The historic swerve of 24 February supplied an iconic image four months later in Madrid. The Russian invasion of Ukraine caused a geopolitical commotion that has been labeled Zeitenwende, and the leaders participating in the NATO summit gathered around Velázquez for a family portrait that expresses their common determination to confront the crisis with a new Strategic Concept that sees Moscow as “the most direct threat,” while Beijing tries to “undermine the international order.” In contrast with the détente that marked the three Concepts drafted after the Cold War, the one approved now drags Europe into the political, economic, and military conflict of the United States with China. Despite the conciliatory efforts of taciturn Scholz and hyperactive Macron, the document aligns with Washington, considering that the Asian power “puts at risk our interests, our security and our values,” a statement stressed by the participation in the summit of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea.
In violent contrast with the somber dramatism of the moment, the Madrid summit was orchestrated with a program of tourist visits and festive celebrations that seem inappropriate when the world, still struggling to leave behind the pandemic, watches new health risks emerge, contemplates an economic scenario of stagflation, and foresees an immediate future of huge famines and migrations produced by climate change and disrupted trade flows. To these calamities we must add war, and not only the one in Ukraine, but also the possibility of a devastating global conflict. The Latin maxim ‘Si vis pacem, para bellum’ is tragically topical today, but preparing for war sits awkwardly with the photograph of the spouses in front of the Guernica, and is somewhat inconsistent with that of the leaders flanking Las Meninas. Close to that work hangs Velázquez’s melancholy Mars, and perhaps this painting would have illustrated better the tribulations of a continent that does not really know how to fake martial virtues.