Malta at NATO: island perspective adds value to the debate

Faced with Russia’s aggression of Ukraine, Malta, whilst remaining a neutral country, cannot be passive in front of flagrant breach of international law

Prime Minister Robert Abela will attend an informal dinner on the fringes of a NATO summit this month in Spain. Concerns that Malta’s participation at this event infringes upon Malta’s neutrality, enshrined in our Constitution, do not hold. Dialogue is an important tool in the peaceful resolution of conflicts and Malta cannot, and should not, shy away from this role. More so, Malta is now a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, thus giving Malta a stronger political muscle in global events.

Malta’s neutrality stance is not, and should not, be considered as glorified fence-sitting. Faced with Russia’s aggression of Ukraine, Malta, whilst remaining a neutral country, cannot be passive in front of flagrant breach of international law. Inaction is not a morally justifiably alternative. It never is.

When two Libyan fighter jets landed on the Luqa runway in 2011, the Lawrence Gonzi administration, faced with an unprecedented dilemma, and the eventuality of military aggression by the then Libyan regime, refused an official request for the return of ‘stolen’ Libyan government property. That was the right thing to do.

Malta’s foreign policy strategy has, consistently, sought to create awareness on matters of human rights. It should remain so.

There seems to be widespread agreement, across Malta’s political divide, that striking off the neutrality clause from our Constitution remains off the cards. A survey published shortly before the war in Ukraine showed that 63% of the Maltese population is in favour of the island keeping that stance. Arguments for its rewording however, factoring in issues of peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and security matters ought to be taken into consideration. Malta’s role, using non-violent means to in violent situations – as is the war in Ukraine – by providing medical care to Ukrainian refugees and the supply of food and medical items to the Ukrainian people, for instance, should continue to be encouraged.

Malta’s neutrality is not considered to be an obstacle to the role Malta plays in the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Malta’s seat at the UN Security Council is proof that the United Nations respects Malta’s neutrality stance – as it does in the case of Ireland and Switzerland.

NATO summit meetings normally involve member countries only. However, and provided Allies agree, non-NATO countries are occasionally invited to participate – in other formats. Russian President Vladimir Putin has only himself to blame for NATO’s reinvigoration – declared as becoming ‘braindead’ by French President Emanuel Macron in 2019.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to top the agenda of the summit in Madrid on June 29-30. The NATO informal dinner is an opportunity for Malta to put forward, as one of the smallest EU member countries, and as a Mediterranean country – now a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, its perspective on matters of international security. Malta’s perspective adds value to the debate.

It is another excellent occasion for Malta to voice its Euro-Mediterranean concerns on the international stage.