President Joe Biden has arrived at his first in-person North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit Monday, vowing to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to a military alliance his predecessor viewed with disdain.
“I want to make it clear: NATO is critically important for US interests in and of itself. If there weren’t one, we’d have to invent one,” he said shortly after arriving during a meeting with NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. “I just want all of Europe to know the United States is there.”
The NATO summit comes as Biden looks to reassert American leadership on the world stage and strengthen global partnerships during his first international trip as President. He arrived in Brussels on the heels of several meetings with US allies and the annual Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, England, where an overriding theme was America’s return to the world stage.
Like at those meetings, Biden is expected to urge western allies to better align themselves against China and Russia, the chief foreign policy concerns of his administration.
“I think that there is a growing recognition over the last couple years that we have new challenges, and we have Russia that is not acting in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped, as well as China,” Biden said at the start of the summit.
The summit got underway with all 30 NATO leaders entering a hall for a family photo, practicing social distancing. They were told via an overhead announcement to remove their masks and look at the cameras for a full 15 seconds. They were then told to look at a futuristic, columnar screen in the center of the room, which lit up with a video touting the alliance and was accompanied by soaring music.
“Cool,” Biden appeared to mouth at the video’s conclusion. The leaders were then told to put their masks back on before departing.
While at the summit, the President will place greater emphasis than ever on cyber threats, including allowing NATO members to invoke the Article 5 collective defense provision in the event of a cyber-attack. His national security adviser said on Sunday a final communiqué would say a member state could call for technical or intelligence support from other members in the event of an attack.
Biden’s meetings this week are meant to build up to a closely watched summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. To that end, while in Brussels he’ll also meet with leaders of the Baltic states on the eastern edge of NATO to discuss the “threat posed by Russia,” according to the White House.
Biden said Sunday he would reiterate the US’s commitment to NATO’s collective defense clause and communicate to allies that the US believes Article 5 is a “sacred obligation.”
“We do not view NATO as a sort of a protection racket,” Biden told reporters on Sunday in Cornwall, stressing the importance of the intergovernmental military alliance between the 30 European and North American countries.
The President continued: “We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to keep American security for the next … remainder of the century.”
The President is looking to take a vastly different approach to his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who frequently railed against NATO, questioned the need for the organization and argued the US was contributing more than its fair share to the group.
During Monday’s summit, NATO leaders are expected to discuss how to manage future threats and “ensure effective burden sharing,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
The White House also said in a release on Sunday that during the summit, NATO members will announce a new “strategic concept” that would guide the alliance’s approach going forward as the strategic environment changes, including threats from China and Russia. They expect it to be adopted at next year’s NATO summit, according to the release.
The statement also highlighted increased defense spending among member states, saying, “Allied leaders will recommit to (an Obama-era pledge) in its entirety and to providing NATO with cash, capabilities, and contributions of ready forces.”
Biden is also expected to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan while in Brussels. The meeting could be tense at points, as it comes after Biden officially recognized the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.
Monday’s summit comes after G7 leaders issued a final communiqué of their shared agenda moving forward. It committed to end the coronavirus pandemic, combat the climate crisis, speaking out against human rights abuses in China, singling out Russia as harboring networks that have conducted ransomware attacks wreaking havoc on critical systems and issuing a call for a new study into the origins of Covid-19, among other issues.
After the NATO summit, Biden will participate in the US-EU summit on Tuesday. The meeting serves to underscore the US commitment to strong transatlantic ties, the White House says, and leaders will discuss global health security, global economic recovery, the climate crisis, enhancing digital and trade cooperation and strengthening democracy, among other mutual concerns.
Biden will also meet with King Philippe of Belgium and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
The President is then scheduled to hold a highly anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva.
Biden said Sunday he agreed with Putin that relations between the US and Russia are at a “low point,” but told reporters that the US is “not looking for conflict” and said there may be a “strategic doctrine” that the countries could agree on that touches on areas like the climate crisis.
Biden also defended the decision not to hold a joint news conference with Putin after their high stakes meeting, arguing such an appearance would only serve to detract from the US’ goal of working toward a stable and predictable relationship with Russia.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.