Biden, NATO Stress Threats From China and Russia

Biden, NATO Stress Threats From China and Russia

17:28 - Meeting comes two days before president is due to meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

President Biden and NATO allies warned about China’s global influence and called Russia a threat to European and Atlantic security, as the U.S. leader sought to marshal democratic nations against autocracies and bolster an alliance jolted by broadsides from his predecessor.

Despite an atmosphere of renewed comity among allies, disputes simmer over how to balance new threats from China against more traditional ones from Russia and how to address threats in new domains including cyber and space. Turkey’s increasingly discordant role in the alliance also hung over the gathering.

In a lengthy, 79-paragraph communiqué released Monday, China is mentioned nearly a dozen times, a shift from past North Atlantic Treaty Organization summits, when Beijing was barely mentioned.

“China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an alliance,” the document states. “We will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the alliance.”

The communiqué says that China presents “systemic challenges to the rules-based international order.” NATO also mentions concerns over Beijing’s rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal and military cooperation with Russia.

The 30-country alliance also called for “a constructive dialogue with China where possible,” noting climate change as a common challenge.

The NATO communiqué was issued just a day after leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies called on China to respect human rights, and marked an exceptional back-to-back rebuke of the country.

But Russia remains a central concern for the NATO countries. It is referred to more than 60 times in the communiqué, which criticizes Moscow’s military buildup, cyber and disinformation attacks aimed at the West, and its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Mr. Biden said it was too soon to say whether Ukraine should join NATO. “It depends on whether they meet the criteria,” the president said, adding that the country needed to clean up corruption. The comments came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told reporters he wanted a yes-or-no answer on whether the nation could join.

The summit also looked to the future. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said leaders agreed to develop a new strategic concept for the alliance, its main guiding document. Leaders discussed how NATO would respond to climate change, including by measuring greenhouse-gas emissions from military activities and, possibly, formulating voluntary reduction goals.

The communiqué says that Article 5, the principle of collective defense enshrined in the treaty that established NATO in 1949, can be invoked on a case-by-case basis in response to a cyberattack.

During Monday’s summit, Mr. Biden emphasized his commitment to the principle of collective defense enshrined in Article 5, following some uncertainty about Washington’s view of the matter under former President Donald Trump.

“Article Five we take as a sacred obligation,” Mr. Biden said. “I want NATO to know America is there.”

The summit comes two days before Mr. Biden is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, and Mr. Biden briefed allied leaders on the meeting.

Mr. Biden warned of consequences if jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny dies. “Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights,” Mr. Biden said during a news conference on Monday night. Of Mr. Putin, Mr. Biden added, “It would be a tragedy. It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me.”

The U.S. president called him a worthy adversary, adding, “We will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities.” He didn’t outline how the U.S. would respond.

The China-related language in the NATO communiqué was less forceful than the G-7 document. Mr. Stoltenberg acknowledged the difficulties of finding consensus in a group with so many members.

“As always, when 30 allies need to agree, we need to balance, we need to address some differences,” he said.

Mr. Biden is seeking to build a coalition of democracies to counter Chinese influence in the world. But at NATO there is some skepticism among European allies about what the role of the military alliance could be. European capitals don’t want to be dragged into a confrontation between the U.S. and China.

“There are, of course, opportunities, and we need to engage with China on issues like climate change, arms control,” Mr. Stoltenberg said Monday. “But China’s military buildup, growing influence and coercive behavior also pose some challenges to our security.”

Some allies, particularly those bordering Russia, want to ensure that a greater focus on China won’t distract from the threat of an increasingly assertive Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron cautioned that NATO is a military alliance, while relations with China should encompass economic ties, values and technology.

He said the new approach to China shouldn’t dilute NATO’s efforts on more traditional matters such as Russia and terrorism.

Still, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that NATO could manage. “We can certainly walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Allies also discussed the Afghanistan withdrawal, including securing the embassy presence in the country that supports the Afghan national security forces and providing humanitarian assistance to the country.

“Our troops are coming home, but we agreed that our diplomatic, economic and humanitarian commitment for the Afghan people and our support for the Afghan National Security Forces will endure,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden held several meetings on the sidelines of the summit, including with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the leaders of Poland, Romania and key Baltic states.

The summit is the first at NATO for Mr. Biden as president. He has promised a different style of cooperation to Mr. Trump. Allies were bruised by Mr. Trump’s criticisms of weak military spending and his questioning of the alliance’s value.

Mr. Trump, as a presidential candidate, had appeared to set conditions on his support of Article 5. At a NATO meeting in 2017, he didn’t mention the U.S.’s commitment to Article 5 in public remarks, prompting concerns from European nations. He later said he was committed to the principle.

Mr. Stoltenberg on Monday said allies in Europe and Canada have added an extra $260 billion in spending since 2014. But only 10 of the 30, including the U.S., hit the spending target of 2% of gross domestic product last year.

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