The Shifting Tides of NATO: Key Topics at Day Two of the NATO Summit

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

More From Me

Day two of the NATO summit in Washington, D.C., has come to a close. Ukraine has remained the most prominent topic of conversation, with many also raising the question of security challenges for the alliance prompted by China, and holes in NATO’s security from production and budgetary shortcomings.

A series of meetings have taken place on the summit’s sidelines between various world leaders and national officials, many of which have been with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The meetings have resulted in a series of promises to supply Ukraine with more military equipment, with a large aid package expected to be announced at the end of the summit tomorrow.

Let’s take a look at the key events and conversation topics that occurred during day two of the NATO summit.

Ukraine’s Irreversible Path

One of the most important aspects of the summit thus far is NATO’s affirmation that Ukraine is on an “irreversible” path toward membership in NATO.

The joint statements from much of NATO leadership come as some were unsure if NATO would genuinely extend an invitation to Ukraine. While they have not yet formally extended this invitation, and are unlikely to within this summit, there have been numerous expressions of support for Ukrainian membership.

NATO has stated they are providing a “bridge” to Ukraine for its membership in the alliance, but it is necessary for Ukraine to carry out a series of reforms prior to joining. These reforms, NATO says, are currently being enacted.

Notably, no timeline has yet been established for when Ukraine’s entry into the alliance, or even an invitation for such an event, will occur. Polish President Andrzej Duda, one of the nations pushing hardest for Ukraine’s entry into the alliance, stated that he hopes an invitation “becomes a fact” at the next summit. The invitation timeline likely depends on when the war between Ukraine and Russia ends, assuming Ukraine’s victory in the conflict.

In order to reinforce the likelihood of this victory, several different NATO allies have thus far promised significant military aid to Ukraine, including air defense systems and F-16 fighter jets. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has further stated that a “substantial” aid package for Ukraine will be announced at the end of the summit.

Norway, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands have all promised F-16s to be delivered to Ukraine. Norway stated they would deliver six F-16 fighter jets by the end of the year, while the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, stated that they would give Ukraine from “a couple” to “a few” F-16s by the end of the year as well, and that while they plan on delivering more in the future—largely dependent upon the delivery of F-35 fighter jets that Belgium has on order.

The US, Germany, and Romania have all promised to send Ukraine more Patriot missile defense systems. Giorgia Meloni, the Italian Prime Minister, has promised to send SAMP/T defence systems, an Italian/French-made system comparable to the Patriot system.

President Zelenskyy also stated that UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer has granted Ukraine permission to use UK-supplied Storm Shadow missiles to strike targets in Ukraine. PM Starmer had stated that the missiles were “for defensive purposes,” but that “it is for Ukraine to decide how to deploy them for those defensive purposes.”

Ukraine has insisted in order to truly defend itself from Russian attacks, it must be able to strike targets inside Russia, in particular launch sites that have been used to launch attacks against Ukraine.

Thus far, the US has placed a number of restrictions upon Ukraine that prevent them from using the majority of donated equipment for carrying out strikes in Russia. There have been notable levels of support amongst NATO, including amongst some US officials, for lifting these restrictions in order for Ukraine to properly defend itself against Russia’s assaults.

President Zelenskyy has released a number of statements thanking NATO powers for their support of Ukraine, and reaffirmed his nation’s commitment to joining NATO.

The Rising Threat of the East

Written in cooperation by Sebastien Gray and Joaquin Camarena

China was one of the more pressing topics discussed during the second day of the summit because of how the alliance views the country. This is apparent when reading the communiqué that NATO leaders released on the opening day, specifically calling out China’s stated ambitions and coercive policies that challenge its interests, security, and values.

The document, however, also mentions how China provided “decisive” support to Russia during its war with Ukraine through its no-limits partnership and significant shipments of dual-use materials. NATO also pointed out how China “continues to pose systemic challenges to Euro-Atlantic security” through its various activities.

For example, the communique mentions that its member countries saw several malicious cyber and disinformation activities that originated from China. They also mention their concern with China’s development of its space activities and capabilities and urge the country to support efforts to “promote responsible space behavior.” The document points to the country’s rapid expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal, with more warheads and a significant number of sophisticated delivery systems.

The communiqué, however, shows that the alliance wants to balance its stronger stance against China by offering to maintain communication with the country.

For example, the members urged China to stop supporting Russia by emphasizing the country’s responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. They also highlighted China’s skirting of the sanctions by sending dual-use materials that enabled the Russian defense sector to continue to manufacture weapons.

The members then hinted at their willingness to enact punishments on China that would negatively impact “its interests and reputation” if it continued to enable Russia’s invasion. The document also pointed out that the alliance wants to continue to dialogue and engage with China in “strategic risk reduction discussions” to promote stability through transparency.

