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NATO members unite to face evolving threats from Russia and China

US President Joe Biden meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a NATO summit on June 14, 2021, at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a joint statement issued Monday at the conclusion of their summit, NATO members pledged to address a variety of traditional and evolving security challenges, including several posed by China.

“China’s growing influence and international policies may present challenges that we must address as an Alliance,” the communique stated. “We will engage China in order to defend the Alliance’s security interests.”

The mentions of China are a victory for President Joe Biden, who was attending his first NATO summit as president.

Biden arrived at the summit determined to rally NATO’s 30 member nations behind a security strategy that addresses both new threats, such as cyberwarfare and China, as well as traditional threats, such as Russia’s military incursions into Eastern Europe.

However, Beijing’s ambitious military buildup was also mentioned in the communiqué.

“China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a greater number of sophisticated delivery systems in order to establish a nuclear triad,” according to the communique.

Biden has stated that his administration will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with America’s closest allies, reversing his predecessor’s “America First” policy.

President Donald Trump has frequently criticised NATO, questioning the alliance’s relevance as well as its effectiveness.

Biden, on the other hand, is adamant that NATO is a cornerstone of global stability and a critical player in confronting these evolving threats.

However, NATO’s pivot to China, rather than a laser focus on Russia, is not universally welcomed.

Some of NATO’s smallest members, many of whom are located in Eastern Europe, believe that deterrence against Russian aggression should be the alliance’s primary focus in terms of security.

On Monday morning, Biden met with the leaders of several Balkan countries, as well as Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda. The United States maintains a significant military presence in Poland, which is widely regarded as a major deterrent to Russia.

In response to Russia’s threat of hybrid warfare, NATO member states have opened the possibility of invoking Article 5, the mutual defence agreement, in cases of destabilising disinformation attacks against “political institutions” and “public opinion.”

Article 5 has only been used once so far, in defence of the United States following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“By developing comprehensive preventive and response options, we are increasing our situational awareness and expanding the tools at our disposal to counter hybrid threats, including disinformation campaigns,” the communique states.

Russia’s disinformation campaigns have had a significant impact on Europe, most notably prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum, during the 2017 Catalan protests, and ahead of the 2019 European Parliament elections.

Biden will travel to Geneva on Tuesday for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Many of the issues raised in the NATO communique are expected to be raised by Biden.

On April 26, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, attend the Tsinghua University ceremony at Friendship Palace in Beijing, China.

A broader power struggle

Throughout his trip to Europe, Biden has framed the rivalry between Western democracies and Russia and China as more than just an economic or military rivalry.

According to the president, the choice is between Chinese-style authoritarianism and Western democracy and capitalism as the world’s great power.

Moscow and Beijing routinely disregard international rules and norms governing trade, security, defence, labour, and human rights. This poses a serious threat to NATO and developing countries worldwide.

In some ways, Biden’s approach to China is similar to Trump’s.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington have risen during the Trump administration, fueled by a trade war and barriers that prevent Chinese technology firms from doing business in the US.

However, Biden has stated that his approach to China will differ from that of his predecessor in that he will work more closely with allies to mount a counter-offensive against Beijing.

In a recent speech, Biden stated, “We will confront China’s economic abuses.” “But we’re also willing to collaborate with Beijing when it’s in America’s best interests. We’ll compete from a position of strength by repairing our infrastructure at home and cooperating with our allies and partners.”

NATO member leaders have warmly welcomed Biden’s message, which comes after four years under Trump in which the US has been a thorn in the alliance’s side.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has repeatedly criticised NATO, accusing it of being irrelevant and impotent. He even threatened to withdraw the US from the alliance.

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