During the March 23-24 meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) council, Anthony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, encouraged NATO members to join the U.S. in viewing China as an economic and security threat to the U.S. as well as to NATO countries, thereby expanding NATO's areas of focus to include the Pacific. This is a dangerous move that must be challenged.
To gain insight into what transpired at the March NATO meeting, we can look to a roadmap for NATO's future, which was released last fall. The report, entitled "NATO 2030: United for a New Era," is intended to be a guide for the military alliance in meeting the challenges it will face in the next decade. In the report, released in November, the "independent group" of five advisers from 10 NATO countries identified 13 challenges and threats to NATO in the next decade.
This new proposed roadmap for NATO reflects an alarming expansion: It is as much about China and the Asia/Pacific region as it is about NATO's traditional area of operations and concern, Europe and Russia.
Although the group identified the number one threat to NATO as Russia, China was named as threat number two.
The document brings the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into the Pacific and attempts to provide a justification to expand and strengthen "partnerships" in the Asia/Pacific region. NATO already has four "partners" in the Pacific through bilateral agreements with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. As NATO partners, Australia and New Zealand have deployed many troops under the NATO banner in Afghanistan, while Japan and South Korea have had reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the United States, NATO's mega-member, has military bases all over the Pacific, including in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Guam, Singapore and Hawaii that are used by NATO "partners" during regional war drills.
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken, in his address on March 24 to NATO members, strongly rebuked China and urged NATO allies to join with the U.S. in this adversarial position.
Blinken said the U.S. wouldn't force its European allies into an "us-or-them choice," but he then implied the opposite, emphasizing that Washington views China as an economic and security threat, particularly in technology, to NATO allies in Europe.
"When one of us is coerced we should respond as allies and work together to reduce our vulnerability by insuring our economies are more integrated with each other," Blinken said.
Blinken cited China's militarization of the South China Sea, use of predatory economics, intellectual property theft and human rights abuses.
In his March 24 press conference after the meetings of the North Atlantic Council and after U.S. Secretary of State Blinken's statement, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg focused on primarily on Russia but echoed Blinken's oppositional rhetoric regarding China. While saying "We don't regard China as an adversary," Stoltenberg nevertheless continued to spell out specific reasons NATO agrees with the U.S.: "The rise of China has direct consequences to our security." So, one of the challenges we face as we now have this forward looking process with NATO 2030 is how to strengthen and how to work more closely together as allies, responding to the rise of China."
NATO's concerns about Chinese military expansion include the construction of nine naval bases on atolls in the South China Sea and an increasing number of ships: China now has the largest navy in the world, with 350 ships and submarines, including over 130 ships. In comparison, the U.S. Navy has 293 ships as of early 2020, but U.S. naval ships have substantially more firepower than Chinese Navy ships.
While China's military budget has increased dramatically in the past decade, it still amounts to only one-third of the military budget of the U.S. and is very small compared to the combined military budgets of NATO members and partners.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's 2019 estimates show the U.S. military budget of $732 billion is 38 percent of global military expenditures, while China's $261 billion is 14 percent and Russia's military budget of $61 billion is 3.4 percent. Six of the 15 highest military global spenders are members of NATO: the U.S., France, Germany, the U.K., Italy and Canada. Together, these six accounted for 48 percent ($929 billion) of global military expenditure. Total spending by all 29 NATO members was $1035 billion in 2019.
China has a total of 13 military bases worldwide, including the 9 on atolls in the South China Sea. For perspective, the United States has over 800 military bases around the world.
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