Tag Archives: NATO

NATO Looks Far Eastward

Screenshot of NATO Strategic Concept document adopted at Madrid Summit June 29-30, 2022

IT HAS BEEN more than a decade since NATO published a new Strategic Concept, its high-level mission statement. For the first time, the one adopted at its Madrid Summit on June 29-30 mentions China as a competitor and challenger.

The NATO document still identifies Russia as the alliance’s most significant and direct threat but says that China’s ambitions and coercive policies challenge its ‘interests, security and values’.

[China] employs a broad range of political, economic and military tools to increase its global footprint and project power, while remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions and military build-up. The PRC’s malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target Allies and harm Alliance security. The PRC seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains. It uses its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence. It strives to subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains. The deepening strategic partnership between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order run counter to our values and interests.

Beijing, through its Mission to the European Union, accused NATO of maliciously attacking and smearing China and repeated its criticism that NATO was part of the Cold War mentality of the United States and its Western allies.

NATO claims itself to be a defensive organization that upholds the rules-based international order, but it has bypassed the UN Security Council and waged wars against sovereign states, creating huge casualties and leaving tens of millions displaced.

NATO remains open to constructive engagement with Beijing, including building reciprocal transparency, but says it will protect itself against what it calls ‘coercive tactics and efforts to divide the Alliance’. Pointedly it says it will stand up for the rules-based international order, including freedom of navigation.

While NATO cites China as one of several threats, from terrorism to climate change, the unprecedented attendance at the Madrid summit of the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, all US allies, indicates the intensity of its eastward glare and Brussels growing security alignment with Washington.

China’s global power projection, and thus its conventional military threat to Europe, is aspirational and distant, although Europe is in range of both Chinese nuclear weapons and cyberattacks. Beijing is focused militarily on Taiwan and its near abroad. However, NATO allies would be obliged to take action were that to draw the United States into military action that escalated into attacks on US territory.

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Europe Gets More US Aligned Over China

IT HAS NOT been a good ten days for Beijing in Europe, where a hardening stance on China is being more readily articulated.

Last weekend’s G7 meeting solidified US President Joe Biden’s steady assemblage of an alliance against China. It elicited a promise from Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that his country would reassess its participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); Italy is the first and so far only EU country to sign up for the BRI, which Biden now wants to counter with his Build Back Better World (B3W) investment initiative.

The G7 further pushed Beijing’s buttons by criticising China for alleged human rights abuses and called for a further investigation into the origins of Covid-19. For the first time, a G7 summit communique mentioned Taiwan.

Hard on the heels of the G7 came a NATO summit that warned that China was increasingly operating within its sphere of influence and said that Beijing is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal, is opaque about its military modernisation and is co-operating militarily with Russia. Those are strong words, by NATO standards.

The Europeans’ ranks may be closing but are still not solid. Europeans do not want to be pushed into making a public choice between the United States and China, especially as they know they would have to side with the former. That would have political consequences they would rather avoid.

France and Germany are particularly keen to keep open trade, investment and academic and research links with China. However, Germany’s enthusiasm may moderate once Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European leader least convinced of the need to reset relations with China, steps down from office at the end of her fourth term in a few months.

Italy, too, will take its time in deciding whether to withdraw from the BRI, fearful of the potential damage that could cause the fragile Italian economy.

More worrisome for Beijing is that the far right-wing Brothers of Italy may be part of the next Italian government. The party holds a generally hawkish view of China and a Trump-like position on protecting the Italian economy from Chinese economic influence in strategic sectors.

How much the past ten days have substantively changed the relationship between Europe and China is moot. That Beijing has reacted in its now routine way — by denouncing the West for interfering in its domestic affairs and taking a Cold War mentality — may suggest that the change is one more of tone.

Tone, though, matters in international relations. These past ten days have confirmed that elite opinion in Europe is now more aligned with those European politicians and publics that are increasingly inclined to view China negatively and with similar shifts in attitudes in the United States.

This will improve the effectiveness of EU measures that seek to redress what is seen as undue influence in Europe’s civil societies and unfair Chinese competition in its markets and bolster Biden’s efforts to coordinate policy towards China with like-minded democracies.

That, in turn, will require new strategies from Beijing, which will no longer be able to create and exploit divisions in the West as easily.


Filed under China-E.U.