NATO Summit Considers: Ukraine Crisis, Rise Of Islamist Militants

Sep 4, 2014
Originally published on September 4, 2014 7:43 am
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DON GONYEA, HOST:

President Obama is in the Welsh city of Newport for the next two days. World leaders are meeting for a NATO summit and many are calling it the most important one in decades. NATO of course was created during the Cold War to defend Western Europe against the Soviet Union and with Russia threatening Ukraine NATO seems to be returning to its original job. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now from Wales. Hi, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Don.

GONYEA: So, before we get to the NATO summit itself President Obama stopped yesterday in Estonia. Not exactly on the way to Wales from Washington D.C., why did he spend the day there?

SHAPIRO: Well, the city of Tallinn is just about 100 miles from the Russian border - which helps answer your question. Estonia is one of several NATO member states that feels personally threatened by what is happening in Ukraine. Estonia used to be part of the Soviet Union, it is home to a lot of ethnic Russians and remember Eastern Ukraine also has a lot of Russian speakers and shares a border with Russia.

In Ukraine Moscow keeps saying it has a responsibility to defend Russian speakers. The West interprets that as a pretext to swallow up pieces of an independent European country. Ukraine is not a NATO member, Estonia is and the NATO alliance rests on this promise that an attack on one member state is an attack on all. So, in Tallinn yesterday President Obama said if Russia tries to repeat the Ukraine model in a place like Estonia the U.S. will respond.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So if such a moment you ever ask again who'll come to help, you'll know the answer - the NATO alliance, including the Armed Forces of the United States of America right here present now.

GONYEA: OK, so that's the president in Estonia - today he's at the NATO summit in Wales. How do we expect his message from yesterday to translate to the summit today?

SHAPIRO: The alliance is expected to take some steps to reinforce those reassuring words with actions. So NATO is creating, for example, what it calls a rapid response force that could deploy in 48 hours, adding to the troop presence along the Russian border, manning new basis. France yesterday said it's going to suspend delivery of two warships to Russia. The Baltic states and other Eastern European NATO members see all this as reassuring. The flipside of that is that Russia may see it as warning or threatening.

GONYEA: And what about anything concrete though? Will the alliance take any concrete steps to actually try to change the situation in Ukraine?

SHAPIRO: As for the situation in Ukraine, remember they're not a NATO member. NATO invited Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko to attend this summit. Poroshenko would like Ukraine to become a NATO member - that doesn't seem likely to happen immediately. The leaders have an entire session today focused on Ukraine. But this is not the sort of meeting where world leaders will discuss new sanctions - that would be an economic decision against Russia. NATO is a military alliance and there's certainly no talk of military strikes on Russia or anything of that effect.

GONYEA: OK, that Ukraine but there are other hotspots obviously. So, world leaders are also talking a lot about the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Most surprised that that topic would be on the agenda at that summit.

SHAPIRO: Well right, because NATO members believe this group threatens the West. Thousands of European and American passport holders have gone over to join the fight in Iraq and Syria. Just this week we saw another video of a U.S. journalist being beheaded. President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote a joint op-ed today in the Times of London. Part of it says when the threats to our security increasingly emanate from outside NATO's borders we must build more partnerships with others who share our values and want a tolerant and peaceful world.

GONYEA: NPR's Ari Shapiro at the NATO summit in Wales. Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're Welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.