BRUSSELS (AN) — NATO leaders agreed they must address China's growing influence along with Russia's aggressiveness at the conclusion of a summit on Monday where they acknowledged multiple threats and rising security challenges "from all strategic directions."
North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had called the summit a "pivotal moment" for the 30-nation military alliance in dealing with China and Russia, terrorism and cyber attacks, plus disruptive technologies and climate change.
The prominent addition of China's "opaque" military goals to NATO's foremost agenda marked a significant shift for a 72-year-old intergovernmental organization founded to protect Europe and North America from Soviet aggression.
After a one-day gathering in Brussels, NATO leaders said in their final communiqué that the military alliance faces "multifaceted threats, systemic competition from assertive and authoritarian powers, as well as growing security challenges to our countries and our citizens from all strategic directions."
"Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security; terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a persistent threat to us all. State and non-state actors challenge the rules-based international order and seek to undermine democracy across the globe," the communiqué said.
"Instability beyond our borders is also contributing to irregular migration and human trafficking," it said. "China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance."
The leaders noted that Russia has "continued to diversify its nuclear arsenal, including by deploying a suite of short- and intermediate-range missile systems that are intended to coerce NATO."
China also is "rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a larger number of sophisticated delivery systems to establish a nuclear triad," the leaders said.
"It is opaque in implementing its military modernization and its publicly declared military-civil fusion strategy," they said. "It is also cooperating militarily with Russia, including through participation in Russian exercises in the Euro-Atlantic area. We remain concerned with China’s frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation."
Overall, NATO leaders concluded, "China's stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security."
'Age of global competition'
The tough stances reflect U.S. President Joe Biden's efforts to persuade allies to collectively confront China’s military ambitions, trade practices and human rights record. NATO was meeting for the first time in more than four years with a U.S. president that embraces its mission, condemns autocratic aggression and considers the climate crisis to be an existential threat.
NATO members are bound by the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed at the U.S. State Department in Washington on April 4, 1949, with the aim of preventing the Soviet Union from trying to invade Western Europe.
"We are in an age of global competition. And we must respond to many threats and challenges at the same time," Stoltenberg told a pre-summit press conference.
Asked about Biden's visit — and former President Trump's attacks on NATO's credibility and mission — Stoltenberg noted that Biden "is a strong supporter of NATO, the transatlantic bond, and all Allies welcome his very clear message on the importance of reinvigorating the bond between Europe and North America in NATO."
Stoltenberg said he was certain that leaders attending the summit would show their commitment to the alliance "not only in words but also in deeds."
Its members, he said, are "living in an age of global competition with many threats and challenges at the same time coming from different directions, including the aggressive actions of Russia, the rise of China, the shifting balance of global power, terrorism, cyber attacks. No ally, and no continent, can face this alone. We need to stand together in NATO. And that will be the message, also, through concrete decisions at the summit."