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Biden launches NATO summit with sober warning and appeal for peace through strength


President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the 75th anniversary of NATO at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, July 9, 2024, in Washington.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the 75th anniversary of NATO at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, July 9, 2024, in Washington.

President Joe Biden made a forceful case for peace through strength as NATO members gathered Tuesday in Washington for an annual meeting of the long-enduring security alliance as it faces what may be the biggest test of its 75-year history.

"It's good that we're stronger than ever," Biden said, speaking at the beginning of the three-day summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which he is hosting in Washington. "Because this moment in history calls for our collective strength.

"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.

Biden launches NATO summit with sober warning about global threats
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That line drew boisterous applause from the crowd of leaders who, over the next two days, are 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.

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 U.S. 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 decadelong 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."