Tuesday, July 23, 2024

NATO Summit in Washington Marks 75th Anniversary, Overshadowed by Political Chaos


This week’s NATO summit in Washington was supposed to be a celebration.

Seventy-five years after its founding, the alliance is larger and more important than it has been in decades. Transatlantic relations are back on track. And, thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the allies are united—thanks in part to American leadership.

But with the city set to host dozens of heads of state and government, few are inclined to celebrate. The US president who championed the revival of NATO is now in serious trouble. And on both sides of the Atlantic, far-right and isolationist politics are looming.

NATO, at 75, is still strong and vibrant. But it is hard not to wonder what the alliance will look like a year from now—whether it will reach 76 years of life.

Over three days of meetings that began Tuesday, President Biden met with Western leaders. This book will argue that NATO and the post-World War II order have good years ahead of them.

Allies will recall their history and rally around the need to confront a revanchist Russia. They will explain how they are working to help Ukraine. And they will signal that NATO is closely watching the emerging military partnership between Beijing and Moscow.

Outside the halls of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center – where the official summit will take place The story will be less optimistic, focusing on Biden’s fitness for office, Trump’s potential re-election, and the political chaos in France.

The messages from the summit will be calibrated to demonstrate the alliance’s existence and ensure it can weather the political storm. Allies will emphasize the importance of preserving the alliance. Big increases in defense spending The United States has proposed providing more military aid to Ukraine — though the package is less than some NATO officials had hoped, and will not lead to much progress on membership.

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This disorder is evident to “Every European leader” was in close contact with European leaders ahead of the summit, said Camille Grand, a former deputy secretary general of NATO who is now a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

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“They don’t want to make this part of the discussion, as a courtesy to Biden, but it’s on everyone’s mind,” he added.

All eyes on US politics

Hosting NATO’s anniversary summit in Washington carries symbolic weight — but perhaps not in the way American officials and diplomats had hoped.

Over the past few years, the Biden administration has worked to rebuild transatlantic relations damaged under Trump, renewing ties with partners and signaling strong support for NATO.

“America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back,” Biden declared at the Munich Security Conference in 2021. “And we’re not looking back.”

But just a year later, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seemed to prove Obama right, injecting a new sense of purpose into the alliance, adding two new members, Finland and Sweden, and putting in place more sophisticated plans for deterrence and defense.

But in the months leading up to the Washington summit, Trump rattled the alliance when he suggested he would encourage Russia to attack U.S. allies if they failed to spend enough on their militaries. Meanwhile, Months-long delay in US aid to Ukraine He stressed the fragility of American support.

The allies have responded by trying to “fortify” their plans against Trump. This week, NATO will formalize efforts to bring some of the work of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a U.S.-led coordinating body that provides Kyiv with a steady flow of weapons, under NATO control.

The idea is to try to prevent Trump from withdrawing military aid and training for Ukraine. “If you internationalize it, you’re protecting it from Trump,” said one senior NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the alliance’s plans.

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Other NATO officials and diplomats see these and other efforts as well-intentioned but woefully insufficient to prevent Trump from undermining the alliance or supporting Ukraine if he so chooses. Congress has passed a measure aimed at preventing any U.S. president from unilaterally withdrawing from NATO. But Trump would not need to formally leave the alliance to seriously undermine it; repeated signals that you will not defend your allies could do that on their own.

In recent days, questions about whether Biden is fit to stand as the Democratic nominee have heightened European anxiety—though most leaders are too polite to say so publicly. Behind the scenes, U.S. officials are trying to calm nerves, stressing that the alliance has weathered all forms of political turmoil for more than seven decades. “We can’t stop national elections, it’s just part of the DNA of the alliance,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to brief the press.

“The coalition saw everything, and that’s not entirely unusual,” the official said.

European leaders in trouble

But the challenges appear to be multiplying. The Washington summit comes amid major political turmoil in France, where a strong showing by Marine Le Pen’s far-right party in last month’s European elections prompted President Emmanuel Macron to dissolve parliament and call early legislative elections for June 30 and July 7.

Although early projections suggest that French voters have moved to prevent the formation of the first far-right government since World War II, Macron and his centrist political movement may be constrained.

Macron has long been a proponent of the idea that Europe should work to strengthen “strategic autonomy” from the United States, and in the past year has tried to position himself at the forefront of the European response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

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But uncertainty about what comes next—for Macron’s foreign policy and for French policy in general—will complicate alliance politics. “A France that is flapping in the wind will be a problem in peacetime.” books Last week, Sylvie Kaufmann, a columnist for the French daily Le Monde, wrote: “Russia is today at war, but it will become even more dangerous to face a Russian power at war that is doubling down on its aggression and seemingly welcoming upheaval in Western democracies.”

In Germany, another strong NATO ally, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Also in trouble“Germany faces economic challenges, an unstable coalition and a rising far-right,” Scholz said at a news conference. At an event last week, he was nervous about the situation in France and was corresponding with Macron daily, According to Spiegel“We are discussing the situation, and it is really frustrating,” he said.

Ukraine’s future is at stake

All this turmoil is particularly bad news for Ukraine, whose immediate survival and long-term prospects depend, to some extent, on the fate of the alliance.

At last year’s summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky angered allies with fiery tweets about the lack of an invitation to join NATO. This year, he will leave the summit with promises of continued support and some results from that—a new NATO structure to coordinate aid to Ukraine, military aid for next year, and a promise of some kind of “bridge” to membership.

Given the Russian advance in eastern Ukraine and Kharkov bombingBut Obama is unlikely to be satisfied with that. It is certainly less than he had hoped for, and less than many believe he needs to win the war.

Kate Brady in Berlin contributed to this report.