NATO agrees to take on coordination of some Ukraine security support. How that will work

WASHINGTON — (AP) — NATO has agreed to launch a new program to provide reliable military aid and training to Ukraine and help it get ready to join the alliance.

The plan will supplement, but not replace, the two-year-old Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which was created by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after Russia launched its February 2022 invasion into Ukraine. That group, with more than 50 nations from Europe and around the world, coordinates the delivery of much-needed weapons and training to Ukraine.

But the failure of the U.S. Congress to fund any weapons for months due to partisan gridlock late last year and early this year, as well as similar lags in European Union funds, underscored how vulnerable that effort was to the vagaries of politics.

And the delays allowed Russian troops to gain the advantage on the battlefield, and led to widespread complaints from Ukraine's forces about lack of equipment and weapons.

Some officials have described the new NATO organization as a way to "Trump-proof" alliance support for Ukraine in case former President Donald Trump wins the November election. But that may be a reach.

Here's what is planned and what it will and won't do:

Ukraine Defense Contact Group

Over the past two years, the U.S.-created group has evolved into a more sophisticated and organized effort that so far has pumped more than $100 billion in weapons, equipment and training into Ukraine.

The U.S. alone has sent more than $53.6 billion in security aid, including about $25 billion in presidential drawdown authority, under which weapons are taken from Pentagon stocks and sent quickly to Ukraine. The U.S. has provided more than $27 billion in longer-term funding for weapons contracts through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

The rest of the NATO members and other international partners have provided about $50 billion in weapons and security assistance, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, an independent research organization based in Germany.

An international coordination center was set up at Lucius D. Clay Kaserne, the U.S. Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany, to identify Ukraine's needs, and to locate equipment, weapons and spare parts in other countries that could fill those requirements. That group may eventually be absorbed into the new NATO organization.

And the contact group set up eight so-called capability coalitions headed by various countries to concentrate on specific military requirements: such as fighter aircraft, tanks, artillery, naval assets, air defense, de-mining, cyber and drones. Those are expected to continue.

The new NATO plan

Under the plan endorsed by NATO heads of state on Wednesday, the alliance will take on a broader role to coordinate training and equipment donations.

The effort will be based at the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden in Germany and is expected to be led by a U.S. three-star general. There will be about 700 staff members, including some who will work at logistics nodes in eastern allied nations.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the new program would put support for Ukraine on a “firmer footing for years to come” but would avoid making the alliance a party to the war between Russia and Ukraine.

And NATO also is pledging to provide at least €40 billion ($43.3 billion) within the next year, and “to provide sustainable levels of security assistance for Ukraine to prevail,” while taking into account budgets and other agreements.

The new coordination effort is dubbed the NSATU — NATO Security Assistance and Training for Ukraine — and it will oversee three main areas:

A way to help Ukraine join NATO

A critical component of the new NSATU is that it will help facilitate Ukraine's effort to become a member of NATO.

Membership in the alliance requires that nations meet a litany of political, economic and security criteria. For example, Ukraine's military forces will have to meet certain standards of conduct and training, and their weapons and equipment have to be interoperable with those of other allied nations.

The NSATU will help ensure that as time goes on the weapons and training for Ukraine fit what would be required for NATO membership.

In announcing the effort earlier this year, Stoltenberg said it would help to organize training for Ukrainian military personnel in NATO member countries, coordinate and plan donations of the equipment that Kyiv needs, and manage the transfer and repair of that military equipment.

But is it Trump-proof?

Likely not.

A key incentive for the broader NATO organization, according to some officials, is the worry that Trump could regain the presidency and scale back support for the alliance as well as help to Ukraine.

Earlier this year, Trump reiterated his threat that he will not defend NATO members that don't meet defense spending targets. And he set off alarms in Europe by suggesting he would tell Russia to attack NATO allies he considered delinquent.

And the gap in U.S. funding for Ukraine this year was the result of opposition from Republican allies of Trump in Congress who blocked the aid package for months.

While moving some assistance for Ukraine under the NATO umbrella provides greater consistency, any change in U.S. administrations could trigger shifts in U.S. policy. And that could include limits on spending to support Ukraine or any other diplomatic or military operations.

Participation in the Ukraine contact group, for example, could be upended, as well as any other Pentagon program.

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