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Takeaways from this week's NATO summit

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're here because we've been reporting all this week on the biggest NATO summit in years. Now, these big international gatherings can often come across like dry, formulaic affairs, with the big issues resolved incrementally or not at all. But this year was obviously different, after Russia set off the largest land war in Europe in decades. Because of that, NATO allies pledged to send more weapons to Ukraine, but it also agreed to send thousands more troops to Eastern Europe, to add two new members and, for the first time, characterize China as a strategic challenge.

We've decided to stay on to bring you other stories from Madrid this weekend. But also, we wanted to spend a little more time thinking about what this year's historic NATO gathering will mean for Europe and for the U.S. going forward. To start us off, we asked NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt to join me. He's also been reporting here in Madrid all week, and he joined me here at a cafe in Madrid. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It is great to be here.

MARTIN: So, Frank, you've been in Europe for a few years now.

LANGFITT: Yeah.

MARTIN: You've been to more than your share of meetings like this, I would say. What's your biggest takeaway from this meeting, and why do you think it matters?

LANGFITT: Well, I think one of the things that you were talking about is you're seeing real action. If you remember, after the Cold War, there were not many troops in Eastern Europe at all. You just didn't need them because there wasn't seen as a threat. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has jolted the alliance in a way that we haven't seen in a very long time.

One of the things I learned from talking to people here was that they're also poising a lot of troops - rapid reaction troops - in some of the stronger Western nations in NATO to be able to send them very quickly - so, for instance, the case of Estonia in the Baltics. There's a great fear that if the Russians were ever to make a move, they would just roll through some of these countries. And so the United Kingdom now is poised to send thousands of troops very quickly to preposition equipment like tanks, missile systems, and that's a big change. I was speaking to a guy named Andres Sutt. He's the foreign minister of Estonia. This is what he had to say.

ANDRES SUTT: The key point really is to make the aggression against any NATO member just implausible.

MARTIN: No, I agree. I talked with the prime minister of Estonia earlier this week as well, and she said exactly the same. You know, obviously, Russia's attack on Ukraine loomed very large over the proceedings. And as you just pointed out, NATO members made it clear that they would be helping each other. But what else did we hear about Ukraine? I mean, the situation there is grinding on in a very violent way.

LANGFITT: U.S. President Biden said they're going to send another $800 million in weapons to Ukraine. But the fact of the matter is, you speak with Ukrainian soldiers and commanders there - they don't have enough. And their great concern is that the Russians will continue in this war of attrition, take more of the country and they end up in a situation where the country maybe ends up being partitioned and they can't get the Russians out.

MARTIN: So Ukraine dominated this week's summit. But I want to hear about another development regarding your previous assignment, Frank, which was China. There was specific language in the communique about China. How big of a deal was that?

LANGFITT: This was actually, I think, a really big deal. For the first time, NATO actually discussed the nature of China in what it's called its sort of strategic concepts - basically, strategic planning for the next 10 years. Let me read you this. It says, China's ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values. Well, that sounds obvious. But to get all 30 countries in NATO to agree with that - some of whom want really good trade relations with China - that's a big change. That's a big change from when I first came to London out of Shanghai six years ago. I felt that there has been a shift. Back then, I think more European countries saw China in a more positive light, were more interested in making money, frankly, off of trade. And things feel different now.

MARTIN: What drove the shift?

LANGFITT: A variety of factors. It's been really interesting to watch this play out. So everything from Chinese actions - incarcerating a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the crackdown in Hong Kong - but the U.S. has also played a role. It sees China as a huge challenge. The U.S. has pressured countries to drop Huawei, the Chinese telecom company, from their systems, citing security. And the U.S. also put pressure on NATO allies to take a tougher line on China in general because they're really focused on China. One woman I talked to, Alena Kudzko - she's the director of GLOBSEC. It's a think tank in Slovakia. And she says the latest thing that soured some European countries was the - China's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

ALENA KUDZKO: Europeans have been traditionally very reluctant to go along with the United States, with how the United States see the threats emanating from China. But China's refusal to condemn Russia's action and actually China's going into a deeper partnership with Russia on many fronts - for many Europeans, that was a wake-up call.

MARTIN: Frank, before we let you go, let's loop back to what we talked about at the beginning - the events here at the NATO summit. Turkey dropped its objection to Sweden and Finland joining. What does that mean for Russia?

LANGFITT: I mean, it shows that the strategy of invading Ukraine, which they said was part to prevent the enlargement of NATO - it's backfired. And beyond that, there's actually a strategic problem for Russia because if you add Finland and Sweden, almost all of the Baltic region is going to be NATO countries, which means - during peacetime, that's fine. But if Russia were ever to try to wage war in the Baltic Sea, good luck. It's going to be extremely difficult because everybody's going to be a part of NATO. And the Polish ambassador to NATO - his name is Tomasz Szatkowski - he talked to me a little bit about this.

TOMASZ SZATKOWSKI: If you are contemplating some offensive operations and aggression against NATO in the northern part of the alliance, that certainly is a huge hinderance to your plans.

LANGFITT: So, I mean, that's another example of how, you know, Vladimir Putin's decisions has actually made his situation worse in Europe.

MARTIN: That is NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt, here with me in a cafe in Madrid, talking about the events of the week. Frank, thank you so much.

LANGFITT: It's great to do it, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.