NATO members unite to face evolving threats from Russia and China

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US President Joe Biden will attend a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a NATO summit on June 14, 2021 at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

Stephanie Lecocq | Reuters

WASHINGTON – In a joint statement released Monday at the close of the summit, NATO members pledged to address a number of traditional and evolving security challenges, including several from China.

“China’s growing influence and international politics can pose challenges that we must address together as an alliance,” reads the statement known as the communique. “We will involve China to defend the security interests of the alliance.”

The references to China mark a victory for President Joe Biden, who attended his first NATO summit as President.

Biden came to the summit with the intention of rallying the 30-member NATO alliance for a security policy that confronts both new threats such as cyber war and China, and traditional threats such as Russia’s military incursions into Eastern Europe.

But Beijing’s ambitious military armament was also mentioned in the communique.

“China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a greater number of sophisticated delivery systems to build a nuclear triad,” the communique said.

Biden said his administration would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with America’s closest allies, breaking sharply from his predecessor’s “America First” policy.

President Donald Trump regularly attacked NATO, questioning both the relevance and effectiveness of the decades-old alliance.

In contrast, Biden is blunt in his belief that NATO is a cornerstone of global stability and a vital player in addressing these evolving threats.

But NATO’s focus on China, as opposed to a clear focus on Russia, is not necessarily a welcome change for everyone.

Some of the smallest NATO members, many of whom are based in Eastern Europe, believe that deterring Russian aggression should be the primary concern of NATO’s security efforts.

Biden met with leaders of several Balkan countries as well as Poland’s President Andrzej Duda on Monday morning. The US military maintains a significant presence in Poland that is widely viewed as an important deterrent for Russia.

In response to the threat of hybrid warfare that Russia represents, NATO member states opened the door to potentially invoking Article 5 of the mutual defense agreement in the event of destabilizing disinformation attacks against “political institutions” and “public opinion”.

So far, Article 5 has only been used once – in defense of the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“We are improving our situational awareness and expanding the instruments available to us countering hybrid threats, including disinformation campaigns, by developing comprehensive prevention and response options, “the communique reads.

Russia’s disinformation campaigns hit Europe hard, especially ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum, during the 2017 protests in Catalonia, and ahead of the 2019 European Parliament elections.

On Tuesday, Biden will travel to Geneva for a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The President is expected to address many of the issues raised in the NATO communiqué.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) attend the Tsinghua University ceremony at the Friendship Palace on April 26, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Kenzaburo Fukuhara | Getty Images

A broad power struggle

Throughout his visit to Europe, Biden has referred to the competition between Western democracies and both Russia and China as more than just economic or military competition.

For the president it is a struggle over which system of government will emerge as a world power, Chinese-style authoritarianism or Western democracy and capitalism.

Both Moscow and Beijing regularly ignore the international rules and norms governing trade, security, defense, labor and human rights. This poses a serious threat to NATO and developing countries around the world.

In some ways, Biden’s approach to China is not that different from Trump’s approach.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington increased under the Trump administration, fueled by a trade war and obstacles preventing Chinese tech companies from doing business in the US.

However, Biden has said that his approach to China would differ from that of his predecessor in that he would work more closely with allies to resist Beijing.

“We will counter China’s economic abuses,” Biden said in a recent speech. “But we are also ready to work with Beijing if it is in America’s interest. We will compete from a position of strength by building better at home and working with our allies and partners.”

Biden’s message was warmly welcomed by the leaders of NATO members after four years under Trump in which the United States was a thorn in the side of the Alliance.

Trump repeatedly attacked NATO during his presidency, accusing it of being irrelevant and powerless. Trump even threatened to pull the US out of the alliance.

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