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Aug. 18, 2022

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As ‘historic’ NATO summit opens, Biden commits to more U.S. forces in Europe

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MADRID — President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. would increase its troop presence in Europe as part of a broader commitment among NATO allies to shore up their regional defenses in response to Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, on the first full day of a summit here in the Spanish capital, Biden emphasized that the alliance was committed to defending “every inch” of territory under its charter and hailed the “historic” nature of this year’s gathering as Finland and Sweden, after decades of strategic neutrality, are on the verge of accession.

“NATO is strong and united,” Biden said. “And the steps we’re taking during this summit, we’re going to further augment our collective strength.”

The president added that the Ukraine war is continuing to backfire on Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose missile strikes on civilian targets this week as G-7 and NATO leaders meet in Europe have sent a menacing signal to the West.

“Putin was looking for the Finland-ization of Europe,” Biden said, referring to Helsinki’s decades-long embrace of nonalignment for fear of angering Moscow.

But the war in Ukraine is leading to “the NATO-ization of Europe,” Biden said. “And that’s exactly what he didn’t want — but exactly what needs to be done to guarantee security for Europe.”

Putin, who has given several justifications for invading Ukraine, initially cited Ukraine’s own desire to join NATO as a pretext for his Feb. 24 invasion.

Outlining the additional U.S. commitments in Europe, Biden said the U.S. would establish a new army headquarters in Poland — the first permanent American installation on NATO’s eastern flank — and put a rotational brigade combat team of 3,000 troops in Romania to enable swift deployments in the region.

The U.S. also will send two additional F-35 fighter squadrons to Britain and bolster “air defense and other capabilities” in Germany and Italy.

Those announcements from Biden came less than 24 hours after he said during a meeting Tuesday with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez that the U.S. would base two additional destroyers at its naval base in Rota, Spain.

The U.S. currently has about 100,000 troops stationed in Europe, reflecting an increase of about 20,000 since Russia attacked Ukraine. Biden called the new commitments a response “to the changing security environment, as well as strengthening our collective security.”

This NATO summit, which comes just months after an emergency gathering Biden convened at the organization’s Brussels headquarters, reflects just how dramatically Putin’s actions have changed security calculations across Europe.

Alliance leaders meeting Wednesday and Thursday on the outskirts of Madrid are set to adopt a new strategic concept for the next 10 years — NATO’s first such update in more than a decade — that envisages additional battle groups in the east and a commitment by member nations, after years of foot-dragging, to devote more revenues to defense.

The concept is also likely to address the challenge posed by an increasingly powerful China. To that end, the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand have been invited for the first time to attend a NATO summit as guests.

Finland and Sweden, whose leaders are also attending the summit, appear to be on the fast track to NATO membership now that Turkey, which had been the alliance’s lone holdout, has reached an agreement over the two nations’ application.

Biden spoke by phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday shortly before the agreement was reached, and the two leaders plan to hold a bilateral meeting Wednesday afternoon on the sidelines of the summit.

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