Biden Hopes for ‘United’ Alliance as Crucial NATO Summit Begins in Lithuania

Emel Akan
By Emel Akan
July 11, 2023International

VILNIUS, Lithuania—U.S. President Joe Biden begins his meetings with world leaders on Tuesday at a “consequential” North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“This is a historic moment,” Biden told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a meeting.

“We’re looking for a continued united NATO,” Mr. Biden said, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal of dividing the alliance will fail.

Mr. Biden stated that adding Finland and Sweden to NATO is “consequential,” and he supports a plan that would allow Ukraine to join the alliance in the future.

The high-stakes summit, set for July 11–12, brings together leaders from the alliance’s 31 member countries to discuss crucial global security challenges.

NTD Photo
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (R) and U.S. President Joe Biden give a statement before the bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Here’s what the U.S. president hopes to accomplish during the two-day summit:

2 Percent Spending Target

According to the White House, this year’s Vilnius summit will address raising the spending target by member countries, which has been a major U.S. goal for some years.

NATO countries promised nearly a decade ago to increase defense spending to 2 percent of their GDP. However, only seven countries—the United States, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the UK—met the 2 percent requirement last year.

Washington wants the 2 percent goal to be a floor rather than a ceiling, and the Vilnius summit is expected to start that conversation, according to White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who briefed reporters on July 11 in Vilnius.

NATO defense spending has increased by around 30 percent since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. However, the pledge made in Wales at the 2014 summit to increase spending expires next year, so the United States wants allies to commit to boosting investments during this year’s summit.

The three Baltic countries—Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—have already committed to raising defense spending to 3 percent of GDP. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Poland has also announced plans to increase its defense budget to 4 percent of GDP.

One key impediment, however, is that eurozone countries agreed not to run large budget deficits. Hence, the goals being discussed at the NATO summit may be unrealistic for many Western European countries, particularly Spain.

“We need to invest more in our defense. And we will be adding a new defense investment pledge where we stated that 2 percent of GDP for defense is a minimum,” Mr. Stoltenberg said during his meeting with Mr. Biden.

“And the good news is that the European Allies and Canada are stepping up this year,” he added.

NTD Photo
(L-R) British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, US President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attend the first day of the 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11, 2023. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Ukraine Tops the Agenda

According to the White House, Ukraine will be a major focus of this year’s summit, with allies debating security guarantees, the country’s future membership, and assistance to the war-torn country. There are, however, considerable differences among allies regarding Ukraine’s eventual membership.

The United States, Germany, and the southern NATO partners have been more cautious about Ukraine’s membership, while the Baltic states and Eastern European nations like Poland hold the most hawkish and assertive stance.

Even though there is a wide spectrum of views among allies, observers expect a middle-ground agreement to be reached during the Vilnius summit.

Ukraine formally applied to join the alliance last year, but Mr. Biden has stated repeatedly in recent days that Ukraine cannot join until its conflict with Russia is resolved, citing Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. The treaty establishes the principle of collective defense, which means that any attack on a NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all.”

During a recent interview with CNN, Mr. Biden said the war with Russia must be over before NATO can admit Ukraine.

“I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war,” he said.

“It’s a commitment that we’ve all made, no matter what. If the war is going on, then we’re all in war. We’re at war with Russia if that were the case.”

Mr. Biden also said the United States and NATO allies must present a “rational path” for Ukraine to qualify for membership in the military alliance.

The White House also indicated that Ukraine could receive “Israel-style” security guarantees in its fight against Russia.

That means the United States would “provide various forms of military assistance, intelligence and information sharing, cyber support and other forms of material support so that Ukraine can both defend itself and deter future aggression,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters on July 9.

“I expect that at Vilnius you will see the president speaking to this issue and consulting with [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy on this issue, as well as our G-7 partners and other partners as well.”

Mr. Biden is expected to meet with Mr. Zelenskyy on Wednesday on the sidelines of the summit.

NTD Photo
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends the first day of the 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11, 2023. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

NATO to Welcome Sweden

Mr. Biden applauded Turkey’s agreement to drop its challenge to Sweden’s admission to NATO. Turkey previously denied Sweden’s membership bid, claiming that the Nordic country gave safe harbor to members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is considered a terrorist organization.

On July 10, Mr. Stoltenberg announced the agreement made in Vilnius between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

Mr. Erdogan had agreed to push for ratification in Parliament “as soon as possible” but didn’t give a specific date. It took about two weeks for Turkey’s Parliament to approve Finland’s membership.

Ankara’s apparent green light for Sweden’s accession brings an end to months of drama over an issue that had strained the alliance. In a statement issued on July 10, Mr. Biden praised Turkey and Sweden’s agreement, which he said would enhance regional security.

“I welcome the statement issued by Turkey, Sweden, and the NATO Secretary General this evening,” he said in a statement.

“I stand ready to work with President Erdogan and Turkey on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area.”

Both Sweden and Finland resisted joining the alliance for decades, opting for neutrality and non-alignment. However, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, both countries abandoned those long-standing positions and formally requested membership in NATO.

Expanding the alliance has been critical for Mr. Biden in delivering a strong message to Mr. Putin.

Biden to Address Lithuanians

On July 12, after the conclusion of the summit, Mr. Biden is scheduled to make a public speech at Vilnius University. The event will be open to the public.

The president’s speech will highlight the alliance’s commitment to “supporting Ukraine, defending democratic values, and taking action to address global challenges,” according to the White House. Mr. Biden may use this speech to tout his wins, such as the role he played in Sweden’s accession to NATO.

From The Epoch Times

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