President Biden will meet with allies this week at the NATO summit in Madrid, which is expected to focus on a security alliance projecting its unity and coordination amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The meeting, which follows the Group of Seven summit in Germany, is expected to cover a range of issues outside the Russian war, including offers from Finland and Sweden to join the organization.
Here are five things to look for at a NATO meeting.
Demonstration of support for Ukraine
Russia’s war in Ukraine has entered its fourth month and NATO leaders are expected to show their support for Ukraine as a top priority.
That is a top priority for Biden, who has put support for Ukraine at the forefront of his agenda.
“He’s going to a NATO summit where the alliance has never really been united,” said John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications.
During his visit to Poland in March, Biden said Putin had failed to divide NATO and stressed that the most important thing was for the United States and its allies to remain coordinated. He also stepped up his commitment to the principle of collective defense in NATO Article 5, which says that an attack on one application of NATO is an attack on all.
Ukrainian President Zelensky will address virtually the NATO meeting. Biden said a visit to Ukraine is unlikely on this trip.
Zelensky’s address “will give leaders a chance to speak directly with him, and will also allow NATO allies to show their continued determination to support Ukraine as it defends itself,” a senior administration official said.
Turkey’s battle over Finland and Sweden’s candidacies for membership
Finland and Sweden have applied for NATO membership, but the Nordic countries are holding back in talks with Turkey, which has opposed the candidacy over the two governments’ support for Kurdish groups that Turkey considers terrorist organizations.
In essence, Turkey can veto the entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO, as all members must agree to take over the new states.
It is unclear whether Biden, who has expressed support for Finland and Sweden, will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the issue. Senior administration officials, when asked about the meeting, pointed to opportunities for leaders to meet on the sidelines of the summit even if no meetings are scheduled.
Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland and an expert on the Atlantic Council, argued that Biden should be more directly involved in resolving disagreements with Erdogan.
“Biden should be in hand with this,” Fried said.
Turkey has indicated it does not see the summit as a deadline for deciding whether to accept the Nordic countries. As Turkey continues to oppose their membership, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has not given a time frame when Finland and Sweden could officially join.
Rose Gottemoeller, a former NATO deputy secretary general, has predicted it will take at least a year for the two countries to join the alliance if Turkey withdraws its objections. Legislatures in each NATO member state must be approved.
A two-party agreement was reached in Congress on the candidacies of Finland and Sweden, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee easily passed a resolution earlier this month putting pressure on NATO to accept them quickly.
Looking at the threat from China
Leaders at the NATO summit are expected to support a new strategic concept – the first since 2010 – that will explicitly address China’s challenges for the first time.
Kirby told reporters Thursday that the strategic concept is based on months of talks on the threat China poses to international security.
“I think this is a reflection of the equal concerns of our allies about the impact of Chinese economic practices, the use of forced labor, intellectual theft and forced aggressive behavior not only in the region but elsewhere around the world. To believe that it is important to include China in the new strategic concept, ”he said.
The White House also noted that the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea are attending the summit for the first time this year.
While Russia is the most immediate threat to the alliance, China is considered a multiple and long-term threat. The alliance is expected to discuss economic and cyber threats coming from China, as well as security in the Indo Pacific.
Biden administration officials insisted they continue to focus on China even as they deal with the war in Ukraine.
“Instead of distracting us from the Indo-Pacific and China, the president’s leadership in support of Ukraine has actually encouraged leaders in the region and effectively linked efforts in Europe and Asia and those Asian countries that will participate in the NATO summit, I think enough about that fact, ”Kirby said.
Still, experts say the U.S. must inevitably divide its attention between security in Europe and Asia.
“The United States is more in balancing,” Gottemoeller said.
Nations to advance their obligations
NATO members are expected to meet commitments to increase the position of Allied defense forces during the Russian war in Ukraine.
Biden administration officials said the new plans would help strengthen NATO and deter Russian aggression at a critical time.
“In the context of the Ukrainian crisis, the president was very clear that NATO would defend every inch of NATO territory,” a senior administration official told reporters.
Fried said that special talks would be held on increasing NATO’s presence in the Baltic states and Poland, which are close neighbors of Ukraine.
“What the war in Ukraine shows us is that Russia could attack, but it also shows us that it is possible to defend the Baltic,” he said, noting that Russian forces acted below expectations. “There is an argument that NATO should increase its deployment in the east to the strength of the brigade.”
Focus on defense spending
Talking about increasing defense spending has been a contentious topic for the alliance, especially during the previous administration when former President Trump pressured countries to spend more on defense to meet NATO’s goal of each member state devoting 2 percent of its gross domestic product to defense. .
The war in Ukraine has led nations to commit to spending more on their defense, most notably Germany, which earlier this year pledged to spend above 2 percent of GDP after years of lagging below that level.
“Throughout this crisis, NATO countries have been more committed to defense,” Gottemoeller said. “I think they’ll all look at their defense budgets.”
Gottemoeller said she would not be surprised if there is a renewed commitment to a 2 percent promise or concrete promises of further spending on defense.
A senior administration official said the U.S. expects the “upward trajectory” of defense spending to continue and accelerate over the past seven years and will work to ensure the alliance has good resources.
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