Perhaps the most critical summit in the history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization took place this week in Vilnius, Lithuania. While last year’s summit in Madrid was significant for its adoption of a new “strategic concept,” as the organization’s intermittently updated mission statement is known, its focus was, quite understandably, the war in Ukraine. But coming just a few months after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Madrid summit took place at a time when the scope and scale of NATO member states’ involvement in the war were not yet evident.
Since then, that has changed. From the provision of Main Battle Tanks and fighter jets to, most recently and controversially, cluster munitions, NATO’s member states are now fully committed as co-belligerents in the war.
But so far, their support has been delivered bilaterally, to avoid the risk of escalation that NATO’s direct involvement could trigger. Hence, this summit was an opportunity for the alliance to take a clearer position on its own role in the war, in light of its member states’ co-belligerent status, while also setting the direction for NATO’s future evolution. In that respect, the summit was a letdown. Rather than paving the way forward, the summit indicated that the alliance members are only ready for more of the same. This was evident in three ways.