The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established in 1949 in order to counter the threat of the Soviet Union. Decades later, the Soviet Union is no more. However, another major threat has arisen in its place — China. At a recent summit, NATO admitted for the first time in its history that China’s rise will come with a new set of challenges.
Recognizing the Chinese challenge
“We have now of course recognized that the rise of China has security implications for all allies… China has the second-largest defense budget in the world… They recently displayed a lot of new modern capabilities, including long-range missiles able to reach all of Europe, United States,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement (DW). At the meeting, member states reportedly outlined an action plan for engaging with the Asian nation.
Stoltenberg pointed out that China was not only making rapid technological progress, but it was also expanding investments in Europe, Africa, and the Arctic. However, he stressed that NATO was not looking to create a new adversary by recognizing the Chinese challenge but only aims to thoroughly understand China and its motivations so that it can respond to such challenges appropriately. Member states have also pledged to protect their communication systems, including upcoming 5G networks. Many believe this is an indirect reference to the intrusion of Chinese companies like Huawei in Europe.
NATO’s recognition of China’s strength is another admission of how the West has been shortsighted regarding the Asian nation. It was hoped that democratic ideals would eventually trump communist and socialist regimes. However, China has proved to be a different ballgame. The regime has combined political control with technology to create a highly efficient surveillance system unmatched in the world.
And as it grows more powerful, the control exerted by the state keeps increasing. “China has been smart about building strength without projecting strength… Many of its totalitarian predecessors lacked that discipline. And it will likely continue. It can further its rise until the discipline is no longer required,” a financier from London said to CNBC.
NATO is currently facing a few key problems, with crumbling political cohesion being the chief among them. China is investing and making allies in Eastern and Central Europe with a view to getting indirect control of the region’s affairs. Countries like Greece have pivoted to Chinese viewpoints on several occasions at EU meetings. This will inevitably affect the stability of NATO, since the organization clearly cannot have its members split on affairs concerning regional security.
Plus, NATO needs to be careful about how it deals with an EU member country’s affairs with China lest it comes across as too paranoid and controlling. “How much of this is a NATO problem or a NATO challenge and how much of this needs to be dealt with more in an EU framework? When you’re thinking about things like infrastructure investments, export controls, investment screening, a lot of those things happen in the EU and at the member-state level,” Andrea Kendall-Taylor, director of the Center for a New American Security’s Transatlantic Security Program, said to Business Insider.
Member nations are also increasingly divided on the effectiveness of NATO. Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that NATO was at risk of “brain death,” accusing the U.S. of being indifferent to the alliance. President Trump had previously called the NATO alliance obsolete. Other EU leaders have rebuked Macron for his statement.