European allies are preparing to welcome Joe Biden’s US administration with a commitment to increase their defense spending and a potential plan to enlist NATO as a counterweight to China.
“China and Russia are at the forefront of an authoritarian pushback against rules-based international order, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Monday. A summit of NATO leaders with Biden, later this year, “will be a unique opportunity to start a new chapter for transatlantic relations, he said.
His comments come ahead of a virtual meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers this week, in which US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to dial in for the first time.
Ministers will discuss Stoltenberg’s proposals for NATO’s strategy for the next decade, including an increase in funding for “core deterrence and defense activities.
Higher military outlay has been a longstanding US demand, often prompting outbursts by former President Donald Trump who was frustrated by his European allies reluctance to commit more resources to security.
It’s not yet a foregone conclusion that all of Europe’s leading powers will offer wholehearted backing to the shift in NATO’s focus.
German is uneasy about any moves that could be seen as hostile in Beijing and for years has resisted calls to make serious increases in its defense spending. France, the leading military power in the EU since the U.K. left, has been calling for the bloc to pursue its own strategic interests, independently from the US
The meeting of NATO’s defense ministers comes a week before a summit of European Union leaders, where defense and security will feature high on the agenda.
“We look forward to cooperating with the new US administration on a strong transatlantic agenda that includes a close dialog on security and defense, leaders will say, according to a draft of their joint statement, seen by Bloomberg.
Stoltenberg’s comments highlight NATO’s growing concern with the rise of China and underscore how the focus of the alliance is being drawn to the East amid tensions between Washington and Beijing.
NATO took another step toward making China a strategic focal point in December, publishing a report stressing Chinese geopolitical threats. The study, from a group of experts assembled by Stoltenberg, includes recommendations on bolstering its political cohesion and ability to face new security challenges. China features prominently.
NATO’s proposed pivot to Asia would be a potential sea change for an alliance that was created to protect Europe against the Soviet Union. Yet China’s growing influence in the Balkans mirrors its push into other areas previously dominated by Russia.
Biden has affirmed the US commitment to the NATO’s collective defense commitments, in a pivot from Trump.