After the one-day NATO summit in Brussels concluded on Monday, the bloc’s general secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, gave an address before members of the Western press corps, answering several questions.
His comments consisted of a summary of the results of the summit, which was a mere formality (“All leaders agreed that…Europe and North America must stand strong together in NATO”), an abbreviated recapitulation of the summit’s lengthy communiqué.
He began by reiterating, in all fairness in a manner which was not only rote but practically incantatory, shibboleths like NATO needing to “defend our values and our interests” at a time when ” authoritarian regimes like Russia and China challenge the rules-based order.” If the latter theme didn’t completely dominate the communiqué it did his press conference.
The transcript is arranged, as has lately been the case with his presentations, in single-sentence bullet points. These two are back-to-back:
“Our relationship with Russia is at its lowest point since the Cold War.
And Moscow’s aggressive actions are a threat to our security.”
And in relation to two of Russia’s neighbors, whom NATO accuses Russia of waging war against and of forcibly seizing territory from, he offered this couplet:
“We stand in solidarity with our valued partners Ukraine and Georgia.
“And we will continue to support their reforms, bringing them closer to NATO.”
He then abruptly pivoted to the other global villain identified above:
“At the Summit today, we also addressed China.”
NATO can envision working with China on issues like arms control and climate change; he didn’t explain why a military bloc whose communiqué frequently used the word warfighting in reference to its purpose and mission has appropriated to itself the responsibility to address climate change, an endeavor more suitable to the United Nations.
But in the next sentence he warned that “China’s growing influence and international policies” offered challenges to NATO’s security. (The identical line occurs in the communiqué.)
He then, while repeating verbatim excerpts from the summit communiqué, went into a lengthy description of China’s alleged infractions and threats, giving China a far higher proportion of his time than the above-cited document does. China is charged with:
- coercive policies which conflict with NATO’s core values
- expanding its nuclear arsenal
- developing more advanced delivery systems for nuclear weapons
- opacity regarding its military modernization
- cooperating militarily with Russia, including in exercises in the Euro-Atlantic area
There’s nothing new in those accusations; what is novel is the emphasis he placed on China in his comments and the corresponding preoccupation with that nation during the question and answer session with North American and European reporters.
Having branded Russia and China international pariahs from the rules-based international order, according to NATO and the U.S. guilty of most every problem in the world except climate change (for the time being), Stoltenberg moved to the second central theme of NATO in 2021: strengthening and expanding global military partnerships. The logic is clearly that if Russia and China (and its cohorts Iran and North Korea and now Belarus) are the threat to the much-touted (indeed, pseudo-sacrosanct) rules-based international order, then NATO nations must rally the rest of the world to confront and combat them.
In addition to thirty members, the NATO website lists forty military partners; members and partners are on all continents except Antarctica. The communiqué also discusses consolidating ties with the African Union, which has 55 members, 50 of those not yet formal NATO partners. (Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia are members of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue program. All but Algeria also have an Individual Partnership Cooperation Programme.) NATO maintains a liaison office led by a Senior Military Liaison Officer at the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The bloc’s page on cooperation with the African Union (AU) says this: “NATO Allies are committed to expanding cooperation with the AU to make it an integral part of NATO’s efforts to work more closely with partners in tackling security challenges emanating from the south.” Adding AU members not already NATO partners to the bloc’s 30 members and 40 partners would mean 120 nations affiliated with a U.S.-dominated military alliance. (Not including nations in Latin America. See below.)
That partnership is aimed against China and Russia in Africa.
Stoltenberg listed nations and areas where NATO will build and expand military partnerships. He began with Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea in the Asia-Pacific region, all founding members of NATO’s Partners Across the Globe. (The other initial members are also in Asia: Afghanistan, Iraq, Mongolia and Pakistan. Colombia is the newest.)
In what may be an unprecedented geographical sweep even for NATO, he added that the bloc “seek(s) new relationships with countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia.” Having achieved that grand objective there would appear very little of the planet not within NATO’s orbit. Little except Russia and China, that is.
He also pledged to “substantially step up training and capacity-building for partners,” specifying Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq and Jordan. Except for Iraq the nations he mentioned are new Enhanced Opportunities Partners.
Stoltenberg also pledged yet further cooperation with the European Union, which is rapidly becoming more militarily integrated with NATO.
And he reported record-high increases in NATO member states’ spending in the past seven years ($260 billion) as well as a pledge to fight in space in addition to in the air, on the land and sea, and in cyberspace.
Having ended his speech, he fielded questions from journalists from agencies, newspapers and broadcast media selected to insure he wouldn’t be asked uncomfortable questions. (Reuters, Deutsche Presse Agentur, ZDF, Interfax-Ukraine, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Politico, Der Spiegel, Washington Post, etc.)
Early on he was asked about China and made these revealing disclosures:
“I think what you have to realise is that NATO has come a long way. The first time we mentioned China in a communiqué and a document in a decision from NATO leaders was 18 months ago, at the Summit in London. Before that we didn’t have any language at all. In the current strategic concept, China’s not mentioned with a single word. Now we can read the communiqué, and you see that we have seen the convergence of views among Allies….”
He accused China of “coming closer to us” in cyberspace (the way Russia is coming closer to NATO’s Eastern Flank the further east the latter moves), and in the manner of a person with an acute persecution complex added: “We see them in Africa, we see them in the Arctic, we see them trying to control our infrastructure, we had the discussion about 5G.” (A person could easily read attic for Arctic in that sentence.)
Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post asked a question that he knew wouldn’t be answered – because it wasn’t a question at all, rather a tawdry display of political grandstanding:
“Can I just ask, can you compare your experience at this Summit with the US delegation to your experience with, at Summits with President Trump? And was President Biden able to tell you anything that convinced you that Trump or another Trump-like figure won’t be back in the White House in a few years and swing the United States back to a more confrontational approach to NATO?”
The inevitable corollary of which is, evidently, that any leader not enthusiastically embracing NATO is “Putin’s puppet.”
David Herszenhorn of Politico posed a question that elicited more information than he may have been fishing for.
“Secretary General, could we go back to China for just a second and I wonder, have you addressed with the leaders a concern we hear maybe from some Allies that one of the reasons China hasn’t appeared in communiqués all that often is that the Alliance has not yet given itself the legal authority, under the Washington Treaty, to operate outside the North Atlantic space? And do you envision the necessity for treaty change? And should this be a notice, that in fact, NATO is prepared now to operate anywhere in the world, outside the North Atlantic space, if it perceives a threat?”
“So first of all, we operate outside NATO territory. We have done that since the end of the Cold War. And this was a discussion back in the early 90s, that’s correct. Someone said that either NATO has to go out of business or out of area. And then we helped – and then we actually went out of area, we went into Bosnia and Herzegovina….And a few years after we went into – also we helped…in Kosovo. And then, after the 9/11 attacks.
“Since then…we have had a big military operation in Afghanistan on the borders of China. So this idea that this is something completely new, that NATO is going out of area, is very strange, because we’ve been out area for decades.”
He ended that response with stating (again) that as “China is coming closer to us” and NATO’s self-defined mandate is already global, “There is no need for any change in the NATO Treaty to respond to that.”
NATO has made it abundantly obvious that it is now waging a global campaign against Russia and China; and has acknowledged for the first time that the campaign is directed toward China as well as Russia.