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Biden to Emphasize U.S. Commitment to NATO at Summit

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BRUSSELS—

President Biden

meets with leaders of NATO allies in Brussels Monday, seeking to encourage a more concerted response to Chinese security threats and to bolster an alliance jolted by broadsides from his predecessor.

Despite an atmosphere of renewed comity among allies, disputes simmer over how to balance new threats from China against more traditional ones from Russia and how to address threats in new domains including cyber and space. Turkey’s increasingly discordant role in the alliance also hangs over the gathering.

U.S. officials said Mr. Biden will emphasize his commitment to the principle of collective defense enshrined in Article 5 of the treaty that established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, following some uncertainty about Washington’s view of the matter under former President

Donald Trump.

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“Article Five we take as a sacred obligation,” Mr. Biden said Monday during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General

Jens Stoltenberg.

“I want NATO to know America is there,” he said.

During the meeting, NATO’s 30 member countries will take initial steps to revise the group’s Strategic Concept, which sets out the group’s goals. The Strategic Concept will be adopted next year, and is expected to touch on Russia, China, cybersecurity and climate change, according to U.S. officials.

The summit comes two days before Mr. Biden is scheduled to meet Russian President

Vladimir Putin

in Geneva and Mr. Biden will brief allied leaders on that.

“They get both to hear from him about his intentions with respect to the summit, and he gets to hear from them as well, so that he will go into Geneva with the full support and solidarity of all of our NATO Allies,” Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters traveling with the U.S. president

Allies are expected also to sign off on a communiqué that for the first time will formally note some of the challenges China poses—and the alliance’s responses, according to diplomats familiar with its drafting. The NATO meeting comes after leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies called on China to respect human rights, but stopped short of outright condemnation of Beijing.

Mr. Biden is seeking to build a coalition of democracies to counter Chinese influence in the world. But at NATO there is some skepticism among European allies about what the role of the military alliance could be. European capitals don’t want to be dragged into a confrontation between the U.S. and China.

During a press conference at the conclusion of the summit between leaders of the Group of Seven on Sunday, President Biden discussed working together with allies, global vaccine donations and how the group plans to approach challenges posed by China. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

“There are, of course, opportunities, and we need to engage with China on issues like climate change, arms control,” Mr. Stoltenberg said Monday. “But China’s military buildup, growing influence and coercive behavior also pose some challenges to our security.”

Mr. Sullivan said that “China will feature in the communiqué really in a more robust way than we’ve ever seen before.”

Cybersecurity will be a major focus of the summit following an increase in ransomware attacks originating from Russia. Mr. Sullivan said that the final communiqué will include language applying article 5 on a case-by-case basis to cyberattacks.

“The notion is that if someone gets hit by a massive cyberattack, and they need technical or intelligence support from another ally to be able to deal with it, they could invoke article 5 to be able to get that,” Mr. Sullivan said.

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NATO leaders are planning to sign off on an updated cyber defense policy during the summit for the first time in seven years, Mr. Sullivan said, adding that the document won’t be made public because it is sensitive.

Some allies, particularly those bordering Russia, want to ensure that more focus on China won’t distract from the threat of an increasingly assertive Russia.

“For NATO, Russia is a clear threat. Russia has shown with their deeds that they are a danger. China is a systemic rival that we have to deal with,” Estonian Prime Minister

Kaja Kallas

said at a forum at the summit organized by NATO and the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think tank.

“We can certainly walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Canadian Prime Minister

Justin Trudeau.

NATO leaders will also agree to a climate security plan that will call for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from military activity, push countries to meet the group’s goal of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense, and commit to new defense policies in response to threats from Russia, according to the White House.

Mr. Sullivan said the U.S. president will discuss the Afghanistan withdrawal, including securing the embassy presence in the country that supports Afghan National Security Forces and providing humanitarian assistance to the country.

Mr. Biden will hold several meetings on the sidelines of the summit, including with the leaders of the Batlic countries and with Turkish President

Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr. Sullivan said the U.S. president will speak to Mr. Erdogan about Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Russia, China and Turkey’s decision to purchase an air defense system from Russia, a move that the U.S. opposes. Mr. Erdogan is expected to seek concessions in return for continuing to provide for security at the Afghan capital’s airport.

The summit is the first at NATO for Mr. Biden as president. He has promised a different style of cooperation to Mr. Trump. Allies were bruised by Mr. Trump’s criticisms of weak military spending and his questioning of the value of the alliance.

Mr. Trump, as a presidential candidate, had appeared to set conditions on his support of Article 5 and at a NATO meeting in 2017 he didn’t mention the U.S.’s commitment to Article 5 in public remarks, prompting concerns from European nations. He later said he was committed to the principle.

Mr. Stoltenberg on Monday said allies in Europe and Canada have added an extra $260 billion in spending since 2014. But only 10 of the 30, including the U.S., hit the 2% spending target last year.

Write to James Marson at [email protected] and Andrew Restuccia at [email protected]

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