China ‘not an enemy’, but NATO must face growing role, NATO chief says

Secretary General launches NATO 2030. 8 June 2020. Brussels, Belgium. [NATO]

NATO must work more closely with like-minded countries like Australia or Japan to preserve global rules and institutions, taking into account new security threats that are shifting the global balance of power, the alliance’s secretary-general said on Monday (8 June) while kick-starting the reflection process on the military alliance’s future.

Jens Stoltenberg said the COVID-19 pandemic has “magnified existing trends and tensions when it comes to our security”, but other security threats like Russian military activities, emboldened terrorist groups, and the rise of China “fundamentally shift the global balance of power”.

In December, NATO leaders had agreed at their acrimonious 70th-anniversary summit to focus more on the challenge of China’s “growing international influence” and military might.

With new focus on China, NATO patches up stormy summit

NATO leaders wrapped up their acrimonious 70th-anniversary meeting in relative harmony on Wednesday (4 December), bridging a series of intense internal divisions and agreeing to focus more on the challenge of China’s “growing international influence” and military might.

Asked if NATO would consider China as the new enemy, Stoltenberg said the alliance “does not see China as the new enemy” but must be ready to face up to the country’s growing might.

He pointed towards two major concerns: China’s revamped military development and how Beijing has been using propaganda and disinformation.

“They’re coming closer to us in cyberspace, we see them in the Arctic, in Africa, we see them investing in our critical infrastructure. And they’re working more and more together with Russia – all of this has a security consequence for NATO allies,” Stoltenberg said in the first the presentation of the project “NATO 2030”.

In a likely reference to China’s increased investment into 5G infrastructure in Europe, Stoltenberg warned that “we must avoid importing vulnerability,” pointing to cyber threats and other threats to values ​​such as freedom and democracy.

Alliance dissent

Speaking from Brussels, Stoltenberg called on NATO members to make the alliance “even stronger by making sure we are as effective politically as we are militarily”.

Leaders should work more closely together to reach “consensus sooner and more systematically”, the NATO chief said.

“Using NATO more politically also means using a broader range of tools,” he added, including economic and diplomatic means.

“What we need is the political will to use NATO, to decide and, when necessary, to act for our shared security,” he said.

“As we look towards 2030, we need to work even more closely with like-minded countries like Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, to defend the global rules and institutions that have given us security for many decades,” Stoltenberg said.

“Neither Europe alone nor America alone can resist these threats. It’s about making our strengths even stronger,” he emphasized, in a nod to the internal tensions racking it after recent clashes inside the alliance involved Presidents Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

His remark also came only days after Washington’s announcement to reduce the contingent of US troops in Germany drew criticism from the host country and took NATO allies by surprise.

Warsaw hopes to host some of the US troops withdrawn from Germany

Washington’s announcement to reduce the contingent of US troops in Germany drew criticism from the host country and took NATO allies by surprise. At the same time, Poland has been quick to offer to host some of these forces.

On Friday …

On Friday (5 June), the Wall Street Journal reported that the Trump administration had ordered the reduction of the number of US soldiers stationed in Germany by 9,500 to 25,000.

NATO officials have not yet commented on Washington’s withdrawal plan.

Asked to comment on the US announcement, Stoltenberg said only that NATO is “constantly consulting with US and allies on military posture in Europe”.

Stressing that he strongly believes in EU-NATO cooperation and “welcome EU efforts on defence”, he also said that at the same time “the EU cannot replace NATO” in guaranteeing European security.

Reflection process

In March, Stoltenberg appointed an international panel of 10 experts to determine NATO’s future after French President Emmanuel Macron declared last autumn that the alliance was experiencing “brain death”.

The strategic shift comes after a dispute between Macron and US President Donald Trump exposed major rifts in the Cold War-era military alliance.

NATO expert panel to determine how to revive 'brain dead' alliance

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Tuesday (31 March) the creation of a panel of 10 experts to determine NATO’s future after French President Emmanuel Macron declared last autumn that the alliance was experiencing “brain death”.

The strategic shift comes after …

NATO said the expert panel is meant to “offer recommendations to reinforce alliance unity, increase political consultation and coordination between allies, and strengthen NATO’s political role.”

This effectively means the panel is to determine how NATO can play a stronger political role and avoid public displays of dissent as seen around last year’s NATO summit in London.

The main report will be delivered at the next NATO summit in 2021.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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