This NATO Summit Is a Big Win for Biden gnewsplus24

Next week, leaders from the 32 members of NATO will gather in Washington to celebrate a truly remarkable achievement: the 75th anniversary of the strongest, most enduring alliance in recorded history. That NATO can also celebrate its powerful resurgence since the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a signature achievement of U.S. President Joe Biden. Under his leadership, the alliance has expanded to include two well-armed, strategically savvy new members, Finland and Sweden. On Biden’s watch, the number of NATO states spending 2 percent or more of their GDP on defense has expanded from nine to 23, with several other countries on course to meet this target soon. At the summit, the Biden administration will rightly press allies to think of 2 percent as a floor, not a target.

Next week, leaders from the 32 members of NATO will gather in Washington to celebrate a truly remarkable achievement: the 75th anniversary of the strongest, most enduring alliance in recorded history. That NATO can also celebrate its powerful resurgence since the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a signature achievement of U.S. President Joe Biden. Under his leadership, the alliance has expanded to include two well-armed, strategically savvy new members, Finland and Sweden. On Biden’s watch, the number of NATO states spending 2 percent or more of their GDP on defense has expanded from nine to 23, with several other countries on course to meet this target soon. At the summit, the Biden administration will rightly press allies to think of 2 percent as a floor, not a target.

During Biden’s term, NATO readiness also has expanded dramatically, including more U.S. soldiers deployed to Europe, more NATO troops in the front-line states closest to Russia, and roughly 500,000 alliance soldiers ready for combat in Europe. Plans are well underway in Europe and the United States to vastly expand the alliance’s collective military-industrial base—alleviating not only shortages of key weapons and munitions for Ukraine but making the alliance as a whole better prepared for future threats.

In 2022, Biden led the alliance in responding quickly and comprehensively to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It seems far-fetched now, but it’s useful to remember how many politicians, analysts, and journalists expected Russian forces to be in downtown Kyiv within days. The world also feared that Russian President Vladimir Putin would succeed in deposing or killing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, install a puppet regime, and thereby gain control of all of Ukraine. That none of this happened, that Ukraine was able to liberate about half of the territory initially occupied by Russian forces, and that it has held the line against relentless Russian assaults—all while a direct conflict between NATO and Russia has been avoided—is a remarkable achievement.

As the war has dragged on, the share of military, economic, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine from European NATO allies has increased dramatically. Under Biden’s watch, trans-Atlantic burden-sharing has become real, not just a talking point: Today, Europe outspends Washington in terms of total support for Ukraine. In fact, Europe is sending much more aid directly to Ukraine, whereas U.S. military spending stays in the United States to build new weapons for the U.S. military, which then transfers its older, often decommissioned weapons to Ukraine.

None of these achievements were inevitable. After the West won the Cold War in the early 1990s, some European and U.S. leaders argued that NATO should be disbanded since its mission was over. Thankfully, that did not happen, as the security threat posed by Russia to NATO members is as high as it ever was during the Cold War—and arguably higher considering that the Cold War was relatively stable in Europe. Similarly, many have argued over the last three decades against NATO expansion. Thankfully, these voices did not carry the day. Imagine how many more countries on Russia’s borders might be at war or under the threat of invasion from Moscow if they were not under NATO’s umbrella.

Imagine if Donald Trump had been president when Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine.  Given his past record of praising Putin and being indifferent to Ukraine, Trump most likely would have done nothing to aid Ukraine—throwing Kyiv under the bus, immeasurably strengthening Moscow, and deeply dividing the alliance. Also compare this year’s celebratory and unified summit to the chaotic 2018 version in Brussels, where then-U.S. President Trump threatened to withdraw from the alliance. While berating NATO allies, Trump consistently praised Putin. More recently, Trump said he would “not protect” what he considers free-riding European allies and “would encourage [the Russians] to do whatever the hell they want.”

But even with Biden in the White House, a united and firm NATO response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was not inevitable. After all, Biden was vice president in 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and sent its troops into the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine—the first act in what is now a 10-year Russian invasion. Neither the Obama administration nor other allied governments responded forcefully. Although there were some sanctions and Russia was kicked out of what was then still the G-8, the United States and most NATO countries crucially did not supply weapons to Kyiv. Putin therefore had reason to believe that the U.S. and NATO response would be similarly tepid in 2022. That turned out not to be true, in large part due to Biden’s leadership within the alliance.

Russia’s war is now well into its third year with no end in sight in terms of either a military breakthrough or a negotiated peace. Clearly, Putin is waiting to see if Trump will win the November U.S. presidential election, calculating with good reason that he will get a much better deal under Trump, including U.S. recognition of his illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory. But even if Biden is reelected, the prospects for a complete liberation of Ukraine from Russian occupation are fading. But imagine how much worse it would be for Ukraine today were it not for NATO’s assistance.

At the summit next week, only incremental progress will be made on Ukraine’s accession to NATO. That the summit will therefore only discuss a “bridge” to membership—not an actual invitation—will disappoint Kyiv but also some in Washington and other allied capitals who want membership for Ukraine now. As a compromise, I personally have proposed that NATO issue an invitation to Ukraine now, followed by a long ratification process that would be completed only after the war is over. But right now, that seems a bridge too far for the alliance. Still, members will be taking steps at the summit to institutionalize the NATO-Ukraine relationship, including the creation of a NATO command for Ukraine in Germany and the deployment of a NATO civilian leader to a permanent office in Kyiv. These should be seen as positive steps on the road to membership.

The final step—a formal invitation to membership—should be taken immediately after the war is over. Ukraine’s membership in NATO is the only way to guarantee that Putin will not use a cease-fire or other negotiated break in the war to prepare the next phase of his invasion, just as he did between 2014 and 2022. The bilateral security agreements that Ukraine has signed with several countries are useful but not enough—they do not carry the weight of treaties and can be revoked at any time. Only NATO membership will finally prevent another Russian invasion.

Some analysts say making the end of the war a condition of membership gives Putin an incentive to prolong the conflict to keep Ukraine out of NATO. It’s a legitimate worry but convincing only at first glance. If Ukraine and its supporters stay the course and the war ends with Russian forces pushed out completely, Putin will not have the capacity to keep fighting. But if the war ends with Russia still occupying parts of Ukraine, Putin will trumpet this outcome as a fantastic victory—far more important to him than stopping NATO expansion, which was only a tertiary motivation for invading Ukraine in the first place. After all, not only did Putin refrain from invading Finland when it declared its intention to join the alliance in 2022, but Russia even withdrew many of its troops and weapons stationed near the border for redeployment to Ukraine. If Russia feels safe enough to leave a 830-mile border with a well-armed NATO state virtually undefended, then it clearly does not consider the bloc a threat.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.” Americans learned that lesson in 2001, when U.S. forces fought alongside their NATO allies in Afghanistan, the only instance in the alliance’s history when the Article 5 mutual defense clause was invoked. There is no greater burden than dying for one’s ally, and that is exactly what the United States’ European and Canadian allies did in Afghanistan. Today, U.S. security, prosperity, and values continue to be advanced by a strong NATO—an incomparable U.S. foreign-policy asset that should never be taken for granted. That is cause for celebration—and for the hope that Americans will continue to appreciate leaders who value and nurture allies.


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