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WASHINGTON: President Biden Joe Biden is hosting 38 heads of delegation in the U.S. capital this week for a historic summit to mark NATO’s 75th anniversary, a pivotal moment in the history of transatlantic security.

The leaders of 32 NATO member states, joined for the first time by Sweden, as well as partners including Ukraine, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Australia and the EU, are gathering in the city. A large number of senior officials, foreign ministers, defence ministers and cabinet officials from NATO partner countries around the world will also attend.

The summit will commemorate the world’s most successful alliance, established in 1949 at the beginning of the Cold War and whose continued existence has haunted skeptics for decades.

NATO’s importance was renewed and underscored two and a half years ago by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an invasion that analysts say has seriously undermined the so-called rules-based international order, posing one of the greatest threats to transatlantic security in decades.

But beyond the assurances of officials, NATO faces uncertainty about its future. External threats play a role, but the main concern is the internal turmoil that could ensue if NATO skeptics such as Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Rally, take power in 2024 and 2027, respectively.

Trump personifies a tension between European allies and the U.S. that has existed from the beginning. As one observer said, “The Americans seemed to be from Mars, the Europeans from Venus.”

Former U.S. President and Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Doral, Florida, July 9, 2024. (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron recently said that the alliance “only works when the guarantor of last resort acts as such. I would argue that we should reassess the reality of NATO in light of the United States’ involvement.” The United States, he said, is showing signs of “turning its back on us,” as demonstrated by its surprise October 2019 troop withdrawal from northeastern Syria, abandoning its Kurdish allies.

INNUMBERS

32 members of the NATO military alliance.

Canada ranks 7th in defense spending.

3.5% of US GDP share in military spending.

The official language of the Biden administration and NATO officials paints a picture of an alliance that is — in the words of Ambassador Michael Carpenter, special assistant to the president — “bigger, stronger, better resourced and more united than ever before.”

While the US media continues to focus on Biden’s physical condition and his ability to cope with an event such as NATO’s 75th anniversary, both the US administration and NATO officials have skillfully avoided questions about the president’s health.

The “most urgent task” at the summit, according to the NATO chief, will be support for Ukraine. Allies will unveil major new measures to help the war-stricken country.

They include increased security assistance and training, with a major command center in Germany, a $43 billion financial commitment, additional air defense systems and ammunition, and a show of support for Kiev in its bid for NATO membership.

“This will not make NATO a party to the conflict,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “But it will strengthen Ukraine’s self-defense.”

He added: “Ukraine must win… they need our continued support.”

Carpenter, a senior US diplomat, said: “The summit in Washington will send a strong signal to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin that if he thinks he can survive a coalition of countries supporting Ukraine, he is wrong.”

NATO will use the summit to highlight the importance of investing in its defence and deterrence capabilities.

In 2020, only nine NATO members spent at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, a benchmark first set almost a decade ago. Now, a record 23 NATO members have met or exceeded the minimum level of 2 percent of GDP on defense spending.

“Since the beginning of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014, NATO has undergone a fundamental transformation,” Stoltenberg said.

“Defense spending among European allies and Canada has increased by 18 percent this year, the largest increase in decades. Allies take burden-sharing seriously.

“Today we have 500,000 troops on high alert; for the first time we have combat-ready battle groups in the eastern part of the alliance; more advanced capabilities, including fifth-generation aircraft; and two very committed new members, Finland and Sweden.”

Ukraine has also demonstrated the alliance’s global security dimension, Stoltenberg said, as “Iran and North Korea (are) fueling Russia’s war with drones and missiles,” and “China is supporting Russia’s war economy.” He added: “The closer authoritarian actors get, the more important it is to work closely with our friends in the Indo-Pacific.”

Deepening NATO’s global partnerships is the third goal of the summit. To that end, Stoltenberg has invited the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea to Washington.

“Standing up to authoritarian governments with our partners helps maintain the rules-based international order,” he said.

Partnerships with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa will also be the subject of bilateral meetings and talks, including the NATO Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and involves the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, and the Mediterranean Dialogue, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year as a partnership forum to promote security and stability in the region and involves countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

Carpenter said: “On the Middle East, I am sure there will be a number of discussions, including bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit, where this issue will be raised.

“The Middle East is not Euro-Atlantic territory, but of course it threatens the security of the Euro-Atlantic region. What is happening in the Middle East now is of course a matter of concern to all NATO leaders.”

Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, lamented the fact that neither the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative nor the Mediterranean Dialogue had been fully exploited.

“I am a little disappointed that NATO did not make a bigger splash around the 20th anniversary of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and the 30th anniversary of the Mediterranean Dialogue, which covers more of NATO’s relations with the Levant and North Africa,” he told Arab News.

“These are important milestones and both platforms have proven useful in the past in enabling NATO to engage with the broader community in the region,” he added.

“It would be very good if there was a NATO meeting at the level of heads of state, heads of government, on the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. I know it would be very difficult. Someone should have thought about it earlier. But let’s make a big deal out of this anniversary.

“NATO should make it clear to countries, especially in the Gulf, that if you are not part of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, the door is open. Of course, nobody is talking about NATO membership or anything like that. It’s ridiculous, but adding new members to the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative would be, I think, something positive for the alliance.”

According to Coffey, NATO-MENA security overlaps include issues such as counterterrorism and Iran’s missile and drone proliferation. He believes NATO should work more deeply with MENA countries, starting with missile and air defense.

“From a European perspective, often many of the challenges that are in the Middle East eventually find their way to Europe. So it’s beneficial for Europe, and especially for NATO, to work with countries in the Middle East to help them solve their own security problems.”

Coffey said Stoltenberg’s visit to Saudi Arabia last December was a step in the right direction “that may enable (the Kingdom) to join the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative”.

“Saudi Arabia is the dominant power in the Arabian Peninsula and faces many of the same security challenges we have in NATO, such as the proliferation of ballistic missiles and drones and the threat from Iran,” he said.

“So it makes sense that NATO engages with Saudi Arabia whenever possible, and we have a platform in NATO to engage with countries like Saudi Arabia. So let’s bring Saudi Arabia into the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

“If they want to. NATO also needs to be careful to make sure that we are moving with the speed and comfort of engaging with the Gulf states. We should not try to impose anything on the region, but we should always make it clear that NATO is open to deeper cooperation if there is a desire.”

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