WASHINGTON (NEWSnet/AP) — NATO leaders will meet this week for a summit commemorating the 75th anniversary of the military alliance, with a newly larger organization but one that also faces a range of concerns.

Here’s what to watch for at the three-day summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization:

Leadership in the U.S.

 

President Joe Biden says people should consider his interactions at the NATO summit for proof that he is still able to lead as the 2024 presidential campaign heats up.

Diplomats and analysts say they will be watching closely — although NATO leaders have no control over American elections and are unlikely to weigh in publicly.

“The outcome of the November election matters enormously for NATO and pretty much all heads of state and government in the alliance feel the same way, even if they refuse to discuss it,” said Jeff Rathke, president of the American-German Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

The prospect of Trump returning to the White House has alarmed some in Europe who fear he may reduce U.S. commitments to NATO or Ukraine — or pull them completely.

“The unpredictability of what (Trump) might do and how quickly in office he might do it, leaves people on edge,” Rathke said. “It would be a significant jolt to NATO if he were to win.”

Leadership in Europe

 

The NATO summit will be British Prime Minister Keir Starmer’s first appearance on the world stage just days after winning a resounding victory in elections.

Although Starmer has signaled continued strong support for both NATO and Ukraine, gains made by far-right parties, as well as left-wing groups opposed to Western support for Israel’s war in Gaza, may dilute London’s influence.

Of more concern is turmoil in France, where President Emmanuel Macron’s government is facing political uncertainty after left-wing parties united to beat a surging far right in legislative elections but still didn’t win a majority in parliament. The far-right party, which is skeptical of NATO, greatly increased the number of seats it holds.

And there are Hungary and Turkey, the last two NATO members to hold out on allowing the newest members, Finland and Sweden, to join the alliance. Viktor Orban of Hungary raised alarm bells by visiting Russia last week for talks with Putin, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains on good terms with the Kremlin.

NATO’s Future

 

In some respects, the alliance has never looked stronger. Since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, NATO gained those two members, bringing the total to 32.

At the same time, Eastern and Central European members closer to Russia’s borders — the Baltic states, Poland and the Czech Republic — have stepped up support for Ukraine and NATO as an institution.

But NATO’s policies must be made by consensus, and political upheaval among its member states hinders future decision-making.

“In some ways, this NATO summit is coming as sort of the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times, in the sense that the alliance knows what it’s about,” said Max Bergmann, director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“But it’s also sort of the worst of times — obviously because of the war in Ukraine, challenges of ramping up European defense spending, concerns about the reliability of the United States,” he said.

Support for Ukraine

 

Many NATO allies in the past year have signed their own security agreements with Ukraine to provide long-term guarantees of assistance for Kyiv to defend itself from Russia and prevent possible future attacks.

But Ukraine’s goal is formally joining NATO, placing it under the alliance’s Article 5 collective security umbrella that obligates other members to come to its defense if attacked.

Membership is highly unlikely while the conflict rages. However, the allies plan to present Ukraine with a “bridge” to membership that would further lay out next steps.

Concerns About China

 

NATO allies also are focused on threats posed by China, including persistent disinformation campaigns aimed at sowing doubts in democratic systems. And they have repeatedly complained that Chinese sales of some tools and technology have allowed Moscow to rebuild Russia’s defense industrial base to wage war in Ukraine.

For the third year in a row, leaders or top officials from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea will attend the NATO summit for discussions on how to deal with Chinese threats in the South China Sea and beyond.

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