NATO leaders say dealing with Biden is ‘less awkward’ than Trump

NATO summits are less awkward now that Joe Biden has taken over from Donald Trump as president, the Netherlands’ prime minister has said.

Mark Rutte said meeting with Biden is ‘more natural’ as he arrived in Brussels for talks today, adding that he understands ‘the necessity of NATO.’

Summits with Trump has frequently devolved into in-fighting as he pressured leaders to spend more on the alliance, questioned its purpose, showed up late, blew off meetings and on one occasion stormed out early. 

Biden kicked off the summit by committing the US to NATO’s mutual defence pact – calling it a ‘sacred obligation’ – in an early break from Trump who notoriously prevaricated when asked if he would do the same back in 2017.

Meanwhile NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is ready to open ‘a new chapter’ with Biden ‘at a pivotal moment’ in its history. It comes after the G-7 meeting of ministers in the UK last week, and ahead of Biden’s first summit with Putin later this week.

Biden is also expected to hold talks with President Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit, as one image appeared to show the Turkish leader kissing Biden’s hand – though it was only a trick of perspective. 

In fact, Erdogan was getting out of his chair when Biden offered him a first-bump – a gesture he reciprocated while only halfway out of his seat.

Biden has known Erdogan for years but their relationship has frequently been contentious. During his campaign, he drew ire from Turkish officials after he described Erdogan as an ‘autocrat.’ 

In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was ‘genocide’ – a term that U.S. presidents have previously avoided using.

The two leaders were expected to discuss Syria and Iran as well as what role Turkey can play on Afghanistan following U.S. withdrawal, according to the White House. 

Also on the agenda: how Washington and Ankara ‘deal with some of our significant differences on values and human rights and other issues,’ White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

The unsettled security situation in Libya, as well as overlapping concerns on China and Russia are also expected to be discussed. 

Biden is attempting to rally his allies as he takes a tough line on both China and Russia in the early days of his presidency. In two days, he will fly to Geneva for his first meeting with Vladimir Putin since becoming president.

Throwing his weight behind the alliance, he told European leaders: ‘Article 5 we take as a sacred obligation. I want NATO to know America is there.’

A communique is expected to be issued after the summit has finished that will be signed by all members, and is expected to include updates to Article 5 to including mutual defence in the event of cyber attacks.   

If an alliance member needs technical or intelligence support in response to a cyber attack, it would be able to invoke the mutual defense provision to receive assistance, according to .

The president started his day meeting with leaders of the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank regarding the ‘threat posed by Russia,’ China and the recent air piracy in Belarus, according to Sullivan.   

The NATO summit also comes on the tail of the G7 meeting that took place just a few days prior in the UK. 

At the G-7, leaders sought to convey that the club of wealthy democracies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – is a better friend to poorer nations than authoritarian rivals such as China and Russia.

The G-7 meeting ended with a communique that called out forced labor practices and other human rights violations impacting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province. 

The president declined to discuss private summit negotiations over the provision, but said he was ‘satisfied’ with the communique, although differences remain among the allies about how forcefully to call out Beijing.

Biden is focused on building a more cohesive bond between America and allies who had become wary of U.S. leadership after enduring four years of Trump’s name-calling and frequent invectives about the relevance of NATO.

Trump complained that the NATO alliance allows ‘global freeloading’ countries to spend less on military defense at the expense of the U.S. and dismissed the alliance as ‘obsolete.’

Biden offered a pointed rejoinder on Sunday, saying: ‘We do not view NATO as a sort of a protection racket. We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to maintain American security for … the remainder of the century. And there’s a real enthusiasm.’

When alliance members last met for a summit in England in December 2019, Trump grabbed headlines by calling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ‘two-faced’ and French President Emmanuel Macron ‘nasty.’

Trump lashed out after Trudeau was caught on a hot mic gossiping with other leaders about Trump turning photo opportunities into long news conferences. 

Ahead of the summit, Macron had declared NATO ‘brain dead’ because of a void in U.S. leadership under Trump.

Biden has already acknowledged during his Europe tour that the alliance needs to ensure better burden sharing and needs more American leadership. 

He’s also highlighted NATO members’ contributions in the war in Afghanistan, noting that ‘NATO stepped up’ after America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

The U.S. and NATO are winding down their involvement in the nearly 20-year war that killed tens of thousands of Afghans and more than 3,500 U.S. and allied troops.

The war also raised profound questions about whether NATO’s most ambitious effort was worth it.

For now, NATO plans to leave civilian advisers to help build up government institutions. It’s unclear who will protect them. 

The alliance is also weighing whether to train Afghan special forces outside the country.

NATO members are also expected to endorse the creation of a new cyber defense policy to improve coordination with countries impacted by the increasing frequency of ransomware attacks.

That will come alongside a climate security action plan to reduce greenhouse gases from military activities in line with national commitments under the Paris agreement and a commitment to strengthen NATO’s deterrence to meet threats from Russia and elsewhere, according to the White House.  

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