The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is set to discuss revising its strategic concept when its leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, gather Monday in Brussels.
NATO last updated the document outlining its purpose in 2010. The security threats and challenges it faces have changed since then, according to the organization’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg.
“For instance, in the current strategic concept, China is not mentioned with a single word. And climate change is hardly mentioned at all. And of course, our relationship with Russia was at a very different place at that time compared to where we are today,” Stoltenberg told reporters Friday. “Today, we are the low point since the Cold War in our relationship with Russia, and more sophisticated cyberattacks, and many of the challenges have evolved over these years.”
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NATO held off discussing changes to its strategic concept while Biden’s predecessor as U.S. president, Donald Trump, was in office.
“Europeans didn't want to open that Pandora's Box during the Trump administration because they didn't know what the United States would say,” said Dan Hamilton, director of the Global Europe program at the Wilson Center.
Trump had a fraught relationship with the other leaders of the military alliance, repeatedly berating them to increase the size of their defense budgets — “dues” to NATO he erroneously called it — and questioning NATO’s mutual defense clause, known as Article 5.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan added Sunday, “We will have their backs just as they’ve had our backs.”
Sullivan told reporters traveling with Biden that Monday’s NATO talks would focus on collective security, “the intersection between climate and security,” terrorism, cybersecurity and Russia. He said China would feature in an official statement from the group “in a more robust way than we’ve ever seen before.”
Arriving for Monday’s meetings, Stoltenberg said there are opportunities to work with China on issues such as climate change and arms control, but that NATO has witnessed China’s “significant military buildup” and “coercive behavior.”
“We’re not entering a new Cold War and China is not our adversary, not our enemy,” Stoltenberg said. “But we need to address together, as an alliance, the challenges that the rise of China poses to our security.”
Biden is also holding sideline talks Monday with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, whom Sullivan described as “a powerful example of democratic governance on NATO’s eastern flank.”
Biden arrived here Sunday ahead of the NATO meeting, as well as Tuesday’s U.S. summit with European Union leaders.
Those discussions will come just before of Biden’s meeting Wednesday in Geneva with Russia President Vladimir Putin, thus the U.S. president “wants to have a strong wind at his back from his meeting with the NATO allies,” Hamilton told VOA.
Monday’s NATO meeting also will mark the end of military operations in Afghanistan at a time the United States has completed at least half of its pullout from the country.
“The question will be what is NATO's role in Afghanistan beyond the military operations going forward?” noted Hamilton.
NATO is also proposing its members’ militaries and the private sector look at cooperating on emerging technologies, along with considering an expanded partnership with like-minded democracies farther afield, including in the Indo-Pacific region, amid increasing concerns about expansionism by China.
“This administration wants to showcase, both rhetorically and substantively, that there's significant strength in the U.S. standing by its European allies. But there are still a lot of challenges in the Trans-Atlantic relationship on how to manage and confront Russia and China and deal with COVID and with climate [change],” Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Mark Simakovsky told VOA.
“A better use of the president’s time would be to force a tough but necessary conversation within NATO on topics the alliance has shied away from in the past,” according to Defense Priorities Fellow Dan DePetris. “This means re-evaluating — and hopefully closing — NATO’s open-door policy, which at this point is more of a drain on the alliance and U.S. security obligations than a net benefit.”
Known as Article 10, NATO's open-door principle says any other nation can be invited to join the alliance by unanimous consent, and has become a point a contention among those who say it promotes organizational stability and those who say it risks making the organization too cumbersome, possibly compromising its mandate.
“Biden should also reiterate and indeed strengthen NATO’s conflict-resolution and dialogue mechanisms with Russia, which, however troublesome, its behavior can’t simply be ignored or sanctioned away,” DePetris told VOA.
Also being watched this week is renewed U.S. interest about bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.
Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow and research director at the Brookings Institution, calls that “a very bad idea” because it runs the risk of war with Russia if and when actions by Moscow to oppose the plan go “beyond a threshold that we felt we could tolerate.”
Biden’s presence at the NATO talks is meant to demonstrate a renewed commitment to U.S. leadership in the alliance.
According to some analysts, the U.S. president could be met with a bit of skepticism in Brussels.
“They see what’s going on here domestically, and they worry about the future of the Republican Party. They worry about what happens after Biden,” according to Rachel Ellehuus, deputy director and senior fellow with the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They worry that some of the negative language about allies and partners and the U.S. commitment to NATO and global leadership could falter again.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Biden and the European leaders “will discuss a common agenda to ensure global health security, stimulate global economic recovery, tackle climate change, enhance digital and trade cooperation, strengthen democracy and address mutual foreign policy concerns,” according to the White House.