Biden seeks united front at NATO summit with deal to add Finland, Sweden

MADRID — President Joe Biden planned to meet with NATO leaders here Wednesday, looking to project a picture of strength and unity among members of the alliance in what could be one of the most consequential gatherings in its 73-year history.

Biden was able to get one contentious issue off the table on the first day of the summit by encouraging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to drop his opposition to Finland and Sweden’s joining NATO. The three countries’ foreign ministers signed a memorandum Tuesday to confirm that Turkey will back Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids, removing the last clear barrier to their entry.

Biden spoke with Erdoğan on Tuesday morning, encouraging him to “seize this moment and get this done in Madrid,” a senior administration official said. While the U.S. didn’t directly broker the deal, Biden tried “to help put a thumb on the scale to get this across the finish line,” the official said. Biden and Erdoğan are scheduled to meet Wednesday.

The agreement to expand the alliance, along with announcements about increasing the number of troops along NATO’s eastern flank, is intended to greatly bolster the alliance’s abilities to fend off any potential Russian aggression toward its member states.

The last time the NATO leaders met, for an emergency meeting in Brussels in March, there was a sense of triumph among the members as they locked arms against Russia, fearing they could be next if Ukraine were to fall. It was a stark reversal from a few years earlier, when members openly questioned whether the alliance was still relevant.

But while the 30 NATO members have maintained their resolve in supporting Ukraine, there have been diverging views over the intervening months on a variety of issues, from how far to go in punishing Russia to the level of military preparedness needed.

Still, Biden hopes to project a show of unity to Russia coming out of the summit, an endeavor greatly aided by the deal among Turkey, Finland and Sweden.

“We have to stay together,” Biden said this week before a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “Because Putin has been counting on, from the beginning, that somehow NATO would and the G-7 would splinter.  But we haven’t, and we’re not going to.” 

Before the start of the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced a major overhaul of the group’s military posture and priorities, increasing the number of its forces at high readiness to more than 300,000 from the current level of 40,000, along with bolstering military supplies and equipment in the NATO members bordering Russia.