Brussels, Belgium | Wed, June 16, 2021
After encouraging NATO allies to face down challenges from Moscow and Beijing, US President Joe Biden said Monday that he would set “red lines” for his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at their next meeting. “I’m not seeking for conflict with Russia,” Biden said following his first NATO summit since being elected, “but we will respond if Russia continues its damaging activities.” Biden also dubbed Putin “difficult” and “a worthy adversary” ahead of their highly anticipated meeting in Geneva on Wednesday.
The warning to Putin came as Biden advocated for a renewal of Washington’s transatlantic relationships with allies, which had been strained for years under his predecessor, Donald Trump. As the alliance fleshed out its nascent approach to Beijing, NATO leaders pledged to work together against the “systemic problems” posed by China’s aggressive tactics, at Biden’s urging. The international order is threatened by China’s more assertive efforts in building a nuclear weapons, as well as space and cyber warfare capabilities, they said in a statement.
As European capitals wished, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the allies will attempt to cooperate with China on global concerns such as climate change. “China’s expanding influence and international actions offer threats to Alliance security,” he cautioned, a hint to Washington’s growing anxiety.
“Leaders agreed that we must face such issues as an alliance,” he said, adding that “we must engage with China to preserve our security interests.” The leaders told Russia in the summit communique that “business as usual” will not be resumed anytime soon. Russia’s military buildup and aggressive behavior on NATO’s eastern border “increasingly undermine the Euro-Atlantic area’s security and contribute to instability along NATO borders and beyond,” according to the report.
Biden is taking up where Trump left off on China by pressuring NATO to pay attention to Beijing. However, European allies are concerned that a greater focus on China may divert NATO’s attention away from its main priority: Russia. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, said alliance members should not “overestimate” the dangers posed by Beijing. She stated, “We have to find the appropriate balance.”
“China is a competitor on many problems, but it is also a partner on many others.” Emmanuel Macron, the French president, stated that NATO should not stretch itself too thin, as this might “skew” the relationship with China. “NATO is a military organization, but our relationship with China is more than just military,” he said, emphasizing NATO’s north Atlantic focus.
The hurry to complete NATO’s fast withdrawal from Afghanistan after Biden stunned partners by ordering US troops home by September 11 loomed large in the background for the summit. Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed Ankara’s offer to keep troops in the country to protect Kabul Airport in exchange for US cooperation.
Erdogan made no specific commitments on the subject, nor did he mention any progress on the difficult matter of Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile system. Erdogan, on the other hand, emphasized that he and his US colleague had had “fruitful and serious” talks. The final NATO summit statement made no mention of Turkey’s role at the airport, but it did emphasize that NATO would continue to pay to keep the facilities operating.
Much of Monday’s summit was devoted to attempting to build a path ahead by approving a 2030 reform plan to resurrect an alliance that Macron warned was nearing “brain death” in 2019. Allies agreed for the first time that an attack in space may trigger the Article 5 collective defense provision, and backed a new cyber defense doctrine to combat escalating threats. They also agreed to enhance the alliance’s budget and spend more on “shared funding,” although details were scarce following France’s objection to higher spending.