New NATO report recommends more political role for the Western alliance

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attends a meeting of EU defence ministers, in Berlin, Germany, 26 August 2020. [EPA-EFE/SEAN GALLUP]

After French President Emmanuel Macron said NATO was suffering “brain death” last year, a report to be published on Tuesday (1 December) on reforming the alliance proposes solutions on how to stay relevant in face of new challenges from Russia and China.

The report “NATO 2030 – United for a New Era”, prepared by a group of so-called ‘wise persons’ since the beginning of this year, contains 138 reform proposals on some 60 pages.

It comes amid growing doubts about the purpose and relevance of the alliance and is to argue NATO alliance should seek a more political role as the linchpin of the West.

According to NATO diplomats, the contents of the report are a ‘riposte’ to Macron’s allegations and a response to ‘legitimate criticism’ over the alliance’s slow adaptation to the future.

France's Macron decries NATO 'brain death' ahead of anniversary

European countries can no longer rely on the United States to defend NATO allies, French President Emmanuel Macron warned in an interview on Thursday (7 November), only weeks ahead of a meeting of NATO leaders in London, supposed to mend the widening cracks in the Western military alliance.

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is set to discuss the findings with NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday, before drawing up a policy paper to be presented to the alliance’s heads of state and government during a summit next year.

“I will then develop my proposals for the heads of state and government when they meet next year,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

“And I’m looking forward to that because NATO has proven to be a very agile alliance,” he said.

Circumventing vetoes 

In order to improve NATO’s ability to act, the expert group will propose a series of measures at the expense of unity, which breaks with previous basic principles of the alliance.

According to leaked information, the right to veto is to be restricted and the principle of unanimity to be weakened, but not abolished, to speed up decisions and prevent “increasingly frequent blockades by individual countries”.

The idea is likely to meet with resistance from several members, but especially in Ankara, London and by Eastern Europeans, for different reasons.

The recommendations are set to include advice that “foreign ministers meet more regularly” instead of disputes being dealt with at NATO ambassadors level and that the alliance’s Secretary-General take a more prominent role in mediating disputes.

Additionally, ‘Coalitions of the Willing’ within NATO could be made possible., which would translate into the alliance being able to act in the future even if not all members approve a mission.

China on their mind

The report is also likely to express concern about disunity among alliance members in the face of new emerging threats.

“China is no longer the benign trading partner that the West had hoped for. It is the rising power of our century and NATO must adapt,” said one NATO diplomat who has seen the report, pointing to Chinese activity in the Arctic and Africa and to its heavy investments in European infrastructure.

Part of NATO’s response should be maintaining a technological advantage over China, protecting computer networks and infrastructure, the diplomat said, citing the report, which will recommend that a consultative body on policy towards Beijing is set up, although he acknowledged not all recommendations will be adopted.

The alliance could also forge closer ties with non-NATO countries such as Australia and focus more on deterrence in space, where China is developing assets, the report suggests.

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.

This comes as in a first, NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday are to discuss the rise of China together with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea as well as Finland, Sweden and EU’s chief diplomat Joseph Borrell.

In remarks to reporters ahead of the report’s publication, Stoltenberg said China’s rise posed “important challenges to our security”.

“China is investing massively in new weapons. It is coming closer to us, from the Arctic to Africa. China does not share our values … and tries to intimidate other countries,” he told a news conference, urging allies to come together on the issue.

NATO should consider including China in NATO’s official master strategy document, its “Strategic Concept”, diplomats cited the report as saying, though it will stop short of declaring the country an adversary.

Europe’s strategic considerations

From anger over Turkey’s decision to buy a Russian weapons system and its dangerous maritime standoff in the Eastern Mediterranean to US doubts over Europe’s commitment to its own defence, NATO has also faced calls from Trump to do more in the Middle East.

The report comes at a time when the EU, nervous about US retreat from Europe and the changing threat landscape, has started work on its own “Strategic Compass” and military doctrine by 2022.

It comes amid a growing debate over whether Europe should aim to enhance its military might independently from the US, despite the prospect that the change in the White House might reverse the hostile tone towards European allies.

The recommendations of the report, NATO diplomats said, has not entirely taken the US election outcome into account, but remains valid.

Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday he had invited Biden to a summit in Brussels “early next year” with the other allied leaders.

“The specific date is not yet decided. But there will be a NATO summit and of course, all NATO leaders will be there,” he said.

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Edited by Georgi Gotev

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