Biden hosts NATO chief ahead of Ukraine-focused summit of security alliance

The White House — President Joe Biden hosted NATO’s chief at the White House on Monday, less than a month before the newly enlarged security alliance convenes in Washington to tackle how allies will continue to support Ukraine as it battles Russia’s invasion.

The aim at the July summit, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, is to “ensure predictable support to Ukraine for the long haul.”

But how to make that a solid and durable reality – amid the political baggage and diverse laws and systems of governance of all 32 NATO members – is likely to be a complex feat. Ukraine badly wants the one thing it most certainly won’t get at this three-day convening: to join.

Among the arguments against Ukraine’s NATO membership are that its fragile and developing institutions need more time to mature, and the fact that the nation is being currently invaded. The alliance’s most important tenet – Article 5 – says that an armed attack against one member is an attack on all. This has been invoked only once before, when members rushed to the U.S.’s defense after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Earlier Monday, VOA asked Stoltenberg how soon Ukraine would get its wish.

“It is difficult, of course, to invite Ukraine when there is a war going on,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s also hard to say that there is no way to do that as long as there is a conflict with Russia, because that (gives) Russia incentive to continue the conflict.

“So what we say is that we are going to move Ukraine closer by helping them to meet all NATO standards to be more and more interoperable with NATO by removing the requirements for Membership Action Plan, and also by deepening political cooperation in the NATO Ukraine Council, and then we will make a decision when the time is right,” Stoltenberg added.

And when pressed for when that time might be, he replied: “I don’t expect any dates. At the end of the day, this has to be negotiated among NATO allies and we are working on that language now. So that will be agreed when we meet in Washington in a few week’s time,” he said. “I expect that we will find an agreement on some language which sends a clear message about Ukraine’s membership perspectives and that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance.”

Biden, in welcoming Stoltenberg, hailed the 75th anniversary and touted what he cast as a victory: a “record number” of members, he said, are meeting NATO’s commitment to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense.

“I think the lessons we’ve learned then, and about standing together to defend and deter aggression, have been consequential,” he said, seated beside Stoltenberg in the Oval Office. “And we’ve made NATO under your leadership larger, stronger and more united than it has ever been.”

Earlier Monday, Stoltenberg, the former Norwegian prime minister, said NATO allies have given “unprecedented” support to Ukraine. He estimates this will cost the alliance at least $45 billion per year going forward.

“At the (upcoming NATO) summit, I expect other leaders to agree for NATO to lead the coordination and provision of security assistance and training for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said, speaking at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank. “It is also why I proposed a long-term financial pledge with fresh funding every year. The more credible our long-term support, the quicker Moscow would realize it cannot wait us out and the sooner this war can end. It may seem like a paradox, but the path to peace is, therefore, more weapons for Ukraine.”

Analysts say these discussions set the stage for the major questions of the upcoming summit.

“The main issues, still, are what does the alliance say to Ukraine after pledges of support over the last few weeks? What is the nature of the NATO-Ukraine relationship going forward?” said Dan Hamilton, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “NATO is taking over from the United States the military assistance and coordination of military training for Ukraine. That’s a major step that’s happening right now.”

Last week, Ukraine’s president praised a 10-year security agreement with the U.S., saying he believes it lays a path to NATO membership.

“The issue of NATO is covered through the text of the agreement,” said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “It states that America supports Ukraine’s future membership in NATO and recognizes that our security agreement is a bridge to Ukraine’s membership in NATO.”

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