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NATO summit opens with some of the biggest questions the alliance has faced in years

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Leaders of the G-7 say they will spend another $4.5 billion to fight the risk of famine. The war in Ukraine and climate crises have threatened food supplies around the world. As the summit wraps up in Germany, another begins today in Madrid. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports the agenda for NATO members' meeting this week is packed with some of the biggest questions the alliance has faced in years.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: In the early days of Russia's invasion, NATO allies got together and they poured weapons into Ukraine. And Ukraine held off Russian troops from taking Kyiv. Now, more than four months in, it's a war of attrition. Ukraine remains outgunned. And Russia is making grinding progress. Olga Oliker works as an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Brussels.

OLGA OLIKER: We've gone away from kind of that initial giddiness of, hey, we managed to impose the sanctions all together and, look; the Ukrainians are doing so well on the battlefield. This is great. To, OK, this is more difficult than we thought, but we're doing the right thing.

LANGFITT: Doing the right thing. But NATO allies don't seem quite as united as they were at the beginning. Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron infuriated some allies when he said NATO should not humiliate Russia. Meanwhile, allies on NATO's eastern flank want to see heavier weapons going into Ukraine and more troops on their own soil to deter a potential Russian attack. Roland Freudenstein runs the Brussels Office of GLOBSEC, a think tank.

ROLAND FREUDENSTEIN: There are major cleavages opening. The biggest controversy among both EU and NATO member states at the moment is how to properly confront Russia. And there is an enormous fear of escalation on the side of some member states. And on the other hand, there is an enormous dissatisfaction with our support for Ukraine among other member states.

LANGFITT: That includes many on NATO's eastern flank, some of which border Russia. Freudenstein says, as a result, NATO hasn't kept up with Ukraine's needs on the battlefield.

FREUDENSTEIN: I think we have made so many mistakes, all of Western countries, by not accelerating arms production enough in our own countries, by not delivering heavy artillery systems. I think it is still not too late. I think we can still see major Ukrainian military successes in the second half of 2022 if those exports happen now.

LANGFITT: There's also a dispute at this summit over NATO enlargement. After Russia's invasion, Finland and Sweden applied to join the alliance. But in a surprise move, fellow member Turkey objected. It claims the two countries have refused to turn over 30 people Turkey accuses of terrorism. But analysts say the Turks are also holding up the process to get the U.S. to sell them fighter jets. Again, Roland Freudenstein.

FREUDENSTEIN: If the summit could at least signal a more constructive Turkish attitude where they would kind of name the price tag, for example, in more precise terms, that would be progress.

LANGFITT: Since the war began, NATO allies have added troops to the alliance's eastern flank. And at this week's meeting, they're expected to announce even more deployments. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg calls this part of the biggest overhaul of collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War.

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JENS STOLTENBERG: We will transform the NATO response force and increase the number of our high-readiness forces to well over 300,000.

LANGFITT: That's compared to about 40,000 now. Ukraine and Russia will dominate this summit. But Stoltenberg, here speaking at a POLITICO forum, said NATO will also focus on another country.

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STOLTENBERG: For the first time, we will address China and the challenges it poses to our interests, security and values.

LANGFITT: To this end and in another first, NATO has invited the leaders of four Asian Pacific nations - Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Despite Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the United States still sees China as its biggest challenge. Stoltenberg says China is not an adversary, but he adds this.

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STOLTENBERG: Competition is rising between democracy and authoritarianism. Moscow and Beijing are openly contesting the rules-based international order.

LANGFITT: Given the vast distance between Europe and East Asia, there are limits to what NATO can do regarding China. But Theresa Fallon, who runs the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies, says NATO allies can take more responsibility at home to free up the U.S.

THERESA FALLON: I think the whole narrative now may be more about burden-shifting, that the Europeans need to spend more because the U.S. will have more challenges in the Indo-Pacific.

LANGFITT: In a briefing last week, senior U.S. administration official said the war in Ukraine is bringing allies together from around the globe, as President Biden tries to link America's efforts in Europe and Asia.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.