The Biden administration has thrown its full support for Finland and Sweden to join the NATO alliance.
We’ll detail what administration officials had to say about the Nordic countries’ application and the alliance’s plans to help usher in the potential additions.
Plus: Where efforts are with the $40 billion aid package to Ukraine and concerns over President Biden’s upcoming trip to Asia.
Welcome to Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.
Biden to press Congress, allies on NATO expansion
President Biden on Wednesday voiced his support for Finland and Sweden applying to join the NATO alliance and said he would work with Congress and other member nations to “quickly” approve their membership.
“Sweden and Finland have made the important decision to seek NATO membership after thorough and inclusive democratic processes in each country,” Biden said in a statement.
Why it’s significant: The alliance has become a focal point of international discussion in the months since Russia invaded Ukraine. Article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack on one member will be interpreted as an attack on all members, providing some protection for neighboring nations of Ukraine such as Poland.
Others in the region, including Sweden and Finland, have pushed to join the alliance in hopes of providing a stronger defense against the threat of Russian aggression should Moscow choose to expand its offensive.
An upcoming meeting: Both countries have announced in recent days that they are seeking NATO membership, and Biden will host Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at the White House on Thursday to discuss the issue.
A promise: “While their applications for NATO membership are being considered, the United States will work with Finland and Sweden to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression,” the president added, calling the two nations “stalwart partners of the United States.”
PENTAGON CHIEF BACKS ADDING SWEDEN
Should Sweden join NATO, the addition would make the alliance “better at defending ourselves,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday
“Our two militaries routinely exercise together. Your capabilities are modern, relevant and significant. And your addition to the alliance will make us all better at defending ourselves… that’s especially important at this crucial time,” Austin said ahead of a meeting with his Swedish defense counterpart, Peter Hultqvist, at the Pentagon.
Full support: Sweden along with fellow Nordic country Finland this week formally applied to join the 30-member organization following Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine in late February.
The two new bids have garnered the full support of the Biden administration, with national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday saying the U.S. is “confident” that Sweden and Finland will have a successful NATO ascension.
“Unanimously, President Biden’s national security team emphatically supported the entry of Finland and Sweden into the NATO alliance on the grounds that they have already proven themselves as highly capable security partners … they give a heck of a lot more than they take when it comes to a security partnership or an alliance,” Sullivan told reporters at The White House.
Interim defense: Though Article 5 protections do not kick in until a country officially becomes a member of NATO, Sullivan said the U.S. and its allies “will not tolerate an aggression” toward Finland and Sweden during that process.
“The United States is prepared to send a very clear message, as are all of our European allies, that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process. And there are practical measures that we can take along those lines that Secretary Austin will coordinate with his counterparts of Finland and Sweden,” Sullivan said.
Biden orders military to help on formula shortage
President Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to address the infant formula shortage in the United States.
The White House announced in a fact sheet that Biden would use the Cold War-era law to require suppliers to “direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good.”
“Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains,” the fact sheet said.
Additionally, the White House said Biden is launching “Operation Fly Formula” that will involve the federal government using Defense Department commercial aircraft to pick up baby formula from overseas that meets U.S. standards to get it quickly to American shelves.
Schumer blasts Paul’s delay of Ukraine aid package
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday slammed Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for delaying a $40 billion Ukraine aid package by one week, calling the move “repugnant” and predicting the legislation will pass the Senate Thursday.
“This should already have been done and over with, but it is repugnant that one member of the other side, the junior senator from Kentucky, chose to make a show and obstruct Ukraine funding,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
“For Sen. Paul to delay it for purely political motives is to strengthen Putin’s hand,” he added, noting, “the vast majority of Republicans want to see this legislation done.”
Earlier: Paul objected to passing the legislation last week, insisting that leaders add language to the package to give the Afghanistan inspector general oversight of how humanitarian and military assistance is spent in Ukraine.
Paul said Monday that voters in Kentucky have applauded his effort to slow the $40 billion package.
“I went home and I had a standing ovation from 200 people at a Lincoln Day dinner, who all say, ‘Thank you for holding up this money. We need help at home. We can’t get baby formula. We can’t pour our gas,’” he told reporters.
A way forward: The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday afternoon for a procedural motion to advance the package, 81-11.
US RAISES EMBASSY FLAG IN KYIV
The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv raised the Stars and Stripes once again on Wednesday, about three months after lowering it before Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Days before the war began, embassy employees were told to leave the country, and the U.S. flag was lowered as operations were shuttered.
“When we suspended operations at the embassy, we made the point clear: while we would relocate U.S. embassy personnel for their safety and security, this would in no way prevent our engagement with, and support for, the Ukrainian people, government, and civil society as well as our allies and partners,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
A tentative return: “We underscored our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, pledged to continue our assistance, and started working toward the day we could return to Kyiv,” he added. “Now, that day has come.”
Blinken said the embassy has put extra safety and security measures in place amid the war, which has left thousands of Ukrainian citizens dead, along with thousands of soldiers on both sides of the fight. Some of the darkest images from the war emerged from Bucha, a Kyiv suburb.
Earlier: Russia set its sights on Kyiv at the beginning of the invasion and came within miles of the city but was pushed back by Ukrainian forces and withdrew to shift focus on the Donbas region, where fighting is now centered.
US: ‘Genuine possibility’ of NK test amid Biden trip
The Biden administration is preparing for the possibility that North Korea will conduct a missile or nuclear test near or during President Biden’s visit to the region.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday that U.S. intelligence suggests that such tests before, during or after Biden’s upcoming Asia trip are a “genuine possibility.”
“Our intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test, including long-range missile test, or a nuclear test or, frankly, both in the days leading into, on or after the president’s trip to the region,” Sullivan said.
‘Preparing for all contingencies’: “We are preparing for all contingencies, including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we are in Korea or in Japan,” he added.
Sullivan said U.S. officials are coordinating with allies in the region and indicated the issue came up during his call earlier Wednesday with top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi.
Sullivan did not provide further detail on the intelligence assessment about the threat from North Korea, which has conducted several ballistic missile tests in recent months. The most recent test launch was reported on May 4.
About the trip: Biden is scheduled to leave for the Asia trip on Thursday. He’ll first visit South Korea, where he will meet with newly elected President Yoon Seok-youl, and then Japan, where he will meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Biden is also scheduled to participate in a meeting of the Quad alliance, which includes the U.S., Japan, Australia and India.
Also from The Hill: Biden’s Asia trip shifts focus to China
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Biden welcomes Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to the White House before he departs for Seoul for his first trip to Asia as president
A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Air Force Projection Forces Aviation Programs and Capabilities Related to the Fiscal Year 2023 President’s Budget Request,” at 8 a.m.
A House Foreign Affairs subpanel will hold a hearing on “The Ukraine Crisis: Implications for U.S. Policy in the Indo-Pacific,” at 8 a.m.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “Atomic Energy Defense Activities in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2023 and the Future Years Defense Program,” with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and National Nuclear Security Administration head Jill Hruby at 9:30 a.m.
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper will discuss his new book at a Washington Post Live event at 9:30 a.m.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will host a talk with FBI officials on Russian cyber threats at 2 p.m.
Colombia’s Minister of Defense Diego Molano will speak at The Wilson Center at 2:30 p.m.
The Brookings Institution will hold a discussion on “Addressing Climate Change in U.S. Defense Strategy and Budget,” at 3 p.m.
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