For NATO, Russia is the number one threat. But for the first time, the defense alliance is also focusing more closely on China. The People’s Republic is a “strategic challenge”, according to the summit in Madrid. NATO is particularly concerned about the growing cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.
New threats require new strategies – also for NATO. To respond to heightened threats since Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine and global challenges posed by China, the Defense Alliance has unveiled a new strategic vision for the first time in more than a decade. The “mission statement,” presented at the Madrid Summit, is intended to provide guidance on the Alliance’s defense posture, military direction and spending.
A last strategy paper of this kind appeared twelve years ago, in 2010. At that time, with a view to a post-Soviet Russia, it was formulated in a much more optimistic way, saying that a “real strategic partnership” with Moscow was being sought. The time is now over. “There is no peace in the Euro-Atlantic area,” says the new concept. “The Russian Federation has violated the norms and principles that have contributed to a stable and predictable European security order. We cannot rule out the possibility of an attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Allies.”
But while the NATO summit – like the G7 summit before it – was dominated by the Ukraine war, China has now also come into focus.
NATO summit: China not an opponent, but a “challenge”
For the first time, the new concept describes China as a direct “challenge” to the defensive alliance established after World War II as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. At the insistence of the USA, the member states pledge to face up to the global ambitions of the People’s Republic. It says literally that China’s “declared ambitions and coercive measures challenge our interests, security and values”.
The statement accused Beijing of “controlling key technology and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains.” The country “is using its economic influence to create strategic dependencies and increase its influence,” according to the statement. “It seeks to undermine the rules-based international order, including in space, cyber and maritime.” In addition, the confrontational rhetoric and disinformation is directed against allies and therefore harms the security of the alliance.
“We are now entering an era of strategic competition…China is significantly expanding its armed forces, including in the area of nuclear weapons, and is harassing its neighbors, including Taiwan,” underscored NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Madrid summit. “China is not our opponent, but we must keep a clear eye on the serious challenges it poses.”
Great Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson also warns to learn lessons from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and to be particularly vigilant against possible Chinese attacks against Taiwan. His Secretary of State, Liz Truss, went even further, calling for faster action to help Taiwan with defensive weapons. “There’s always a tendency – and we saw that before the Ukraine war – (…) to wishful thinking, hoping that more bad things don’t happen and waiting until it’s too late,” Truss warned.
Russia remains the number one threat
Nevertheless, one thing is clear for NATO: Russia remains the “greatest and most immediate threat to the security of the allies and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”. “President Putin’s war against Ukraine shook peace in Europe and triggered the biggest security crisis in Europe since World War II,” NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said in Madrid, pledged continued support for Ukraine.
In this context, two important measures were decided: first, a massive rearmament in the east, second, the expansion of the alliance to the north. Accordingly, the number of soldiers on high operational readiness is to be increased from 40,000 to 300,000 and at the same time more heavy weapons are to be transferred to the Baltic States and Poland. The USA also agreed to further expand their troop presence in Europe. “Together with our allies, we will ensure that NATO is able to counter threats from all directions and in all areas – on land, in the air and at sea,” announced US President Joe Biden.
In addition, after weeks of Turkey’s blockade, Finland and Sweden were given the green light to join as new members. A decision Stoltenberg described as “historic” that will extend the alliance’s border with Russia by more than 1,300 kilometers. However, it will probably be a few months before the two states are actually members of the alliance (read more about this here).
The new strategy concept states: “In view of their hostile policies and actions, we cannot consider the Russian Federation as our partner.” Relations could only improve again if Moscow ceased its aggressive behavior and fully complied with international law. Nevertheless, one is ready to keep the communication channels to the Kremlin open.
Beijing and Moscow – even more dangerous together
NATO is therefore particularly concerned about the growing cooperation between Beijing and Moscow. “The deepening of the strategic partnership between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutually reinforcing attempts to undermine the rules-based international order run counter to our values and interests,” the strategy paper said.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissing also warned in the stern talk (€) against making Russia an ally of China – and thus further escalating the conflict between Washington and Beijing. “Excluding Russia doesn’t correspond to my vision of Europe,” he criticizes. “That would make Russia an ally of China.” In any case, China is currently the “much greater concern” of the 99-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner. “China and the United States are superpowers capable of destroying humanity (…)”, Kissinger said.
On the 126th day of the war, the Ukrainian president is likely to see things differently in his country. As at the EU and G7 summits, Volodymyr Zelenskyj was connected to the NATO summit via video. He warned of possible Russian attacks on other countries.
“The question is: Who is next for Russia? Moldova? The Baltic States? Or Poland? The answer: all of them,” said Zelenskyy. Because Russia’s true goal is NATO.
Sources: “NATO Mission Statement”, “NY Times”, “Guardian”, with Reuters and DPA material