Biden pledges to beef up US military presence in Europe

The US president arrives in Spain for NATO summit, accuses Putin of trying to “wipe out” Ukrainian culture



US President Joe Biden and Spain's King Felipe VI meet at the Royal Palace of Madrid. — AP
US President Joe Biden and Spain's King Felipe VI meet at the Royal Palace of Madrid. — AP

By AP

Published: Tue 28 Jun 2022, 9:27 PM

US President Joe Biden opened his three-day visit to a NATO summit on Tuesday by pledging to beef up the American military presence in Europe as he denounced Russia’s Vladimir Putin for trying to “wipe out” Ukrainian culture in the ongoing war in eastern Europe.

Biden, in talks with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, detailed plans to increase the number of Navy destroyers based in Rota, Spain, from four to six. Biden said the move was one of multiple announcements that he and NATO allies would make to help bolster the alliance in the region during the summit.

Biden arrived in Spain for the NATO summit amid an intense barrage of Russian fire across Ukraine— including a horrific missile attack on a shopping mall in Kyiv on Monday— and growing weariness over the grinding war that is battering the global economy.

“Sometimes I think Putin’s objective is just to literally change the entire culture— wipe out the culture of Ukraine (with) the kinds of actions he’s taking,” Biden said after meeting with Sanchez.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Rota move “will help increase the United States and NATO’s maritime presence”. He said that Biden would announce additional moves on Wednesday.

Biden is looking to use this week’s NATO summit to shore up allies amid signs of fractures in the western alliance. After heaping an avalanche of sanctions on the Russian economy and funnelling billions of dollars of weaponry into the Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, NATO partners are showing signs of strain as the cost of energy and other essential goods has skyrocketed.

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As the US president departed for the NATO meeting from German Alps, where he first met this week with leaders of the Group of Seven, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the prices are putting European economies in “untenable” situation. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who addressed the G-7 on Monday, has openly worried that the West has become fatigued by the cost of the war.

To be certain, the US has already been building up its presence since shortly before the Ukraine war, adding about 20,000 troops to the 80,000 who were previously in Europe. And the US has signalled that the Russia-Ukraine war will have reverberations on its and NATO allies’ defence posture for years to come.

The US and Spain, in a joint statement following the Biden-Sanchez meeting, said the war “fundamentally altered the global strategic environment” and that the “aggression constitutes the most direct threat to transatlantic security and global stability since the end of the Cold War.”

Sullivan suggested that other moves Biden is set to announce will involve positioning “additional forces on the eastern flank” of NATO “in a steady state”. He declined to say if some US forces that serve in NATO’s eastern flank on a rotational basis would become permanent.

Biden said: “The new commitments will constitute an impressive display of allied unity and resolve.”

The US president praised Spain for taking in tens of thousands of Ukrainian migrants who have fled the war. “Our people have stood together,” Biden said during a meeting with Spain’s King Felipe VI. “They’ve stood up and they’ve stood strong.”

Biden is set to meet with Turkish President Erdogan on Wednesday, as it remains the most vocal holdout to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. The two countries made the historic step of applying for NATO membership in the aftermath of the Russian invasion.

Sullivan said the US does not have a role to play in negotiations between Turkey and the Nordic nations, which are being brokered by NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg.

He said that at the summit, the US would be an advocate for Finland and Sweden joining the alliance and sidestepped the question of whether the US could provide inducements to Turkey for supporting accession of the countries.

Biden will also look to highlight progress made by NATO members at meeting the alliance’s goal of spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product on their defence budgets.

Sullivan said a majority of members would report that they have met the benchmark or are on track to by 2024. He described it as a “substantial shift in the intensity and commitment of NATO allies in terms of putting their money where their mouth is.” Biden’s predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, fiercely criticized NATO partners who failed to hit the target.

The president will also hold a rare joint meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to discuss North Korea’s nuclear programme.

US and South Korean officials say that North Korea has all but finished preparations for its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear warhead designed for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korea may use its next nuclear test to claim that it has acquired the ability to build small nuclear warheads that can be placed on short-range missiles or other new weapons systems it has demonstrated in recent months, analysts say.


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