Joe Biden seeks to quell domestic fears over his fitness for office with NATO address to global leaders

Biden is facing questions over his ability to serve as he hosts world leaders for the annual NATO summit in Washington

Andrew Feinberg
in Washington DC
Wednesday 10 July 2024 00:15 BST
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Jens Stoltenberg awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom at NATO summit

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Joe Biden sought to quell domestic concerns over his fitness for office on the world stage on Tuesday as he touted the strength of the NATO alliance and announced new steps to bolster Ukraine against Russian attacks, continuing his signature foreign policy achievement at a moment of crisis for his administration and re-election campaign.

75 years after 12 countries came together in Washington to sign a historic mutual defense pact in the wake of the Second World War, the president touted the alliance’s progress before leaders representing the 32 treaty signatories at the annual NATO leaders’ summit.

Speaking before an audience of NATO leaders, including newly-minted British Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer, Biden said the North Atlantic Treaty, that the alliance birthed 75 years ago, is stronger and more vital than ever and promised it would continue to support Ukraine’s defense needs.

“We know Putin won’t stop at Ukraine, but make no mistake, Ukraine can and will stop Putin,” he said. The US and partner nations intend to provide Ukraine with five “strategic air defense systems” in the coming months and “dozens” of “tactical air defense systems”, Biden added.

The Mellon Auditorium is the place where the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949
The Mellon Auditorium is the place where the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949 (AP)

Biden spoke from the historic Mellon Auditorium, where representatives of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and US signed on to the Washington Treaty.

He said the now-32 member alliance is “more powerful than ever” with the recent additions of Sweden and Finland and touted its’ work in strengthening Ukraine against Russia’s invading forces.

Sweden and Finland — both longtime practitioners of neutrality — had joined “not just because their leaders sought it, because their citizens called for it in overwhelming numbers,” he said.

He also said NATO’s current incarnation is “better resourced than it has ever been” because 23 allies will meet the 2 per cent defense spending goal this year, with the remainder of the NATO members set to “get there soon.”

Biden said it was good that NATO is “stronger than ever” in the face of Russia’s nearly three-year-old war against Ukraine.

The president recalled how pundits and analysts had predicted Kyiv’s fall within days of the start of the war and he credited one man, outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, with helping the alliance to remain “the bulwark of global security”.

President Joe Biden, center, poses with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Finnish President Alexander Stubb before delivering remarks on the 75th anniversary of NATO at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on July 9
President Joe Biden, center, poses with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Finnish President Alexander Stubb before delivering remarks on the 75th anniversary of NATO at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on July 9 (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

That “did not happen by accident” and was not “inevitable,” Biden continued.

“Again and again, at critical moments, we chose unity over disunion, progress over retreat, freedom over tyranny, hope over fear. Again and again, we stood behind our shared vision of a peaceful, prosperous transatlantic community. Here at this summit, we gather to proclaim NATO is ready and able to secure that vision today and well into the future,” Biden said.

The president praised Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian Prime Minister who has helmed the alliance for a decade, for staying on for an additional two years at his request, and offered a mock apology to the secretary’s wife.

“Today, NATO is stronger, smarter and more energized than when you began, and a billion people across Europe and North America. Indeed, the whole world will reap the rewards of your labor for years to come in the form of security, opportunity and greater freedom,” he said.

Biden closed his remarks by awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Stoltenberg, the highest American civilian honor.

Biden’s NATO speech comes as questions continue over his fitness to serve in the Oval Office on account of his disastrous debate performance against Donald Trump last month.

A number of Democratic House members have called on the 81-year-old president to withdraw from the 2024 race in favor of a younger candidate, while several members of the Senate are understood to have told colleagues they do not believe Biden can defeat Trump a second time.

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