The members also said they want to “remain open to constructive engagement” with China through reciprocal transparency that would safeguard NATO’s security interests. However, they also balanced their talk of constructive engagement by proactively increasing the alliance’s shared awareness, preparedness, and resilience to protect against China’s “coercive tactics and efforts to divide the Alliance.”

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Astana, Kazakhstan (Photo from Alexander Ryumin/AFP).

The presence of leaders from NATO-allied countries such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea also highlighted the significant concern that regional countries have regarding China. Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea view China’s aggressive actions in the region with increased worry because of the country’s plans to reshape both the region and the rules-based order to its liking.

However, Australia, Japan, and South Korea also voiced concerns over China’s plans to become the regional hegemon by exerting control through diplomatic, economic, influence operations, and military means.

For example, China used coercive economic actions against three countries to force them to stop or enact policies that were more favorable to the country.

New Zealand, however, chose to use a balanced approach when discussing China’s increasingly aggressive actions and plans for the region. For example, New Zealand’s Prime Minister attended the summit to meet with NATO leaders and discuss regional issues such as China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and assistance to Russia. New Zealand also pointed out that it is willing to communicate and work with China on areas and issues they agree on while disagreeing on others. This approach represents an evolution of New Zealand’s view on the relationship between the two countries, with previous governments playing down China’s human rights abuses and use of economic coercive measures against New Zealand.

The point was raised that the Pacific falls outside of the security scope of the alliance which, as the name states, is based in the North Atlantic. However, a counterpoint was raised that countering Chinese influence and the threat produced by China, particularly with their reinforcement of Russia in the present conflict, is in the best interests of the alliance.

It is worth noting there are several non-NATO partner states, such as Japan and Australia, that reside in the Pacific.

The summit has seen several condemnations extended towards China, mostly for its support of Russia. NATO referred to China as a “decisive enabler” of Russia and its war in Ukraine. China has dismissed these condemnations as “smears and attacks.”

“China is firmly opposed to NATO’s smears and attacks on China, to its willingness to shift the blame onto others, as well as NATO’s use of China as an excuse to move eastward into the Asia Pacific and stir up regional tensions. China is a force for world peace, a contributor to global development and a defender of international order.” -Lin Jian, a Spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Additionally, many in NATO have tied the ongoing war in Ukraine to the prospect of a conflict with China. They have stated that should NATO fail in Ukraine, it will only serve to embolden China in its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. Therefore, through that lens, securing Ukraine’s victory in the war is pivotal to deterring a potential conflict with China.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pictured speaking at the NATO summit on July 10th, 2024 (Photo from AP/Matt Rourke).

As tensions continue to rise, and as the US does begin to pay more attention to the Pacific, China is likely to become a reoccurring subject at future summits.

NATO’s Challenges and Shortcomings

Another key discussion topic of the summit has been the evident shortcomings of NATO in maintaining their security, and the challenges in ensuring that they get to a comfortable point.

These shortcomings have been most prominently evidenced in insufficient production and several nations continually missing NATO’s obligatory target of 2% of each member state’s GDP being spent on defense.

Throughout the war in Ukraine, many Western nations have donated or sold military equipment to Ukraine to support its war effort. With the war now surpassed two years, some Western nations are running low on their own supplies of military equipment, as European military production is unable to keep up.

These holes in production have produced a very serious problem to where much of NATO finds itself unable to equip itself properly in the event of a long-term conflict. Several officials described the war in Ukraine as a “war of attrition.” If NATO’s European countries were to face their own such war, their production would not be able to keep up for a lengthy war and would be outpaced by Russia, which has increased much of its production of military materials.

Lack of military production has caused many purchase orders of new equipment to take years, or even decades, to fulfill.

A number of leaders acknowledged that production would have to increase if Europe were to be faced with a more direct Russian threat.

Additionally, several European leaders acknowledged that Europe has fallen behind its American counterpart in militaristic and technological developments, and the gap will need to be closed if Europe is to defend itself properly.

The 2% defense spending threshold required for NATO member states to meet ties directly into this.

Most interestingly, several nations have stated that 2% may not be enough—and some nations that have yet to meet the 2% threshold have expressed this same belief.

In a panel related to security in the Arctic, Canadian Minister of Defence Bill Blair acknowledged that Canada has yet to reach the 2% mark but stated that it will. Further, Minister Blair stated that he thinks Canada should go beyond 2%.

