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Russia-Ukraine war is expected to dominate the agenda at NATO summit

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

NATO allies are gathering for a summit in Washington on the 75th anniversary of the alliance's founding in the city where it all began.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The alliance faces some of its biggest challenges as it looks ahead to political uncertainty in a number of countries, including the United States.

FADEL: Teri Schultz has covered NATO for many years, and joins me now. Hi, Teri.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So just yesterday, Russia launched one of its most brutal attacks on Ukraine to date, destroying the largest children's hospital in the country. Will this impact decisions being made at the summit?

SCHULTZ: Well, Leila, NATO has actually come to expect that Russian President Vladimir Putin will do something to draw attention to himself ahead of big events like the summit. But I think in this case, this horrible hospital attack will actually...

FADEL: Yeah.

SCHULTZ: ...Reinforce support for Ukraine and its long-standing plea for more air defense to block these Russian missiles and save civilian lives. So we're likely to see announcements on that at this meeting.

FADEL: Yeah, I was really shocked to see that hospital destroyed. I was there at the beginning of the war talking to kids being treated. We know Ukraine will not be offered membership at this summit. But what is teed up in terms of other kinds of support?

SCHULTZ: That's right - no membership, but there are a few items they'll get in this summit declaration. Leaders are expected to approve, for example, handing over to NATO the coordination of training Ukrainian soldiers and the logistics of getting weapons delivered to Ukraine. Those are things the U.S. has largely headed up till now out of Wiesbaden, Germany. And the idea is that it would be NATOized (ph), or institutionalized. The final declaration will also pledge to keep NATO-wide military contributions to Ukraine at the level of 40 billion euros collectively for at least the next year? Now, Leila, these are things Secretary General Stoltenberg proposed in part, specifically because he was worried about what might happen if Donald Trump is elected and follows through on those promises to cut off U.S. participation in NATO and cut off aid to Ukraine.

FADEL: Would this declaration really compel a potential Trump administration to support it?

SCHULTZ: That's a question I also have...

FADEL: Yeah.

SCHULTZ: ...Because the declaration isn't binding, and NATO doesn't have any enforcement mechanisms. So if Trump wins another term, I don't see how you hold him to these pledges. He's even indicated, of course, that he doesn't even feel bound by NATO's most sacred principle of collective security, the all-for-one, one-for-all pledge, which, by the way, as we recall, has only been ever used to help the U.S. after 9/11.

FADEL: And Trump has also tied U.S. solidarity to how much NATO allies, other NATO allies, spend on defense, believing that the U.S. is carrying everyone else.

SCHULTZ: He definitely does, and that's been very unsettling to the alliance, and it got only more so in this campaign cycle, when, as you probably remember, Trump said Russia should just do whatever the hell it wants to NATO allies under spending on defense. And that's, of course, according to this NATO goal of 2% of GDP. Now, 23 of the 32 allies are spending that 2%, but it's still true that there are too many military capabilities that NATO without the U.S. wouldn't have. And so allies urgently need to fill those gaps in any case.

FADEL: So it sounds like the allies were trying to Trump-proof NATO. Did they succeed?

SCHULTZ: It's too early to know, of course, but I'm surprised by one thing. They're not going to set a new higher target for defense spending. They all know that 2% of GDP is too low now, and more ambition might be seen positively by Trump, but they're not going to do it. There's, of course, a lot of concern about how admiringly Trump seems to view Vladimir Putin. But I think people are quietly optimistic that he wouldn't actually cut off all U.S. involvement in NATO. And I think, Leila, their best Trump-proofing plan is having chosen former Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to take over as the next Secretary General October 1. Trump knows him. He's even described him as a friend. And Rutte obviously knew a Trump reelection was a possibility, so he must feel up to it.

FADEL: That's Teri Schultz reporting from Brussels. Thanks, Teri.

SCHULTZ: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.