NATO has published a new report NATO 2030: united for a New Era. Commissioned at the NATO Heads of State summit held in London just over a year ago, it’s designed to strengthen the ‘political’ dimension of NATO. With an emphasis on unity and increased coordination between member states, it was no doubt commissioned to address the problems caused by the Trump presidency. Yet while he is now exiting the White House, it still reveals the direction of travel that NATO is taking.
Key elements of this NATO assessment are what we would have expected: it’s self-congratulatory of course – the most successful military alliance ever, and it has an increased stress on the need for political coherence. It talks about the need to adapt with the times and address emerging and disruptive technologies. It also makes specific mention of climate change and pandemics.
The stress on unity and political cohesion brings the document to its chief concern: how to maintain western dominance in a world where China is rising economically? NATO’s answer is to expand its orientation to the Asia Pacific, to deal with the ‘impact’ of the emerging China.
Ahead of the report’s launch, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that China poses ‘important challenges to our security’, adding that China ‘is coming close to us’. The report itself says that NATO should treat China as a ‘full-spectrum systemic rival, rather than a purely economic player.’ The UK’s contribution will be to send an aircraft carrier to the Asia Pacific this spring, while the US ramps up its military presence in the region.
One of the points that we made in our press response is that this follows a pattern seen since the end of the last cold war: NATO operates right up to the borders of countries it considers rivals, in the name of containing their expansion. We’ve seen how that worked with NATO expansion in Europe and this document refers to that too: over two decades of NATO expansion including into former Soviet republics is described as ‘the reincorporation of former captive nations into the democratic West’. Nevertheless, the document blames Russian aggression for the deterioration in relations with NATO and, in spite of the orientation towards China, it still identifies Russia as the major military threat to NATO.
Working to prevent cold war and war with Russia and China remains a strong focus for our work. The new Biden administration needs to roll back on Trump’s rhetoric, get back into the Treaties, and opt for diplomatic solutions to complex political problems. How is backing Russia or China into a corner through military expansionism going to help stop a war? The danger is it will start one.