“Canada will meet the 2% pledge and I think we even need to go beyond the 2% pledge.” -Canadian Minister of Defence Bill Blair

Canada has been facing pressure to increase its military spending. Canada presently only spends 1.34% of their GDP on defence, far below the requirement. Earlier in April Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a new defence policy which would see defence spending increased to 1.7% by 2030, still below the mark.

Canada has yet to provide a timeline for reaching 2%. However, amidst closing remarks in the Arctic security panel, Minister Blair did state he hopes to unveil Canada’s path forward in investments in the coming days. Separately, Canada’s Global News cites a “senior government source” as stating that Canada will unveil its plan to reach 2% spending on Thursday, July 11th, the last day of the summit.

Earlier today Minister Blair announced Canada’s plan to purchase 12 conventionally powered Arctic-capable submarines.

The number of prominent officials, both heads of state and defense ministers, who have stated the 2% mark may not be enough hints at a potential increase in the requirement, which was only set 10 years ago in 2014.

Nations arguing that the 2% defense spending target is insufficient say that even those meeting this benchmark struggle to adequately address their security needs and enhance their military capabilities to the required levels.

The US Election and NATO

The US presidential election in November is on the minds of many for a multitude of reasons. For NATO, there have been questions about the US’ future as a member of the alliance and its commitment to following the principles of the alliance, namely Article V, NATO’s collective defense doctrine.

Concerns have been raised from the words of former US President Donald Trump, who had previously implied the US might seek to leave NATO, and that he would allow Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO members that do not meet the 2% commitment.

Donald Trump seated next to the flag of NATO (Photo from Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images).

Earlier today, Trump directly stated that he would not seek to leave NATO if elected, instead saying “I just want them to pay their bills. We’re protecting Europe. They take advantage of us very badly.”

In December, the US passed a bill which would prevent the President from withdrawing from NATO without approval from the Senate or an Act of Congress.

Much of the conversation surrounding the US in the summit has been related to ensuring the longevity of its commitment to the alliance and its leadership role therein.

Meetings at the Sidelines

Outside of the confines of the summit itself, have been a series of meetings between officials from various nations. Most prominently have been meetings between President Zelenskyy and many different nations, as well as between PM Starmer and several other nations, who now holds these meetings as Prime Minister.

In total, President Zelenskyy has met with President Petr Pavel of the Czech Republic, PM Trudeau of Canada, Slovakian President Peter Pellegrini, Republican and Democratic politicians of the US House of Representatives, PM Starmer of the UK, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, President of the Netherlands Dick Schoof, and Prime Minister of Luxembourg Luc Frieden.

Meetings with President Zelenskyy are expected to continue tomorrow, when he is set to meet with President Biden.

In PM Starmer’s meeting with President Zelenskyy, he stated that he will continue the commitments of the previous administration and that the UK’s support for Ukraine will not drop in the slightest.

PM Starmer separately held a meeting with Chancellor Scholz, in which the two discussed enhancing European defense cooperation. Notably, the two leaders established their commitment to signing a “deep UK-Germany defense agreement,” the talks for which will continue in the European Political Community summit to be hosted in the UK next week. PM Starmer additionally held a meeting with President Biden at the White House.

Two non-NATO members also held a meeting at the sidelines of the summit: Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been pursuing a final peace agreement to end decades of tension. However, a number of issues have prevented this agreement from being signed. Presently, the issues largely revolve around border demarcation, and Azeri demands that Armenia change its constitution.

A photo of Azeri Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeyhun Bayramov (left), with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (centre) and Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs in Washington DC on July 10th, 2024 (Photo from the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has claimed the Armenian constitution makes territorial demands against Azerbaijan, due to its indirect reference to the 1989 declaration of unification between Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), a territory that is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan, but until recently inhabited overwhelmingly by ethnic Armenians.

The unification declaration followed a referendum in Artsakh, where residents voted massively in favor of unification with Armenia.

At the meeting, the two sides discussed progress towards achieving peace and committed to continuing down the path.

Declarations, Policies, and Agreements

As the day went on, NATO issued press releases on several agreements, policies, and declarations that had come to be during the summit.

NATO endorsed a new policy on “Women, Peace and Security,” adopted a pledge to increase defense industrial capacity, and agreed to establish a new “Integrated Cyber Defence Centre,” as well as a 38-point declaration outlining a number of NATO beliefs, commitments, and policies.

Most notably, the declaration includes further commitments to Ukraine and declares their path toward membership irreversible. It directly refers to China as a “decisive enabler of Russia’s war against Ukraine,” accuses Iran and North Korea of “fuelling Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” and makes six pledges for long-term support to Ukraine.

The NATO Summit Continues …

That concludes day two of the NATO summit. There is one day left, tomorrow, when a “substantial” aid package for Ukraine is expected to be announced. Check back tomorrow for a recap of day three!