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Shaheen Tillis Murphy

Get ready for the NATO show in DC

World leaders will converge on Washington next week for the annual NATO summit as the U.S.-led coalition backing Ukraine is about to face its most serious test.

This year’s summit will have two key themes — a celebration of the alliance’s 75th anniversary and a rallying cry for Ukraine intended as a pushback to the rise of far-right political forces in Europe and, potentially, in the United States.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who lead the congressional delegation to the summit every year, will have a much larger cohort of lawmakers joining them at the gathering given it’s occurring stateside while both chambers of Congress are in session.

The goal is to ensure that, no matter what happens over the next six months, the U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s security — and its path to NATO membership — remains intact.

If former President Donald Trump wins in November, Tillis told us, “You’re going to have to have people like me and others, the majority of our conference, saying we need to stand behind Ukraine.”

At the G7 summit last month, President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a 10-year security agreement. Of course, any deal like this is only as good as the Congress that’s funding it and the president who enforces it.

“We need to lay the groundwork to say that, fundamentally, what Biden has negotiated and committed to makes sense, but every president has a right to review and consider possible enhancements and modifications,” Tillis added.

Ukraine in NATO? The expectation is that the joint communiqué issued after the summit will once again affirm that Ukraine is on a path to full-fledged NATO membership once certain conditions are met — including that the war is over.

At a recent meeting with senators in France for the D-Day anniversary, Zelensky acknowledged this reality, according to Shaheen.

“As long as the war is active and unresolved, Ukraine is not going to be a member of NATO,” Shaheen said. “But having a path to membership is really critical, just as they’re looking at a path to EU membership.”

NATO membership requires signoff from all member nations. So even if Ukraine eventually meets the conditions to join, all it takes is one country to block it — either to extract concessions or to prevent Ukraine’s accession. Finland and Sweden know this all too well.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who leads the U.S. delegation to NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly, told us he’s especially looking forward to leveraging those new members’ contributions to the alliance.

“This upcoming summit is already a success because Sweden and Finland will be joining NATO as full members,” Turner said. “They bring not only highly capable militaries, incredibly important geography, but already fully integrated militaries into the alliance.”

It’s not just Russia. The 2022 NATO summit in Madrid yielded a joint statement that, for the first time, named China as an emerging threat to the West. And NATO leaders have sought to underscore the interconnectedness of Russian and Chinese aggression.

Leaders of Indo-Pacific countries have participated in NATO functions below the membership level, and they’re expected to be in D.C. for this year’s summit.

Many European nations have woken up to the threat that China poses, but there’s still work to do.

“This is an ongoing public education effort because, while leaders in Europe are recognizing this, [people] in Europe still are doing trade with China,” Shaheen said. “They’re doing a number of things in the relationship that [haven’t] caught up with the potential threat in the future.”

— Andrew Desiderio

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