Analysis | Four Things to Watch on Biden’s NATO trip

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The big idea

Four Things to Watch on Biden’s NATO trip

President Biden says no to immediate NATO membership for Ukraine, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the same about letting in Sweden. Both leaders will meet face to face in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius this week on the sidelines of the alliance’s yearly summit.

Russia’s expanded war in Ukraine — Moscow invaded in 2014 and never left — will dominate the agenda. But there are also internal alliance housekeeping matters. Here are four things to watch during Biden’s trip to Britain, the July 11-12 NATO summit and a gathering of Nordic leaders in Finland.

‘Israel-style’ help for Ukraine

Biden brought the curtain down for now on Ukrainian hopes of joining NATO quickly. “I don’t think it’s ready for membership in NATO,” he told CNN in an interview that aired Sunday.

  • Bringing in Ukraine would violate Biden’s core belief that aid to that country cannot put NATO and Russia directly in conflict. The alliance’s charter hinges on a promise that every member will come to the aid of any member under attack.

Instead, the conversation has shifted over many months to NATO providing Ukraine with security guarantees that are regularly described as resembling the kinds of help the United States provides its staunch ally Israel.

The United States is on track to give Israel $38 billion in military aid between 2019 and 2028, and is committed to maintaining its “qualitative edge” over its neighbors’ militaries. But Washington is not treaty-bound to come to Israel’s defense.

On Sunday, aboard Air Force One, Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan fleshed out some of the details.

“The United States would be prepared to provide various forms of military assistance, intelligence and information sharing, cyber support, and other forms of materiel support, so that Ukraine can both defend itself and deter future aggression,” he said.

The exact terms, duration and specifics will be worked out at the Vilnius summit — and with Congress, he said. Watch for those.

Erdogan the spoiler

Admitting Sweden into NATO would require all 31 members to agree, and Turkey isn’t having it (neither is Hungary). Erdogan has resisted diplomatic pressure from Biden and extensive outreach from Stockholm. He was meeting Monday with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Vilnius.

Biden and the Turkish leader discussed the matter by phone on Sunday, and planned to meet in person in the Lithuanian capital, Erdogan’s office said. But Swedish accession to NATO at the summit is now the longest of long shots. And it appears tied to Erdogan’s desire to buy a fleet of American F-16 fighters (a quid pro quo Ankara denies and Washington finesses).

  • Biden “has been clear consistently that he believes that, for the alliance and for the US-Turkey bilateral relationship, moving forward with the sale makes sense, it’s in our interest,” Sullivan said Sunday.
  • “He also believes that Sweden becoming a member of NATO is very much in our interest, and we should do both of these things. And doing both of these things would give real impetus and momentum to NATO and to the bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey,” he added.

On Monday, Erdogan added a fresh condition: The European Union must “open the way” for Turkey to join the bloc before he will let Sweden join NATO.

Watch for movement on the F-16s, watch whether Erdogan, when he meets Biden, repeats or mutes his criticisms that Sweden has not done enough to end support for Kurdish separatists and a group he blames for an unsuccessful coup attempt against him in 2016.

And watch whether this kind of American optimism, courtesy of Sullivan, dims a bit: “We do not regard this as something that is fundamentally in doubt. This is a matter of timing. The sooner the better.”

A spending problem

At their 2014 summit, NATO members pledged to boost defense spending to at least 2 percent of GDP by 2024. According to a formal alliance report released in March, just seven countries met the threshold in 2022. That’s up from three in 2014. But still, there are 31 members.

NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg has said Vilnius should result in a more ambitious spending program, saying 2 percent should be a “floor” not a “ceiling.” 

At a time when so few have reached the floor, this seems incredibly … aspirational. Watch for whether the alliance commits to spend more, and on what.

The cluster question

Last week, Biden authorized the Pentagon to give Ukraine cluster bombs, which release scores of smaller bombs across a wide area.

  • Some proportion fail to detonate but remain live, potentially posing deadly dangers for civilians years after a conflict ends.
  • Most countries in the world, including many U.S. allies and some NATO members, including the United Kingdom, have banned them.
  • Human rights groups and some congressional Democrats have sharply criticized the decision. The United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Spain say they’re opposed to using cluster bombs.

Asked about NATO partners opposing the decision, Sullivan replied: “I do not think you will see fracture, division or disunity as a result of this decision.”

Still, watch what happens when leaders of other democracies take questions from the media, potentially raising the issue at a time when the alliance is trying to showcase unity.


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What’s happening now

Biden and Sunak pledge support for Ukraine ahead of NATO summit

“Biden kicked off his high-stakes visit to Europe with a quick stop in London to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, where the two leaders emphasized the importance of supporting Ukraine and bolstering a show unity ahead of a NATO summit that is expected to be rife with divisions over how allied nations should support Kyiv against Moscow,” Toluse Olorunnipa and William Booth report.

  • “While the war in Ukraine, slogging through its second year, was expected to dominate — and potentially frustrate — Biden’s trip to Europe, his 18-hour visit to Britain was largely marked by a sense of unity, tradition and camaraderie.”

Putin met with Wagner leader Prigozhin after failed mutiny, Kremlin says

“Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Wagner Group mercenary boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin and 35 of his commanders on June 29 in Moscow, five days after Wagner’s brief mutiny aimed at ousting the country’s top military officials, who were criticized by Prigozhin for botching the invasion of Ukraine,” Mary Ilyushina, Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova report

  • “In the meeting, which lasted about three hours, Putin ‘gave his assessment’ of the private military company’s fighting record in Ukraine as well as its actions on the day of the mutiny, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday in a conference call with reporters.”

