NATO Cohesion Tested at Vilnius Summit | Wagon Radio 720

WASHINGTON (AP) – As Russia’s aggression against Ukraine continues with no end in sight, NATO’s much-lauded unity faces new tensions as it gathers at its annual summit in Vilnius, Lithuania this week. ing.

The world’s largest security alliance is struggling to reach a deal to recognize Sweden as its 32nd member. Member States’ military spending remains below long-standing targets. And the inability to compromise on who should be NATO’s next leader forced the current Secretary-General to extend his term for another year.

Perhaps most troubling is the question of how Ukraine should be eased into the alliance. Some argue that allowing Ukraine to join NATO is a fulfillment of a promise made years ago and a necessary step to deter a Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Others fear this will be seen as a provocation that could escalate into a wider conflict.

Quarrels among friends are not uncommon, and the current inventory of disputes pales in comparison to past fears that Donald Trump will turn his back on the alliance during his presidency. But challenges come at a time when President Joe Biden and his colleagues are investing heavily in demonstrating harmony among members.

Douglas Lute, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama, said, “Cracks and lack of unity present an opportunity for those who oppose the alliance.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is keen to capitalize on divisions as he struggles to establish himself in Ukraine and faces domestic political challenges, including the aftermath of a brief uprising by the Wagner mercenary group.

“You don’t want to be seen,” Lute said. “I don’t want to show any gaps or seams.”

The Ukraine conflict has in some ways reinvigorated NATO, which was created in the early days of the Cold War as a bulwark against Moscow. Allied nations threw armaments into Ukraine to support the ongoing counteroffensive, and Finland ended its history of non-alignment, becoming NATO’s 31st member.

“I think it’s appropriate to look at all the successes,” Kentucky Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So I think this aggression has strengthened NATO. It was exactly the opposite of what Putin expected.”

He noted Germany’s shift to a stronger defense policy and increased military spending in other countries.

But the ongoing war exacerbates or surfaces other challenges.

In particular, NATO leaders said in 2008 that Ukraine would eventually join, but little action has been taken towards that goal. Putin occupied parts of the country in 2014 and attempted to capture Kiev in 2022, leading to the current war.

“The gray zone is a green light for Putin,” said Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland and now a Distinguished Fellow of the Atlantic Council.

Instead of taking the more provocative step of inviting formal membership to NATO, the United States and Germany should focus on supplying Ukraine with the arms and ammunition to win the current conflict, he said. there is

But NATO’s eastern bloc (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) want stronger guarantees of future membership.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is also pushing for it. During a visit to Prague on Thursday, he said the “ideal” outcome of the Vilnius summit would be for his country to be invited to join the alliance.

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the summit was “a pivotal moment on the road to membership” and said the allies were “reforms that are still needed for Ukraine to reach NATO standards.” We need to talk about it,” he said.

NATO could use this opportunity to strengthen ties with Ukraine, creating what is known as the NATO-Ukraine Council and giving Kiev a seat at the negotiating table.

Also in the spotlight in Vilnius is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is a major obstacle to Sweden’s attempts to join NATO with neighboring Finland.

Erdogan has accused Sweden of being too lenient with anti-Islamic protesters and Kurdish extremist groups that have stoked decades of insurgency in Turkey.

Sweden recently amended its anti-terrorism law and lifted its arms embargo on Turkey. But last week a man burned a Koran outside a Stockholm mosque, prompting Erdogan to pose another obstacle. He equated “those who authorized the crime” with those who carried it out.

Turkey and the United States have also stalled over sales of F-16 fighter jets. Erdogan wants to introduce improved aircraft, but Biden has said Sweden’s NATO membership needs to be resolved first.

Mr Sullivan said the US was confident Sweden would join NATO “in the not too distant future” but it was unclear if the issue would be resolved during the summit.

This is not the first time President Erdogan has used a NATO summit to benefit Turkey. In 2009, he put aside the nomination of Anders Fogg Rasmussen as secretary general, but agreed to the move after securing several senior posts with Turkish officials in the alliance.

Max Bergmann, a former State Department official and head of the European program at the Institute for Strategic and International Studies, said growing concerns about Erdogan’s relationship with Putin, democratic setbacks and sanctions evasion have led to dissatisfaction with Erdogan among allies. said to be on the rise.

“They were trying to play good,” Bergman said. “The question is whether it’s time for more confrontation.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Vitkor Orban has also delayed approval of Sweden’s membership. In response, Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has blocked a $735 million US arms sale to Hungary.

“I don’t want any member state that isn’t interested in doing everything possible to strengthen the alliance, not in the pursuit of their own or personal interests,” he said. “I’m tired of it.”

But Risch dismissed the notion that these disagreements were a sign of weakness within NATO.

“Those things happen all the time in alliances,” he said. “The fact that we have been able to deal with them thus far and will continue to deal with them proves that this is the most successful and most powerful military alliance in the history of the world.”

At least one combustible material was removed from the summit agenda. Rather than seek agreement on a new NATO leader, member states agreed to extend Jens Stoltenberg’s term of office by one year. He has held the position since 2014, and this is the fourth time his term has been extended.

Most people wanted a woman to take the top job next, and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was seen as the frontrunner. However, Poland insisted that it should be the next candidate from the Baltics, as it already has two Nordic secretaries-general in a row. (Stoltenberg was Prime Minister of Norway and Rasmussen was Prime Minister of Denmark.)

Baltic leaders tend to be more provocative in their approach to Russia, including supporting Ukraine’s desire to join NATO quickly, making them skeptical of accepting candidates from the Baltics. There is another way of looking at it.

Further disagreements have surfaced over NATO’s latest plan to counter possible aggression by Russia into allied territory. It’s the biggest revision since the Cold War and could include “a lot of arm wrestling and card trading,” Skip Davis, a former senior NATO official and now a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, said.

“It’s an issue that causes tension and dissent, and that’s not what the Vilnius summit is about,” he said.


Cook reported from Brussels. Associated Press reporter Sylvie Corbet, who lives in Paris, contributed to the report. NATO Cohesion Tested at Vilnius Summit | Wagon Radio 720

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