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What did NATO members take away from President Biden’s speech?

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

So what did NATO allies take away from Biden's speech? Rachel Rizzo is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Europe Center who focuses on NATO and transatlantic security. Rachel, good morning.

RACHEL RIZZO: Good morning.

PFEIFFER: You listened to this speech last night. In your opinion, after hearing it, how much, if at all, was Biden able to reassure any of these allies who are hearing and maybe sharing the skepticism about his abilities and his age?

RIZZO: So President Biden needed to kick off this NATO summit looking strong and sounding presidential. And I do think that's exactly what he did. The cloud of his debate with Donald Trump a couple of weeks ago has sort of loomed over conversations. But I think he certainly did what he needed to do last night to quell concerns from NATO allies and Democrats on the Hill and around the U.S. He sent a message to Moscow that its aggression won't stand. He sent a message to Ukraine that NATO allies are behind it in its fight against Russian aggression. And he sent a message to allies and, indeed, the world that under his presidency, the NATO alliance is stronger and more unified than ever before. It's lasted 75 years for a reason, and it'll last for 75 more.

PFEIFFER: Although you've said he had to sound strong, but we've heard a lot about he can sound good on a teleprompter and not so good off a teleprompter. This was presumably a teleprompter speech. Do you think that NATO allies were aware of that and that it was a crutch for him?

RIZZO: It was a teleprompter speech, but I think the message that he sent was much more important. And, you know, like you've mentioned, NATO allies are nervous about what might come from the U.S. election this November. The presidency - or the election is sort of looming over this summit as well. So teleprompter or not, I think the message of unity and the message of U.S. support is the one that he wanted to tell, and I think that's exactly what he got across pretty strong.

PFEIFFER: You mentioned, of course, NATO allies are very concerned about how this election will play out because if Trump is elected, he's been fairly negative about NATO, and they have to take that into account. Are there ways that the NATO countries are trying to prepare for the possibility that they could lose Biden and have to work with Trump in some way?

RIZZO: Sure. I mean, NATO has a good story to tell. As Biden said in his speech, there were nine NATO allies spending the target of 2% of GDP on defense when he entered office. That number is now at 23. That's a huge jump. It should be at 32, but the allies that aren't spending are certainly feeling the pressure. But what I tell nervous Europeans is, look, you've done this before. Donald Trump is certainly an example of how rhetoric can be dangerous. But keep increasing defense spending; pull more of your weight in European continental security. And hopefully, that's enough to ensure that NATO won't be on the chopping block should Trump win again in November.

PFEIFFER: Ukraine, of course, very much wants more military financial support from the U.S. The last time the U.S. approved an aid package, it was hard to do - a lot of fractures in Congress over that. Did Biden say anything to try to reassure NATO allies that the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine?

RIZZO: He was very clear, I think, in that NATO as an alliance is continuing its support for Ukraine. The announcement of new Patriot batteries for Ukrainian air defense - that's something that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked for for quite some time. I think Ukraine will walk away from this summit happy with what NATO has put on the table. Institutionalizing support for Ukraine is a word we hear a lot. The irreversible bridge to NATO is another term we hear a lot. So even if there are domestic challenges that the U.S. is facing in terms of its continued support for Ukraine, the hope is that together, NATO allies have made it clear that in the medium and indeed the long term, alliance support is there to stay.

PFEIFFER: However, NATO membership is not on the table for Ukraine. So what else could NATO pledge for Ukraine, if not that?

RIZZO: So you're right, NATO is not going to issue an invitation to Ukraine this summit. But there are more things on the table that I think Ukraine will be very happy about - a new command in Wiesbaden, Germany, to coordinate security assistance and the training of Ukrainian troops; a senior civilian NATO official in Kyiv; a minimum baseline funding of 40 billion for Ukraine within the next year; and then, as I mentioned before, new missile defense systems for Ukraine. So these are all good things on the table, short of NATO membership, that will help Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression.

PFEIFFER: That is Rachel Rizzo. She is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Europe Center. She listened to Biden's speech last night. Thanks for coming on this morning.

RIZZO: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
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