Ukraine will be front and center at NATO’s Washington summit in July, Julianne Smith, the permanent representative of the United States to NATO, told the CEPA Forum on September 27.
While there will be an element of the Washington summit, which will mark NATO’s 75th anniversary, that will be “celebratory,” Smith said: “No doubt, Ukraine will likely be part of the deliverables in Washington, [and] we will continue to advance our work with our Indo-Pacific partners.”
She dismissed reports in the press that NATO’s unity is fraying over Ukraine. “I see real momentum and a commitment and determination to keep supporting Ukraine, as it fights to defend its territory and push Russia off of Ukrainian soil,” she said.
The alliance shares a commitment to support Ukraine: “We understand what’s at stake. Ukraine isn’t just defending its territory, Ukraine is defending the values that we are all here to protect. And I don’t think any ally sees any alternative,” Smith said, adding: “No one has suggested that the support go away, that it fades, that it be adjusted.”
In a separate discussion with Catherine Sendak, director of the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at CEPA, General Christopher Cavoli, Supreme Allied Commander of Europe (SACEUR) and Commander of US European Command, suggested that the alliance not let “the smaller things and small differences get in our way.” Cavoli received CEPA’s 2023 Transatlantic Leadership Award for his contributions to strengthening the alliance and support for Ukraine.
Touching on the theme of this year’s CEPA Forum — “Winning the War, Winning the Peace” — Cavoli emphasized the importance of political leadership in winning the peace. “Civilian leadership is really key to all this,” he said. “You can have battlefield victories without it, but you’re not going to have a political outcome that you seek without that political leadership.”
He added: “We, the military, can get you across the battlefield, but I can’t get you all the way to the peace. And, so, I think it’s a very salient lesson of this war.”
At NATO’s summit in Vilnius in July, US President Joe Biden pledged Western allies will “not waver” in defense of Ukraine.
The Vilnius summit sent a “strong message of unity” to the Kremlin to “make sure that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin understands that he can’t wait us out, that NATO allies aren’t going to look away, and that our collective support for Ukraine is unwavering,” Smith said.
Smith discussed various topics at the CEPA Forum, including the outcome of the Vilnius summit and future plans for the alliance. NATO is thinking “more broadly about the wider set of partnerships” it has, including in the Indo-Pacific the Middle East, and Africa, and working with them on how to address the evolving relations with China and Russia, cyber threats, disinformation, and economic coercion.
“There’s a lot of learning going on,” Smith said. “We can learn from South Korea, we can learn from Estonia and those two countries can learn from one another.” The alliance is also enhancing its resilience to a variety of threats, she added. Smith participated in a discussion with Charlotta Collén, a senior fellow at CEPA.
Providing a rundown of the achievements at the Vilnius summit, Smith said NATO achieved significant progress in deterrence and defense, rolling out new regional plans to defend every inch of NATO territory. It also signaled to Ukraine that Kyiv no longer needs the Membership Action Plan (MAP) and offered practical and political assistance. This included the creation of the NATO-Ukraine Council, which Smith said: “puts Ukraine at the table as an equal with NATO allies to talk about shared security challenges, and also some of the reforms that are required for them to join the alliance.”
NATO has agreed on a significant shift in force posture since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This has included the addition of 20,000 US troops to NATO’s eastern flank. Other Western nations have also contributed. “We went from four multinational battalions before the war started to eight multinational battalions,” Smith said, adding all of these battalions are now scalable to the brigade level. “That’s a sizable shift for the alliance in terms of a commitment to enhance our deterrence and defense,” she noted.
Cavoli said that since 2022 NATO has made it “absolutely crystal clear that we have to get back to collective territorial defense. We’ve got two named adversaries — terror groups and the Russian Federation — both are active enough to put a fine point on the fact that we need to get back to this.”
The recent addition of Finland, and the anticipated inclusion of Sweden, into the alliance is going to shift the balance, Smith predicted, and these two nations will bring “capable militaries” and “experience in building resilience.”
On the question of NATO’s readiness to face cyber threats, Smith said there has been a push within the alliance to “up our game.” The Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) initiative, for example, which will be fully operational in 2025, is one such effort.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.