NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday (15 March) told EU lawmakers he had “serious concerns” over actions by member Turkey and hoped an increased EU-NATO cooperation could counter China.
“I have expressed my serious concerns, and we all know there are serious differences and some issues, ranging from the eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish decision to buy the Russian air defence system S-400 or related to democratic rights in Turkey,” Stoltenberg said speaking in front of a joint session of the foreign affairs and defence committees in the European Parliament.
“But I believe NATO at least can provide an important platform for discussing these issues, raising these issues and having serious debates and discussions about different concerns,” he added, insisting the alliance was an important platform for resolving disputes involving Ankara.
Turkey has by now irritated most of its allies, particularly France, over its stance in a maritime territorial dispute with fellow NATO member Greece and its role in the conflicts in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.
NATO last year set up a “de-confliction mechanism” to try to avoid clashes between Turkey and Greece as tensions spiked over the eastern Mediterranean and the stand-off has since calmed.
Ankara itself has been on a broader diplomatic mission in recent months as it looks to improve ties with the EU and regional rivals such as Egypt amid uncertainty over Biden’s approach.
In December, Washington slapped sanctions on Turkey’s military procurement agency over Ankara’s decision to buy the S-400 missile defence system from Russia.
New US President Joe Biden has maintained a tough line over the purchase of Russian arms as his administration continues to figure out its approach to Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
NATO foreign ministers will gather next week in Brussels for the alliance’s first face-to-face meeting involving Biden’s team.
The meeting is set to hold yet another round of discussions about NATO’s reform proposals, which have recommended a more political role for the Western alliance.
The recommendations also included closer coordination between NATO and the EU with the idea of joint summits to “restore trust” at the highest level and direct liaison officers in the military staff.
“It is obvious that the strong transatlantic bond in NATO remains the cornerstone of Europe’s security now and for the future,” Stoltenberg told EU lawmakers in Brussels, urging MEPs to “push for more ambitious and practical” ways to work with the EU and NATO.
At the same time, Stoltenberg said the US and EU should quickly repair their alliance if they are to deal with the rise of a “more aggressive” and “threatening” China.
NATO should work with partners in the Asia-Pacific region if it is to stop China “bullying countries all over the world”, he said.
“If you’re concerned about the rise of China, the military and economic strength of China, that makes it even more important that we stand together, Europe and North America in NATO,” Stoltenberg added.
Asked by EU lawmakers whether he sees any threat against NATO allies from China or from Russia, he answered negatively.
“I don’t see any imminent threat of a military attack against any NATO ally and one reason for that is that we have NATO, based on the idea that if one ally is attacked, it will trigger the response from the whole alliance,” Stoltenberg answered.
“That’s one of the main reasons why we have been able to preserve peace in Europe for more than 70 years,” he added.