The 30 member states of NATO ended their Monday summit in Brussels, reaffirming the military alliance with a strong statement against Russia and to a lesser degree, China.
Both countries were called out as “challenges to the rules-based international order.”
In the final communique, leaders agreed to “open a new chapter in transatlantic relations,” as they face an “increasingly complex” security environment.
The alliance adopted “NATO 2030”, a consultation mechanism to prepare for its next Strategic Concept, a document intended to guide the alliance to growing global competition and more unpredictable threats.
NATO 2030 included recognition of a “more assertive Russia,” “more brutal form of terrorism,” ongoing instability, increasing cyber and hybrid threats, new technologies, pandemics, and climate change as its new threats.
NATO 2030 also acknowledged that “China’s rise fundamentally shifts the balance of power.”
“By agreeing (on) the NATO 2030 agenda, leaders have taken decisions to make our alliance stronger and better fit for the future,” said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a press conference at the end of the summit.
We just concluded a successful #NATOSummit where we took far-reaching decisions for our security. Europe & North America are standing strong together in #NATO to defend our values & interests in an age of global competition. #NATO2030 https://t.co/iZW0TUgw9K pic.twitter.com/mh5sPmDqEL— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) June 14, 2021
Moscow denies any wrongdoing, but allies are increasingly concerned given Russia’s recent aggression on the eastern flank and its covert and cyberattacks to undermine Western states.
In another direct reference to Russia, NATO members agreed on a new cyber defense policy.
“It recognizes that cyberspace is contested at all times, and ensures that we have strong technical capabilities, political consultations and military planning in place to keep our system systems secure,” said Stoltenberg.
On the sidelines of the summit, U.S. President Joe Biden met with leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – countries that won independence from then-Soviet Union in 1991. While they are now full members of NATO and the European Union, these Baltic countries are wary of Kremlin’s regional ambitions.
In a recent interview with NBC, Russian President Vladimir Putin called NATO “a Cold War relic.”
“I'm not sure why it still continues to exist,” said Putin.
Biden will meet with Putin in Geneva on Wednesday. In a press conference after the summit, Biden said at least 10 NATO leaders with whom he has spoken thanked him for meeting Putin.
In Washington, some Republicans had criticized the president for agreeing to meet with Putin with no preconditions.
Biden said that there was "a consensus" in Brussels and that leaders appreciated his willingness to speak to them about what he will discuss with the Russian leader.
Stoltenberg said China's growing military presence from the Baltics to Africa means NATO has to be prepared.
"China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyberspace, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure," the NATO secretary general said.
China is “the new the new kid on the block,” said Alice Billon-Galland, a research fellow at London-based Chatham House, and one of the NATO Young Leaders selected to advise the NATO 2030 process.
Billon-Galland said European allies need to work with both the U.S. and China but ultimately want to avoid being dragged into a binary Washington versus Beijing confrontation.
“European allies are quite careful in terms of how they approach this and a bit reluctant for NATO to get too involved in China-related issues or Indo-Pacific issues,” she said.
A day earlier many of the same leaders now meeting in Brussels issued a statement at the conclusion of the G-7 Summit in Cornwall, U.K., calling out China’s human rights abuses. Beijing has accused the group of slandering its reputation.
After 20 years of military operations, NATO and the U.S. had agreed that they will withdraw forces from Afghanistan. Biden had set September 11, 2021, as the pullout deadline.
“NATO leaders reaffirmed their commitment to continue to stand with Afghanistan, with training, international support for Afghan forces and institutions, and funding to ensure the continued functioning of the International Airport,” said Stoltenberg.
NATO has about 10.000 troops in Afghanistan, from countries including Germany, the U.K., Turkey, Georgia, Romania and Italy.
Allies are concerned about security at their embassies as well as the Kabul airport. Turkey, a NATO member, has offered to secure the airport in a bid to increase its role in the alliance.
“The question is whether Turkey's willingness to do this, which is clearly welcomed in Washington, would be sufficient to overcome the other issues in the relationship,” said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There are serious doubts about that,” he said.
Guarding and operating the Kabul airport issue is among the many security topics discussed by Biden in his Monday bilateral meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The U.S.-Turkey relationship has been problematic, particularly after Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense system, its military offensive in Syria and support for Azerbaijan in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war with Armenia.
After the summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted that leaders have confirmed his country will become a member of NATO, something that was not confirmed by the alliance.
Asked about Ukrainian membership in NATO, Biden said, "It depends on whether they meet the criteria." Biden cited corruption as one of the issues that Kyiv must deal with in order to be part of the group.
Ukraine applied for membership in 2008 and is seeking more support from Western governments as it tries to deter any new aggression from Moscow. The Ukrainian government earlier criticized the bloc's decision not to invite it to the NATO summit.
America is back
Biden took his "America is Back" message to Brussels, reaffirming the United States' commitment to the alliance’s collective defense principle.
"I just want all of Europe to know that the United States is there. The United States is there," Biden said in his meeting with Stoltenberg.
Our NATO Alliance is stronger than ever. Today I’m joining our 29 allies to discuss our collective defense — including from Russian aggression, strategic challenges from China, malicious cyber activity, terrorism, and climate change.— President Biden (@POTUS) June 14, 2021
Biden's visit sets a new tone on relations with the military alliance. His predecessor, former President Donald Trump once called NATO obsolete and complained that the U.S. was paying an unfair share in the organization.
Asked by a reporter if he is concerned that the return of Trump or a Trump-like figure might swing U.S. posture back away from the alliance, NATO's Stoltenberg said the past four years had underscored the importance of strong multilateral institutions.
"There will be different political leaders elected in many allied countries in the years to follow," he said. "I'm confident that as long as we realize that it is in our security interest to stand together, national security interest to stand together, we will maintain NATO as the bedrock for our security."
NATO's last Strategic Concept was in 2010. Allies were reluctant to renew it during the rocky years under Trump.