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NATO meets in Madrid for what the alliance calls a transformative summit

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The NATO defense alliance will be bigger by two.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

NATO leaders are at a summit in Madrid, rethinking how they can best counter Russia's threats in Europe and, obviously, the war in Ukraine. Turkey has not wanted to approve the membership applications of Finland and Sweden. But in a last-minute deal, Turkey has dropped its objections, and the two countries are now on their way to full membership. President Biden, meanwhile, has already been talking with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, outlining what the U.S. plans are in Europe for the next few months or longer.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Frank Langfitt is in Madrid. Frank, what did President Biden have to say?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: He said that, you know, since the war began, the U.S. has actually already sent another 20,000 troops to Europe, bringing the total to 100,000. And then he talked about the other things that the U.S. plans to do to be able to deter Russia - adding two destroyers to Spain, bringing the number up to six. And this is very interesting, establishing a permanent headquarters for the U.S. Army Corps in Poland. And I've talked to a general in Poland about this. They're very excited there. They plan to work and build a base for the United States. And as to last night's announcement, I think that it's very helpful to NATO because it allows them to present sort of a stronger, more unified image.

One of the questions, though, is it could take some time in terms of letting in Finland and Sweden into the alliance. And that's because all 30 parliaments of the allies will have to vote on this. But it is seen very much as a done deal, and it has a lot to do, I think, with the optics that NATO wanted to be sending as the war continues to grind on in Ukraine.

MARTINEZ: Frank, these meetings in Europe, the G-7 first and now this NATO meeting, I can't imagine that Russia's too thrilled by this.

LANGFITT: No. It hates all of this, for obvious reasons. I mean, one of the reasons that President Putin said that he sent troops into Ukraine was to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. So it does seem to be backfiring. And one way Russia seems to respond is by firing more missiles. You know, in recent days there have been increased missile strikes. And many people think it was timed to the summit here and the G-7 meeting earlier in Germany. And earlier this week, missiles killed 18 people at a shopping mall in Ukraine and also hit an apartment building for the second time in Kyiv.

MARTINEZ: Thing is, Sweden and Finland's decision to join NATO was triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. So what do they bring to the table?

LANGFITT: Analysts that I've talked to say they are helpful because they've also - they've been very close to NATO all along and have worked in exercises, things like that. This is what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday about the role that they could play.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENS STOLTENBERG: Finland and Sweden also brings to NATO advanced, well-developed, well-equipped forces and stable, strong political institutions.

LANGFITT: And, A, I've got to say, you know, Finland has a very large, well-trained army. Sweden has very good intelligence gathering. They also control Gotland Island, which is in the middle of the Baltic Sea. And strategically, this is really, really important.

MARTINEZ: What's happening at the summit today?

LANGFITT: Well, I think we're to see more announcements. I think what we saw from President Biden was kicking off a series of announcement of increased NATO troop deployments to the eastern flank of the alliance. And this is part of a major shift. And, you know - got to remember, since the end of the Cold War, the eastern flank has been pretty quiet because Russia wasn't seen as much of a threat. And I think what we're going to hear is more troops going to the Baltic States. And, of course, Russia will be watching this very closely.

MARTINEZ: And NATO's going to be putting out a strategy blueprint for the next decade. Anything new in that thing?

LANGFITT: I think you're going to see a big focus on China. President Biden has said while he's obviously very, very concerned about Russia, China remains a big, long-term challenge to the alliance and to the United States.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Madrid. Frank, thanks.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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