Lunchtime reads from The Post

How Supreme Court decisions are activating a generation of young voters

“For many voters under 35 years of age, especially those on the left, the Supreme Court has become a political issue in the same way that climate change, gun violence and immigration have over the course of the past two decades,” Tamia Fowlkes reports

  • “Conversations with more than a dozen young voters from around the country who recently visited Washington for the Fourth of July suggest a sense of frustration, even resignation for some, but also a renewed understanding that their votes could impact which justices sit on the federal bench.”

How the former Confederate capital slashed Black voting power, overnight

“In the 1960s, Richmond was plagued by a suffering economy, rotting infrastructure and widespread poverty, prompting the city to begin a years-long campaign to widen its boundaries,” Leila Barghouty reports. “On Jan. 1, 1970, it annexed nearly 23 square miles of bordering Chesterfield County. Forty-seven thousand people became Richmond residents overnight, 45,700 of them White.”

  • Many Richmond activists at the time claimed the redrawing of borders had an insidious motive, part of a large-scale effort to crimp the power of African Americans at the polls and keep them out of office.”
  • “Years of subsequent lawsuits, appeals, allegations of secret Whites-only meetings and election injunctions morphed into the Supreme Court case of City of Richmond v. United States. It became one of the Voting Rights Act’s earliest tests of geography and equity.

… and beyond

The New York Times to disband its sports department

The New York Times said on Monday that it would disband its sports department and rely on coverage of teams and games from its website The Athletic, both online and in print,” the NYT’s Katie Robertson and John Koblin report

  • “The shuttering of the sports desk, which has more than 35 journalists and editors, is a major shift for The Times. The department’s coverage of games, athletes and team owners, and its Sports of the Times column in particular, were once a pillar of American sports journalism. The section covered the major moments and personalities of the last century of American sports, including Muhammad Ali, the birth of free agency, George Steinbrenner, the Williams sisters, Tiger Woods, steroids in baseball and the deadly effects of concussions in the National Football League.”

Questions about age trail Rep. Barbara Lee, 76, as she seeks Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat

Nearly a dozen political activists, donors and elected officials who spoke to the Los Angeles Times questioned whether it would be right for Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who is in her late 70s, to replace 90-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the LAT’s Benjamin Oreskes reports. “If Lee were to win the 2024 Senate race, it could leave the party in the same predicament it faced in 2018, when Feinstein insisted on running again despite calls for her to step aside.

The Biden agenda

After Yellen visit, China speaks of ‘rainbows’ but prepares for trade battle

“China hailed the absence of major contention during the visit to Beijing by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen as progress toward easing long-standing tensions, even as it continues to prepare for a protracted standoff with the United States over critical technologies,” Christian Shepherd reports

  • In a statement released Monday, the Finance Ministry called discussions over Yellen’s four-day visit “frank, pragmatic, in-depth and constructive” while giving China an opportunity to clarify its position on what constitutes “healthy economic competition.”

Biden’s push for EVs pits green-energy agenda against auto unions

“As contract negotiations between big automakers and the United Auto Workers get underway this week, Biden faces an awkward balancing act between high-profile priorities: Championing labor rights and advancing green-energy policy,” Jeanne Whalen reports.

  • The UAW’s new leadership has sounded a string of alarms in recent weeks about the Biden-backed push toward electric vehicles, criticizing the relatively low pay workers are earning at one new battery factory and blasting the closure of older gasoline-vehicle factories.”

Stymied by the Supreme Court, Biden wants voters to have the final say on his agenda

“After major blows to his agenda by the Supreme Court, Biden is intent on making sure voters will have the final say,” the Associated Press’s Colleen Long and Zeke Miller report. “As Biden heads into the 2024 election, he is running not only against the Republicans who control one-half of Congress but also against the conservative bloc that dominates the nation’s highest court. It’s a subtle but significant shift in approach toward the Supreme Court, treating it more like a political entity even as Biden stops short of calling for an overhaul.”


How cluster munitions work, visualized

Cluster munitions can be shells, missiles, rockets or bombs that explode in the air and disperse small submunitions, or bomblets, over a wide area on the ground,” Eve Sampson, Victoria Bisset and Júlia Ledur report. “The cluster munitions being sent to Ukraine are artillery shells that can be fired from the howitzers that Western nations began providing Ukraine last year.”

Hot on the left

Democratic candidates enter Senate primary races

In Texas: State Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D) announced Monday that he is entering the Democratic primary to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reports. His district includes Uvalde, the city where a deadly school shooting took place last year.

In Michigan: Hill Harper, an actor best known for his work on the television series ‘The Good Doctor’ and ‘CSI: NY,’ announced a bid Monday for a U.S. Senate seat from Michigan, entering a crowded Democratic primary that has so far been dominated by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.),” John Wagner reports

Hot on the right

Sam Brown enters Senate race in Nevada, where Republicans hope for a pickup

Sam Brown, a retired U.S. Army captain severely injured by an explosion in Afghanistan, announced a GOP bid Monday for the seat held by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), among those that Republicans are eying as they seek to regain control of the Senate in next year’s elections,” John Wagner reports

Today in Washington

At 12:55 p.m. Eastern time, Biden will arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania for the two-day NATO summit. 

In closing

Have a purrfect Monday

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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