Nato stronger than ever, Russia will fail in Ukraine: Biden

Washington US President Joe Biden has termed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) as the “single greatest, most effective defensive alliance in the history of the world”, claimed that the bloc is stronger and better resourced than ever before, pledged his “full support” to Ukraine, assured European allies that a majority of Americans remained committed to Nato, and declared that Russia won’t prevail in its war.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the 75th anniversary of Nato at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, on Tuesday (AP)

Biden was speaking on Tuesday (Wednesday morning IST) at the Nato Summit in Washington DC, held at the same venue where the Washington Treaty that created the alliance was signed in 1949. He was also speaking at a time when his rival, Donald Trump, who has been sharply critical of Nato and has attributed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to Nato potentially opening its doors to Kyiv, is ahead in the polls. This has caused jitters among Nato member States, already alarmed at China-aided Russian advances in Ukraine. Biden sought to use the speech to address these concerns and reiterate American commitment.

Biden’s address came at a time when he is facing increasing pressure from his own supporters to quit the presidential race after his debate performance that exposed his age related deficits, a demand that the President has rejected. Biden, who was reading off a teleprompter, also sought to use his speech to project a sense of control and normalcy, and showcase that he is ready for another four years in office.

In an emphatic and strong voice, Biden first recounted the achievements of the alliance. “Together, we rebuilt Europe from the ruins of war, held high the torch of liberty during long decades of the Cold War. When former adversaries became fellow democracies, we welcomed them into the Alliance. When war broke out in the Balkans, we intervened to restore peace and stop ethnic cleansing. And when the United States was attacked on September 11th, our Nato Allies — all of you — stood with us…a breathtaking display of friendship that the American people will never ever, ever forget.”

Biden said that, at each moment, there were questions about whether Nato would adapt, and claimed that each time, it did. He recognised the entry of Finland and Sweden as the newest members of the bloc, and said, “And here with us today are countries from the Indo-Pacific region. They are here because they have a stake in our success and we have a stake in theirs.” Leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand are attending their third Nato Summit in a row, in a sign of the increasing convergence of the European and Indo-Pacific theatres.

Biden also pointedly addressed a key issue within American politics on Nato, where Trump has accused European members of not paying their fair share and declared that they cannot expect to ride on US security umbrella for free. Biden said, “In 2020, the year I was elected President, only nine Nato allies were spending 2% of their GDP on defence. This year, 23 will spend at least 2%. And some will spend more than that. It is remarkable proof that our commitment is broad and deep, that we are ready…willing…able to deter aggression and defend every inch of NATO territory across every domain: land, air, sea, cyber, and space.”

In a message intended both his home audience as well as allies, Biden said, “The American people understand what would happen if there was no Nato: another war in Europe, American troops fighting and dying, dictators spreading chaos, economic collapse, catastrophe. Americans, they know we are stronger with our friends. And we understand this is a sacred obligation.”

Biden added a strong Nato was essential because “autocrats” wanted to overturn the global order, terrorist groups continued to plot “evil schemes”, and in Europe, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin sought to “wipe Ukraine off the map”. Biden said, “Putin won’t stop at Ukraine. But make no mistake, Ukraine can and will stop Putin, especially with our full, collective support. And they have our full support.”

The US President announced the donation of air defence equipment to Ukraine and said, “In the coming months, the United States and our partners intend to provide Ukraine with dozens of additional tactical air defence systems…All told, Ukraine will receive hundreds of additional interceptors over the next year, helping protect Ukrainian cities against Russian missiles and Ukrainian troops facing air attacks on the front lines.”

In an effort to counter the perception that Russia was gaining in the war, Biden claimed that Russia was in fact “failing”. Suggesting that Putin’s losses had been staggering, Biden said, “More than 350,000 Russian troops dead or wounded; nearly 1 million Russians, many of them young people, have left Russia because they no longer see a future in Russia. And Kyiv..was supposed to fall in five days. Remember? Well, it’s still standing two and a half years later and will continue to stand.”

At the glittering ceremony on Tuesday evening, a short video first traced back Nato’s origins, successes, summits and resilience over the past seven decades, framing the alliance as an identity and underlining the theme of solidarity, friendship and being there for each other “in the darkest hour”.

Linking the past with the present, in the backdrop of concerns over a potential Trump administration’s approach, NATO’s outgoing general secretary Jens Stoltenberg reminded the audience that after the World War II, many Americans wanted to leave Europe but it was courageous leaders on both sides of the Atlantic who defied the opposition and built the alliance. “Nato is today the most successful and the longest lasting alliance in history,” he said.

Taking on the question of whether Nato should have expanded eastward after the end of the Cold War — critics have pointed out that this decision made Russia insecure and eventually prompted its aggression in Ukraine — Stoltenberg said that this was not an easy decision for Nato. “The countries of the former Warsaw Pact had already made their choice. They all wanted to join our Alliance. The question was whether we were ready to open our door…In the end, we stood up for the right of every nation to choose its own path. We opened Nato’s door.” This decision, Stoltenberg said, had profoundly changed Europe, for it paved the way for the continent’s integration and unity.

In a surprise gesture, Biden awarded Stoltenberg the US Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to the alliance.

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