New NATO Strategic Concept Targets Russia, China

NATO heads of state and government meeting in Madrid on Wednesday approved a new Strategic Concept for the alliance, naming “Russia’s aggression,” “systemic challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China” and the “deepening strategic partnership” between the two countries as its main priorities.

In this document, the Western military alliance that was formed after the Second World War defined Russia as the “most significant and direct threat” and for the first time addressed challenges that Beijing poses toward NATO’s security, interests and values.

At the summit that runs until Thursday, the alliance agreed to boost support for Ukraine as it defends itself from the Russian invasion, now in its fifth month. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters earlier this week that NATO will boost the number of troops on high alert by more than sevenfold to more than 300,000 — amid what he characterized as “the most serious security crisis” since the Second World War.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced the United States is bolstering its military presence in Europe, including the deployment of additional naval destroyers in Spain and positioning more troops elsewhere, in response to “changed security environment” and to strengthen “collective security.”

Biden said the U.S. would establish a permanent headquarters for the U.S. 5th Army Corps in Poland, add a rotational brigade of 3,000 troops and 2,000 other personnel to be headquartered in Romania, as well as send two additional squadrons of F-35 fighter jets to Britain. 

“Earlier this year, we surged 20,000 additional U.S. forces to Europe to bolster our lines in response to Russia’s aggressive move, bringing our force total in Europe to 100,000,” he said, adding the U.S. will continue to adjust its defense posture “based on the threat in close consultation with our allies.”

Also Wednesday, in a virtual address to NATO, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country needs more advanced weapons and approximately $5 billion per month to defend itself.

“This is not a war being waged by Russia against only Ukraine. This is a war for the right to dictate conditions in Europe—for what the future world order will be like,” Zelenskiyy told summit leaders.

NATO allies plan to continue to give military and types of support to Ukraine indefinitely, said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a security analyst at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

“What I’ve heard collectively from everyone is that insight of how important it is that Russia does not win, the idea being that if Russia learns the lesson that widespread use of military force gains it something, Europe will not be stable or safe in the future, and therefore Russia must not win, Ukraine must win,” he told VOA.

Significant shift

NATO’s Strategic Concept’s language suggests a significant shift in its unity and sense of urgency on great power rivalry, said Stacie Goddard, professor of political science at Wellesley College. She underscored the alliance’s warning of a deepening Russia-China partnership as a challenge to the existing order.

“To be sure, these are only words, but both the novelty and the clarity of the rhetoric is striking,” she told VOA.

Beijing is not backing Russia’s war in Ukraine militarily, but Chinese leader Xi Jinping has stated support for Moscow over “sovereignty and security” issues. The country continues to purchase massive amounts of Russian oil, gas and coal.

“This is seen as extremely threatening, not only to the United States, but to Europe as well,” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center, to VOA.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that allies have had “growing concerns about China’s unfair trade practices, use of forced labor, theft of intellectual property and their bullying and coercive activities, not just in the Indo-Pacific, but around the world.”

NATO’s Strategic Concept is an assessment of security challenges and guides the alliance’s political and military activities. The last one was adopted at the NATO Lisbon Summit in 2010, and ironically included the words: “NATO poses no threat to Russia. On the contrary: we want to see a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia.”

Sweden and Finland

Biden praised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who on Tuesday dropped his objections to bids from Sweden and Finland bids to join the alliance.

“I want to particularly thank you for what you did putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden, and all the incredible work you’re doing to try to get the grain out of Ukraine,” Biden told Erdoğan during a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of the summit.

With Ankara lifting its veto of NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, the administration threw its support behind the potential sale of U.S. F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

As NATO is set to expand membership, the summit also focused on reinforcing partnerships with non-NATO countries. Participating in the summit are leaders from Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

“President Putin has not succeeded in closing NATO’s door,” Stoltenberg said. “He’s getting the opposite of what he wants. He wants less NATO. President Putin is getting more NATO by Sweden and Finland joining our alliance.”

NATO’s Strategic Concept also states that climate change is “a defining challenge of our time.”

VOA’s Chris Hannas and Henry Ridgwell in Madrid contributed to this story.

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