NATO Secretary-General ‘We Don't Regard China as an Adversary or an Enemy’
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg discussed China, climate change, the European Union, international arms agreements, and France’s row with the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia in an interview with Politico,
Stoltenberg made clear that NATO does not view China as an enemy. In fact, he believes that to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues, more cooperation between NATO nations and China is necessary.
“We need to engage with China on important issues such as climate change — there's no way to reduce emissions enough in the world without also including China. We need to discuss arms control with China. So, we need to engage politically with China,” Stoltenberg told the publication.
However, Stoltenberg’s diplomatic stance towards China also acknowledges their fast-rising military, massive economy, and assertiveness as posing potential security risks for NATO. The two stances, of needing to engage with China as a superpower, and needing to combat China as a superpower, appear as an attempt to appease the different factions that make up NATO.
The United States has pushed more competitive and combative rhetoric against China, while European countries have been more willing to engage with China, especially on an economic level. Stoltenberg said that NATO needs to work more closely with Asia-Pacific allies, such as Japan and Australia, to help curb China’s growing economic and military influence in the region.
Outside of NATO’s relationship with China, Stoltenberg talked about how NATO’s role in arms control and tackling climate change will be of critical importance. He touted how arms agreements during the Cold War were successful in reducing the US and USSR’s nuclear arsenals. He highlighted the US and Russia’s START agreement, which limits long range nuclear warheads, as a good starting point for future arms control agreements.
“China has to be included because China is a global power and with a global role also comes global responsibilities. And therefore, we are working to find ways to include China in arms control,” he said.
Stoltenberg also made clear that NATO, a military alliance, needs to take on climate change to maintain security in its member nations. He put it bluntly: “climate change is a crisis multiplier.”
“It will affect the way we conduct military operations with extreme heat, with increased sea levels… Melting of the polar ice will change where we can operate… So it will have a direct impact on how our military are organized and conduct their missions and operations,” he added.
He acknowledged the need for countries to reach zero carbon emissions and that NATO members were looking at ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their military activities without sacrificing the strength and capabilities of their armed forces.
When asked about France’s row with the US, UK, and Australia over their AUKUS submarine deal, he definitively sided with the three English-speaking nations.
“I understand that France is disappointed. At the same time, NATO allies agreed as late as June this year at the NATO summit in Brussels with President Biden and all the other leaders that we need to work more closely with what we call the Asia-Pacific partners… And therefore, it is a good thing that NATO allies work with Australia,” he stated.
France is a member nation of NATO and had a deal with Australia to build diesel-powered submarines for the Australian Navy. The new agreement that Australia signed with the US and the UK will deliver nuclear-powered submarines in an effort to expand their Navy’s reach in the Indo-Pacific region.
In the final part of the interview, the NATO head talked about the European Union potentially creating its own coordinated armed forces. Stoltenberg was skeptical of the logic and put it simply, “the EU cannot replace NATO.” His reasoning was that “more than 90% of the people living in the European Union, they live in a NATO country. So by strengthening NATO, we are actually strengthening the defense of Europe.”
Stoltenberg, the former Norwegian Prime Minister, has been the Secretary-General of NATO since 2014. The next election to head NATO will be held in 2022 in Madrid.