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Biden joins NATO summit at pivotal moment for alliance

U.S. President Joe Biden, left, and first lady Jill Biden disembark from Air Force One on their arrival at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England on June 9, 2021. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. President Joe Biden is in Brussels for a NATO summit on June 14 as he continues a European tour dedicated to repairing relations and reassuring Washington’s transatlantic partners after four tumultuous years of his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Biden is attending the summit with the leaders of all 30 members of the alliance. He also is holding a private meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a time when relations between the two NATO members are particularly tense.

Having not met face to face since 2018 because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaders of the alliance’s member states have plenty of topics to deal with, including an ongoing pullout of troops from Afghanistan, relations with Russia and China, and defense spending.

Speaking to reporters on June 14 ahead of the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said there is not a new Cold War with China. He also said China is neither an adversary nor enemy of NATO.

But Stoltenberg said NATO needs “to address together, as the alliance, the challenges that the rise of China poses to our security.”

Stoltenberg also said a final statement from the NATO summit would signal a new strategy toward Beijing.

“China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyberspace. We see China in Africa. But we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure,” he said.

During a four-year term that ended when Biden was inaugurated in January, former U.S. President Trump often denigrated NATO and even threatened once to pull out of the alliance.

But Biden is coming off a Group of Seven (G7) summit where he proclaimed that the United States “is back” and is reconnecting with its allies. Little drama and a lot of agreement is expected during the talks in the Belgian capital.

One of the main goals of the summit is to make progress on a new strategic concept, known as NATO 2030. The initiative was set in motion after Trump questioned the security alliance’s relevance. The new framework is expected to be adopted in 2022.

NATO last updated the outline of its purpose in 2010. Stoltenberg says the security threats and challenges NATO now faces have changed since then.

Collective Defense

Jamie Shea, the president of the Center for War Studies, was a NATO official for almost four decades before he left the organization in 2018.

Shea says that while there is a lot of important business for leaders to address on June 14, the key task for Biden is to simply reassert Washington’s commitment to the defense of NATO.

Specifically, he said NATO allies want Biden to do what Trump “always signally refused to do, which was to commit publicly to the Article 5 collective defense guarantee.”

“This may seem like sort of a no-brainer because Biden has made several statements to this effect since he became president,” Shea says. “But…this is his first summit since he was elected, his first overseas trip. It’s okay to do it in media interviews but it’s important to do it in the North Atlantic Council chamber with all of the allies present.”

Biden has already reversed a Trump decision to pull U.S. troops out of long-time ally Germany, while pressure remains for European allies to pay more towards their own security.

Having strengthened its capability to carry out its core mission of defending Europe following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, NATO’s new strategy outline will aim to be more ambitious.
This includes new policies to meet an evolving strategic environment, including Russian aggression, addressing challenges posed by China for the first time, terrorism, cyberthreats, and climate change, the White House said ahead of the summit.

Ukraine is also pressing for negotiations on joining the Western military alliance since it was promised in 2008 that there was a pathway to membership, citing Russia’s ongoing support for separatists in eastern Ukrainian and its occupation of Crimea.

The Kremlin has warned NATO several times against admitting Ukraine.

Biden’s meeting with Erdogan comes as relations between the United States and Turkey have deteriorated in recent years.

Contentious issues include Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 weapons system, democratic backsliding in Turkey, and U.S. support for Kurdish-led forces in Syria that Ankara considers linked Kurdish militants who’ve fought a nearly four-decade war against the Turkish state.