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NATO leaders meet Wednesday at Washington summit


U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting at NATO's 75th anniversary summit in Washington, July 10, 2024.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting at NATO's 75th anniversary summit in Washington, July 10, 2024.

NATO leaders gathered Wednesday in Washington for a summit working session as they seek to boost the alliance’s support for Ukraine and enhance their own defense and deterrence efforts.

Those talks have been going on for months at lower levels, including at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers earlier this year, but now it is up to the leaders to secure their final agreements.

Wednesday’s schedule closes on a social note, with U.S. President Joe Biden hosting NATO allies for dinner at the White House.

With NATO facing what may be the biggest test of its 75-year history, Biden on Tuesday made a forceful case for peace through strength.

"It's good that we're stronger than ever," Biden said, speaking at the beginning of the three-day summit. "Because this moment in history calls for our collective strength.

Biden launches NATO summit with sober warning about global threats
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"Autocrats want to overturn global order, which has, by and large, [been] kept for nearly 80 years and counting. Terrorist groups continue to plot evil schemes, to cause mayhem and chaos and suffering. In Europe, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine continues.”

"And Putin wants nothing less – nothing less – than Ukraine's total subjugation, to end Ukraine's democracy, to destroy Ukraine's culture and to wipe Ukraine off the map. And we know Putin won't stop at Ukraine. But make no mistake: Ukraine can and will stop Putin," Biden said.

That line drew boisterous applause from the crowd of leaders who expected to finalize a plan to bring what are now individual national efforts to aid Ukraine's military into a NATO-coordinated program to supply Ukrainian forces. And on Tuesday, Biden and other NATO leaders announced they would send Ukraine five additional air defense systems.

On Wednesday, Dutch Prime Minister Dick Schoof, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Biden announced that the Dutch and Danish governments are in the process of donating American-made F-16s to Ukraine, with the support of the United States.

The three leaders said in a statement issued by the White House that the transfer process of the F-16s to Ukraine is now underway, and that Kyiv’s forces will be flying them this summer but did not, for security reasons, provide further details. They said Belgium and Norway had also committed sending more aircraft to Ukraine.

NATO leaders arrive to pose for an official photo at the NATO summit in Washington, July 10, 2024.
NATO leaders arrive to pose for an official photo at the NATO summit in Washington, July 10, 2024.

Biden's argument for beefing up defenses was bolstered by other members of his administration on Tuesday, with his national security adviser speaking to defense industry executives and invoking an argument so old it is a Roman adage: If you want peace, prepare for war.

Scaling up production and backfilling stockpiles of weapons and ammunition have been a focus for NATO allies as they seek to both support Ukraine's military and ensure the alliance has what it needs for its own defense.

During his remarks to defense industry executives on Tuesday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan laid out several concrete steps, including strengthening regional arsenals and command-and-control capabilities so NATO members could quickly spring into action if needed, while also growing NATO's industrial capacity to match Russia's bolstered defense industry.

This, he said, is something the United States has done, by "making robust investments in our defense industrial bases" — a move the administration argues has given a boost to the U.S. economy.

The alliance's chief, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, began making his pitch as soon as he landed in Washington – literally. On Monday, he donned a blue cap and white jersey and aimed a high-arched baseball over the catcher's head at the start of a Washington Nationals game.

"Sign a new defense industrial pledge," he told members the next day, attired again in his customary dark suit and tie. "And that will be a pledge that will help to make our industry across Europe and North America stronger, more innovative and capable of producing at scale."

Biden, in his remarks, acknowledged Stoltenberg's decade-long role heading the alliance by surprising the former Norwegian prime minister with the U.S.'s top civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But analysts continue to ask whether this show of presidential power at the summit can obscure Biden's obvious political troubles at home after his poor debate showing led to mounting calls for him to leave November's presidential race.

"It should remind us of the criticality of American leadership of this alliance," said Giselle Donnelly, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. "It is an American creation; it survives and prospers and thrives and is driven on American leadership. And when doubts arise about American leadership and American leaders … when the American president catches a cold, NATO gets pneumonia."