The current challenges come at a time when Biden and his counterparts are investing heavily in demonstrating harmony.
WASHINGTON — As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues without end, NATO’s glorified unity faces new tensions as leaders gather for their annual summit on Thursday. this week in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The world’s largest security alliance is struggling to reach an agreement on admit Sweden as its 32nd member. Member states’ military spending lags behind long-term goals. There is no possibility of compromise on who will be the next leader of NATO forced extension of the current secretary-general’s term for an additional year.
Perhaps the hardest question is how easily Ukraine should join NATO. Some still concede Ukraine will fulfill a promise it made years ago and is a necessary step to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Others fear it will be seen as a provocation that could lead to an even wider conflict.
“I don’t think it’s ready to be a member of NATO,” President Joe Biden told CNN in an interview that aired on Sunday. He said joining NATO requires countries to “meet all the criteria, from democratization to a whole range of other issues”.
He said the US should provide long-term security assistance to Ukraine – “self-defence” – as it did Israel.
Quarrels between friends are not uncommon and the current category of disputes pales in comparison to past fears. Donald Trump will turn his back on the coalition during his presidency. But the current challenges come at a time when Biden and his counterparts are investing heavily in demonstrating harmony among members.
Douglas Lute, the US ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama, said: “Any rift, any lack of unity creates an opportunity for those who are against the alliance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is eager to exploit divisions as he struggles to gain ground in Ukraine and faces domestic political challenges, including consequence of a brief uprising of Wagner’s mercenary group.
“You don’t want to present any loopholes,” Lute said. “You don’t want to expose any gaps or seams.”
In some ways, the war in Ukraine has invigorated NATO, which was established at the beginning of the Cold War as a bulwark against Moscow. NATO members have pour military equipment into Ukraine to help counterattack, and Finland ended its history of non-alignment to become 31st member of NATO.
“I think it’s appropriate to look at all the success,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “So I think the invasion strengthened NATO – the exact opposite of what Putin predicted.”
He noted Germany’s shift to a more aggressive defense policy as well as increased military spending in other countries.
The latest test of NATO solidarity comes on Friday with what Biden said was a “difficult decision” to deliver. cluster bombs to Ukraine. More than two-thirds of the alliance members banned this weapon because it has a track record for causing many civilian casualties. The United States, Russia and Ukraine are not among the more than 120 countries that have not signed the treaty banning the use of bombs.
As for Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO, the alliance said in 2008 that Kiev would eventually become a member. Since then, very little action has been taken towards that goal. Putin occupied parts of Ukraine in 2014 and then attempted to capture the capital in 2022 with his invasion.
“The gray zone is a green light for Putin,” said Daniel Fried, a former US ambassador to Poland and now an elite member at the Atlantic Council.
Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, called for a unified signal from NATO about Ukraine and for his country to join the alliance.
“It would be an important message to say that NATO is not afraid of Russia,” Zelenskyy said through an interpreter in an ABC interview, when asked if he was going to Vilnius. “Ukraine should have a clear security guarantee when it is not in NATO. And that is a very important point. Only under these conditions will our meeting make sense. Otherwise, it’s just another political act.”
The United States and Germany emphasized that the focus should be on supplying Ukraine with weapons and ammunition, rather than taking the provocative step of issuing a formal invitation to join NATO. The countries on NATO’s eastern flank – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – want firmer guarantees of future membership.
NATO may decide to improve relations with Ukraine, form the so-called NATO-Ukraine Council and give Kyiv a seat at the consultation table.
Also noticed in Vilnius is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the main obstacle to Sweden’s bid to join NATO along with neighboring Finland.
Erdogan accused Sweden of being too lenient towards anti-Muslim protests and Kurdish militant groups of waging a protracted insurgency in Turkey.
Sweden recently changed its anti-terrorism law and lifted its arms embargo on Türkiye. But a man Burning the Koran outside a mosque in Stockholm last week, and Mr. Erdogan signaled that this would pose another setback. He equates “those who permit crimes” with those who commit such crimes.
Türkiye and the US are also at an impasse over the sale of F-16 fighter jets. Erdogan wants the planes upgraded, but Biden says Sweden’s NATO membership must be settled first. McConnell said in an interview with the AP that he supports the sale of fighter jets to Turkey “on the condition that Sweden’s membership is resolved.”
Emphasizing the importance of Turkey at the upcoming summit, Biden held a lengthy phone call with Erdogan aboard Air Force One en route to London. During the conversation, Biden “expressed his desire to welcome Sweden into NATO as soon as possible,” according to the White House.
This is not the first time Mr. Erdogan has sought to use the NATO summit for Türkiye’s benefit. In 2009, he nominated Anders Fogh Rasmussen as secretary general but agreed to the move after securing several high-ranking posts for Turkish officials at the union.
Max Bergmann, a former State Department official who heads the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said allies were growing increasingly frustrated with Erdogan, stemming from concerns about the relationship his relationship with Putin, the decline of democracy and evasion of sanctions.
“They tried to play nice,” Bergmann said. “The question is whether it’s time for more confrontation.”
Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, is also delaying his country’s ratification of Sweden’s membership. In response, Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is blocking a $735 million arms sale to Hungary.
“We don’t want members who are not interested in doing everything they can to strengthen the alliance rather than pursuing their own self-interest or self-interest,” Risch said. “I’m sick and tired of it.”
But he dismissed the idea that these disagreements were a sign of weakness within NATO.
“These are issues that always arise in an alliance,” he said. The fact that we were able to solve them and will continue to solve them proves that this is the strongest and most successful military alliance in the history of the world.”
At least one potential thorny issue was off the summit agenda. Rather than seek consensus on a new NATO leader, members agreed to extend the term of Jens Stoltenberg, who has been in the job since 2014, by one year. This is his fourth extension.
Most members want a woman to be the next secretary general and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is seen as the favorite. But Poland insists on choosing a candidate from the Baltic states because it already has two Nordic secretaries in a row. (Stoltenberg is prime minister of Norway and Rasmussen is prime minister of Denmark.)
Others are skeptical of accepting a candidate from the Baltics, whose leaders tend to be more provocative in their approach to Russia, including backing his desire to quickly join NATO. Ukraine.
Many disagreements emerge around NATO Updated plan to fight any invasion that Russia can launch on allied territory.