President Joe Biden is set to attend the upcoming North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, next week. The summit will be crucial as the military alliance faces significant challenges from Russia and China, making it one of the most important gatherings since the Cold War or even NATO’s founding. The two-day summit will bring together heads of state, military officials, and diplomats from the alliance’s 31 member nations.
On the final day of the summit, President Biden is expected to deliver a “significant address” in Vilnius. According to White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Biden will outline his vision of a strong America supported by confident allies, addressing pressing challenges such as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the climate crisis.
Ukraine’s future membership in NATO is expected to be a top agenda item at the summit. Allies will discuss the country’s membership prospects, security guarantees, and assistance for its war-torn nation. However, Ukraine’s membership is unlikely to happen until the war with Russia ends. The principle of collective defense, established in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, means that any attack on a NATO member is considered an attack against all members. Ukraine’s membership would essentially trigger a declaration of war with Russia, making it a complex issue to resolve.
The issue of defense spending will also be addressed during the summit. Nearly a decade ago, NATO members pledged to increase their defense spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP). However, many nations have not met this goal. U.S. lawmakers are pushing for a commitment from NATO allies to consider the 2 percent goal as a floor rather than a ceiling. In 2022, only seven countries met the spending target, including the United States, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the United Kingdom.
The media will closely watch President Biden’s stance on Ukraine’s participation in NATO. In a previous statement, Biden expressed his administration’s stance that Ukraine must meet the same standards as other members before joining the alliance, implying that it would not be an easy process. At the summit, the United States, NATO partners, and Ukraine will have an opportunity to discuss the reforms necessary for Ukraine to meet NATO standards.
Besides Ukraine, China’s growing influence will also be a key topic at the summit. NATO has recognized China as a strategic priority, citing Beijing’s ambitions and coercive policies as a threat to the alliance’s interests, security, and values. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the importance of remaining united and firm against potential threats, stating that what is happening in Europe today could happen in East Asia tomorrow.
The recent Wagner Group uprising in Russia has left President Vladimir Putin’s leadership in a relatively weak and disarrayed position, which could present an opportunity for NATO. President Biden had previously stated that the United States and NATO allies were not involved in the uprising and had taken measures not to give Putin any excuse to blame the West or NATO. Discussions regarding Russia’s vulnerability and potential support for Ukraine’s planned offensive against Russia may take place during the summit.
Sweden’s membership in NATO will also be debated, as the Nordic country desires to join but is currently blocked by two member countries, Turkey and Hungary. Both countries have raised concerns about Sweden’s accession bid, with Hungary postponing ratification until its autumn legislative session and Turkey citing unresolved security concerns. Sweden and Finland, who traditionally opted for neutrality and non-alignment, have both requested membership in NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Biden’s trip to Europe will also include stops in London and Helsinki. In London, he will meet with King Charles at Windsor Castle and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. In Helsinki, Biden will commemorate Finland’s accession to NATO, following its unanimous confirmation by the Turkish parliament earlier this year. The next NATO summit, scheduled for next year in Washington, will mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the military alliance in 1949 and is expected to be a historic event.