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Biden, NATO Stress Threats From China and Russia

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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.”

President Biden greeting Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at the NATO summit in Brussels on Monday.


olivier matthys/pool/Shutterstock

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.

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.

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.


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“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.

“He will go into Geneva with the full support and solidarity of all of our NATO Allies,” Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters traveling with the U.S. president.

The NATO communiqué was issued just days 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.

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.

During a press conference at the conclusion of the summit between leaders of the Group of Seven on Sunday, President Biden discussed working together with allies, global vaccine donations and how the group plans to approach challenges posed by China. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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.”

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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.

French President Emmanuel Macron said NATO’s new approach shouldn’t distract the alliance from its focus on traditional matters such as Russia and terrorism.


thomas coex/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

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.

“Withdrawing our troops does not mean ending our relationship with Afghanistan. We will now open a new chapter,” the communiqué 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.

Write to Andrew Restuccia at [email protected] and James Marson at [email protected]

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