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Alliance Summit: NATO celebrates – and yet argues

NATO is about six years younger than Joe Biden. Even after its 75th birthday, the alliance has not aged. Threats such as Russia’s war of aggression give it a purpose.

NATO is celebrating its 75th birthday. But at the anniversary summit in Washington, the fitness of the host, US President Joe Biden, is dominating the headlines. The alliance, which has grown to 32 allies, is facing serious challenges. Above all, it needs guarantees of constant military support for Ukraine, even if Donald Trump, Biden’s Republican opponent, wins the presidential election in November. Also high on the agenda of the heads of state and government is the fact that China is militarily threatening the democratic island of Taiwan and is trying to intimidate neighbors in the Indo-Pacific region.

How is Biden doing?

The debate about Biden’s health continues. The 81-year-old is fighting for his presidential candidacy. Biden wants to move back into the White House for the Democrats – even after the botched TV debate against Trump. Even in his own party, many are questioning Biden because of his advanced age, and his poor poll ratings.

The anniversary summit would actually be a good opportunity for Biden to present himself as a strong man and leader of the West – and to dispel doubts about his mental and physical fitness. Images of a smooth appearance alongside foreign heads of state and government and their public support could give the Democrat a boost.

But now the summit is more of a test: every move the president makes will be closely monitored. The final press conference on Thursday is particularly eagerly awaited, where Biden will also answer questions from journalists.

If the USA fails with Trump as leader, what will Germany do?

The German delegation is travelling to Washington with mixed feelings. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has just managed to put together a budget for 2025 before the summit. However, the budget for the Bundeswehr will only increase by a good 1.2 billion euros instead of the 6.7 billion euros announced by Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD). Pistorius called this annoying on his way to Washington. The mood could be better.

For Scholz, Pistorius and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens), the summit will be about the very fundamental question: How much responsibility in NATO can and does Germany actually want to take on in the future? In view of a possible victory for Trump and a French President Emmanuel Macron, who will be given less freedom of movement by his new government, this question is being asked more and more loudly.

So far, Scholz has not distinguished himself as someone who is moving forward in NATO. He has always taken his cues from the USA, particularly in Ukraine policy. Those around Scholz are very cautious when it comes to the question of a larger German role. “I think we are doing well by not assigning ourselves roles,” they say.

Are Biden and Scholz hindering Ukraine on its path to NATO?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is also concerned about American domestic politics. If Trump wins the election, the generous military aid from the USA could be over. Trump is propagating that he could stop the Russian war of aggression within 24 hours.

And Scholz and Biden are opposed to Ukraine joining NATO any time soon, according to diplomats from the alliance. Countries such as Germany and the USA have declined to issue a formal invitation, they said. The main reason is the concern that such a step could lead to a further escalation of the war in Ukraine.

Will Zelenskyj be satisfied despite billions in aid?

The NATO states want to promise Ukraine that they will provide military aid worth at least 40 billion euros within the next year. The promise falls far short of what the outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had originally demanded.

Stoltenberg wanted a multi-year commitment to show Putin that he could not rely on the West’s diminishing commitment. The US, among others, did not want to commit to a long-term agreement.

The alliance also wants to prepare for the eventuality of Republican Trump’s re-election in November and take over tasks that the USA has so far handled – in particular the international coordination of arms deliveries and training for the Ukrainian armed forces.

The alliance’s hesitation had already angered the Ukrainian at the 2023 summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Now Zelensky could return to Kyiv with a compromise: diplomats see chances that the accession process will be described in a summit declaration as unstoppable or “irreversible”.

Before the summit began, the White House made it clear once again that it wanted to announce “new measures to strengthen Ukraine’s air defense.” The US’s support for Ukraine is “unwavering,” Biden stressed.

Who is invited, who is attending for the first time?

For the first time since joining, Sweden is taking part in a NATO summit. Under the impression of Russia’s war of aggression that began on February 24, 2022, Sweden and Finland had abandoned their neutrality.

For NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, it will be the last regular summit before his departure. He will hand over his office to former Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on October 1st after ten years.

The new British Prime Minister Keir Stamer is scheduled to take a crash course in international diplomacy in Washington. On the sidelines of his first NATO summit, he will meet Biden for a personal discussion, the White House announced.

Source: Stern

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