Analysis | NATO Is Sending the Right Message to Putin

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At their summit in Madrid last week, NATO’s leaders agreed to add two new members, Finland and Sweden, and to beef up the alliance’s presence in Eastern Europe. Taken together, the moves will greatly enhance NATO’s firepower and strengthen its ability to deter Russian aggression. They also could create new risks, which all member states will need to be attentive to.

The summit’s most significant breakthrough came before it officially began, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to support the Nordic countries’ bids to join NATO. In exchange, Erdogan received assurances that both countries would not support Kurdish groups that Turkey considers terrorists — as well as a pledge from US President Joe Biden to support the sale of new F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

However distasteful to give in to Erdogan’s demands, the price was worth it. Adding Finland and Sweden will significantly upgrade the alliance’s air-defense and intelligence capabilities and help NATO counter Russian activity in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic. It also sends a powerful message to Russian President Vladimir Putin: namely, that his attempt to use the invasion of Ukraine to weaken and divide NATO has done just the opposite.

Having agreed to move forward with Nordic expansion, the leaders of NATO’s member states will still need to convince their respective legislatures to ratify the deal. In the meantime, the allies should increase intelligence sharing and defense cooperation with Finland and Sweden to deter Russia from taking hostile action while their membership bids are pending.

Beyond expanding to the north, NATO announced other measures that have the potential to transform Europe’s security landscape. Biden said the US will establish a permanent Army headquarters in Poland and rotate more forces to Romania and the Baltic states. Two additional squadrons of US F-35 stealth fighters will be sent to the UK to bolster NATO’s air power. Fully deploying the new assets will double the size of NATO’s defenses on its eastern flank.

It remains to be seen whether the allies can sustain the resolve that was on display in Madrid. US and European officials predict the war in Ukraine is likely to continue for months to come. Support for tougher sanctions against Russia may collapse as energy and food costs mount. It’s also possible that Putin will lash out in retaliation against NATO’s new assertiveness, perhaps by targeting vulnerable Baltic states — which might test the willingness of the US and Europe to heed their obligations to defend any ally that comes under attack.

The work of defending Ukraine’s freedom, let alone countering Russian influence in Europe, is far from over. But NATO has so far shown impressive unity and determination in meeting the challenge. For that, Biden and his fellow leaders deserve credit and support.

The Editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com/opinion

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