Biden rallies support for Ukraine and rightly honors NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg


President Joe Biden delivered a generally strong speech at the start of this year’s NATO leaders summit in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

To be sure, the president’s reliance on his teleprompter was always obvious and, at one point, painfully so. Biden also became confused at the conclusion of his speech, seeking clarity from someone in the audience as to which way to depart the stage and then relying upon NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and a military aide for direction.

That said, Biden did offer important words of support for the alliance and for Ukraine. The president noted the historic importance of NATO’s formation and why Ukraine must survive today’s imperialist Russian war effort. While Biden’s announced provision of new air defense systems to Ukraine carries risks (making those systems unavailable in the potential scenario of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, for example), the president showed a strong sense of moral clarity. His voice rising forcefully, Biden pledged that it would be Ukraine that succeeded against Russia and not vice versa. This matters.

Biden also offered a quick but effective explanation for why NATO has provided great value to America and still does so today — namely, in the alliance’s provision for an end to centuries of brutal European wars, its creation of political space for unprecedented and mutually beneficial prosperity, and its deterrence of adversaries. Whether or not NATO would ever become involved in a U.S. war against China, the existence of NATO and the ability of an American president to petition allies under that umbrella is a reality that Chinese President Xi Jinping and every other U.S. adversary must contemplate.

The president also deserves praise for his award of the Medal of Freedom to Stoltenberg. The NATO secretary-general will depart his office later this year after a decade of service. But it is right that he was recognized as a highly successful leader of history’s most successful defense alliance. Stoltenberg was able to forge good working relationships with former Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and now Biden. And he has been an important voice cajoling NATO allies to spend more on defense. Calling Stoltenberg to the stage, Biden showed the importance of publicly recognizing the best allies. America cannot take its true allies for granted. Stoltenberg’s beaming face showed how much his medal meant to him.


Biden’s speech was not perfect. The frailties that now plainly define this presidency were largely hidden by his use of the teleprompter but still there. (The White House video feed’s rapid zoom out before Biden had left the stage was telling.) So also did Biden miss an opportunity to criticize NATO members such as Belgium, Canada, and Spain, which continue to neglect defense spending 10 years after they, and all other NATO allies, pledged to move toward NATO’s 2%-of-gross domestic product minimum spending target. This freeloading constitutes an inexcusable threat to the alliance’s durability. The time has come to drop the diplomatic niceties in addressing this concern.

All things considered, however, this was a good speech for an alliance that matters to America, to common peace, and to the values of freedom and democracy.

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