NATO promises Ukraine $43bn in aid, ‘irreversible path’ to membership

Pledges come as US also announced it will deploy longer range missiles to Germany and bolster defences against Russia.

US President Joe Biden gestures as the NATO heads of state pose for a family photo during the NATO 75th anniversary summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, on July 10, 2024.
US President Joe Biden gestures as the NATO heads of state pose for a photo during the NATO 75th anniversary summit at the Walter E Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, on July 10, 2024 [Brendan Smialowski/AFP]

NATO leaders have pledged to provide Ukraine with at least $43bn in military aid within the next year to bolster its defences against Russia and formally declared Kyiv on an “irreversible path” to membership in the Western military alliance.

The pledges, included in a final communique following a NATO summit in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, came as the alliance’s members also announced individual and joint steps to boost Ukraine’s and Europe’s security.

This includes the United States, Netherlands and Denmark announcing that the first NATO-provided F-16 fighter jets would be in the hands of Ukrainian military pilots by this summer. The US also said it will be deploying longer-range missiles in Germany in 2026, a major step aimed at countering what the allies say is Russia’s growing threat to Europe.

The move will send Germany the most potent US weapons to be based on the European continent since the Cold War. It would have been banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by the US and the Soviet Union in 1987, but that collapsed in 2019.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted on social media platform X his appreciation of NATO’s effort to strengthen his air force, saying the new fighter jets “bring just and lasting peace closer, demonstrating that terror must fail”.

‘Ukraine’s future is in NATO’

Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Washington, DC, said NATO has committed to most of what Zelenskyy has been asking for, noting that in addition to the F-16s, the alliance has promised to provide Ukraine with dozens of air defence systems.

“In particular, the US has agreed to provide Ukraine with four Patriot missile systems, while other members are providing the upkeep and maintenance of these systems. So the Ukrainian president has been given most of what he’s been asking for – apart from one very vital thing and that is membership of NATO,” Hanna said.

The alliance’s communique, declaring “Ukraine’s future is in NATO”, promised to continue to support Kyiv “on its irreversible path to full Euro-Atlantic integration, including NATO membership”. But the invitation would come “when Allies agree and conditions are met”, it said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg underlined that Ukraine will not join the alliance’s ranks immediately, but insisted that must happen after the war is over to ensure that Russia never attacks Kyiv again.

Of the overall NATO assistance, he said, “We are not doing this because we want to prolong a war. We are doing it because we want to end a war as soon as possible.”

The US and some other countries have opposed membership for Ukraine during the conflict with Russia to avoid an escalation of tensions that could lead to a larger war. They also have stressed that Ukraine must take significant steps to address corruption as well as other systemic reforms.

The NATO communique also strengthened past language on China, calling it a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war effort in Ukraine and saying Beijing continues to pose systemic challenges to Euro-Atlantic security.

Stoltenberg told reporters it was the first time the 32 allies had jointly labelled China a decisive enabler of Russia’s war and called it an important message. He said NATO was not an organisation that imposes sanctions but added: “At the end of the day, this will be for individual allies to make decisions, but I think the message we send from NATO from this summit is very clear.”

Anxiety over Trump

The NATO chief also delivered a passionate defence of the military alliance itself when reporters asked about the possibility that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, a NATO critic, could pull US support for the alliance if he wins a November election. The questions come amid heightened European anxiety over 81-year-old President Joe Biden’s staying power after he fumbled a debate on June 27.

Stoltenberg, without naming Trump, said the criticism of the alliance from the US has “not been about NATO. It’s about NATO allies not investing enough in NATO. And that has changed”.

While Trump has renewed his threat not to defend any NATO members from a Russian attack if their military spending does not meet the alliance’s target of at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP), the number of allies meeting this target since 2021 has increased from six to 23.

“The United States has been understood,” Stoltenberg said. “Allies have acted.”

Trump, meanwhile, was asked several times on Fox News Radio whether he wants the US to exit NATO. He answered, “No, I want them to pay their bills.”

Biden, meanwhile, stressed the importance of NATO as he hosted the North Atlantic Council, the formal decision-making body of the alliance, at a Washington, DC, convention centre, noting that since he took office, not only has military spending increased but the number of battle groups has doubled on NATO’s eastern flank.

“We can and will defend every inch of NATO territory, and we will do it together,” the US leader said.

The summit of the leaders from the 32 NATO countries – plus Pacific partners Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, as well as Ukraine – is expected to be one of Biden’s last appearances at an international forum before the US election. And with less than four months to go before the election, Biden’s political travails have loomed large over the gathering.

NATO leaders “do see that Joe Biden is probably not the leader they encountered one, two or three years ago, and they’re concerned about that because [he has brought] NATO back into the centre of American national security policy”, said former US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs PJ Crowley.

“And they also recognise that while these pronouncements are valuable and important and vital to Ukraine’s future, they potentially have… an eight month shelf life, given Donald Trump’s pretty established view where he’s sceptical of all alliances and NATO in particular.”

Still, the pledges of aid are vital in the short term, Crowley said.

“In one way or another, Ukraine has to be sustained, it has to be rebuilt and its sovereignty has to be protected,” he said. And one of the routes that is “strengthening the Ukrainian position prior to a necessary negotiation, as I think the instinct of Trump will be to go to negotiations and try to get the best deal that’s available, whenever he chooses to do that.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies