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NATO finalises preparations to put China in its sights

Beijing's expansionist policy is worrying the Atlantic Alliance, which is going to respond to Xi Jinping's challenge with the Madrid Strategic Concept
The term of office of the Alliance's secretary general, Norway's Jens Stoltenberg, expires in September. His replacement, who could well be NATO's first female head, is likely to be announced in Madrid at the end of June.

PHOTO/NATO  -   The term of office of the Alliance's secretary general, Norway's Jens Stoltenberg, expires in September. His replacement, who could well be NATO's first female head, is likely to be announced in Madrid at the end of June.

Its name already appears in the 2017 US National Security Strategy published by the Trump Administration. It will be again in the 2022 National Security Strategy, which is being finalised by the Biden Administration. And in the very near future, his name will also be included in NATO's Strategic Concept, which is about to be released.

This will take place at the summit of the heads of state and government of the Alliance's 30 member states in the Spanish capital in three months' time - 29 and 30 June - to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Spain's accession to the North Atlantic Treaty. The allies have spent more than half a year preparing the political agenda to be sanctioned in Madrid, to which they contributed their final guidelines at their meeting in Brussels on 24 March.

The Strategic Concept is the document that assesses the environment and defines the security challenges that the Alliance envisages on the horizon. It is a kind of roadmap for a scenario characterised by "increasing geostrategic competition and widespread instability". It outlines the main lines of action that NATO must follow to adapt to the new reality that lies ahead, which foresight analyses envisage as "more unpredictable, more contested and more dangerous".

El poderío que Xi Jinping ha sabido imprimir a las fuerzas militares terrestres, navales, aéreas ciber y espaciales de China es apabullante. Sus más de 1 millón de efectivos han sido dotados con sistemas de armas de calidad
PHOTO/Xinhua - The power that Xi Jinping has brought to China's military land, naval, air, cyber and space forces is overwhelming. Its more than 1 million troops have been equipped with quality weapons systems. 

There is no doubt that Moscow and Kiev are now the focus of the world's attention - particularly that of the Atlantic Alliance - and that Russia is the power that must be stopped in its invasion of Ukraine. But the US has turned the spotlight on China, its main global competitor, the nation it sees as its potential medium- and long-term threat and the one that compromises its national security.

China, not Russia - which also, but to a lesser extent - is the main concern of President Joe Biden's Secretary of Defence, General Lloyd J. Austin III, 68, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, 46. The two US politicians share the same caution towards the big Asian country as the Secretary General of the Transatlantic Organisation, who since October 2014 has been Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, 63. 

El poderío que Xi Jinping ha sabido imprimir a las fuerzas militares terrestres, navales, aéreas ciber y espaciales de China es apabullante. Sus más de 1 millón de efectivos han sido dotados con sistemas de armas de calidad
PHOTO/NATO - China is Washington's number one security concern, along with Russia, and will soon be one of NATO's top two. Pictured here is Secretary of Defence General Lloyd J. Austin III with Jens Stoltenberg.
Implementing new deterrence measures and towards 2%

Prime Minister of Norway for nine years in two terms (200-2001 and 2005-2013), and previously his country's Minister of Finance (1996-1997), Stoltenberg is the driving force behind the new Strategic Concept in which the People's Republic of China will be portrayed for the first time, even though it is geographically distant from Europe, but its long tentacles and networks of influence are not.

A major economic, industrial, technological and military player that has been expanding for decades, China is a nuclear power with an unquestionable global presence, which requires special attention. It has a high capacity to disrupt the balance in different regions of the international geostrategic scene and is therefore a serious opponent that NATO will take into account given its enormous power in the land, naval, air, cyber and space domains.

Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Carmen Romero - the highest-ranking Spaniard in the Alliance's structure - confirmed in a recent video conference at the Institute for International Issues and Foreign Policy (INCIPE) that China's "increasingly assertive" positioning on the international stage and its "growing global influence" pose a "systematic challenge to security, to democracies and also to the way of life of allies". 

En su reunión extraordinaria del 24 de marzo en Bruselas, los jefes de Estado y de Gobierno de los 30 países de la OTAN dieron sus directrices finales a la nueva estrategia transatlántica. Segundo por la izquierda, el presidente Pedro Sánchez
PHOTO/NATO - At their extraordinary meeting in Brussels on 24 March, the heads of state and government of NATO's 30 member states gave their final guidelines for the new transatlantic strategy. Second from left, President Pedro Sánchez. 

What is the Alliance going to call China's growing power? That is the most closely guarded secret in the hacker-proof computers at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. Except for self-serving leaks, it will not be known for another 90 days whether the Allies describe China as a "threat" - highly unlikely - or use some euphemism that comes to mean something very similar, but not so clearly stated. For example, systemic challenge? 

And how will the Alliance respond to Beijing's challenge? It is far from straightforward. For one thing, partners that pledged at the 2014 Wales summit to increase their defence budgets to 2 % of their GDP and have not yet taken a single step in this direction, will have to start doing so, as is the case with Spain. And as a defence organisation, NATO will have to go a long way to establish preventive deterrence measures against Beijing's expansionism, both on the European continent and in those geographic areas where the interests of the United States, Canada and their Euro-Atlantic allies clash.

El incremento de la presencia naval que China ha sabido dar a su flota de superficie y submarina se manifiesta paso a paso en todos los océanos del mundo
PHOTO/Xinhua - China's increased naval presence in its surface and submarine fleet is manifesting itself step by step in all the world's oceans.
Russia and China are two serious contenders

Clearly, the impending new NATO strategy does not leave the Kremlin out of the picture. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has transformed NATO's security environment and completely changed its relationship with Moscow, a situation to which the Alliance has responded with "decisiveness and unity", notes Carmen Romero. Now, the 30 allies have to come to terms with the fact that they face two strong opponents that complicate the future, where disruptive technologies and partnerships with third countries and organisations also come into play.

One of the many steps the Atlantic Alliance has taken against Russia is to further strengthen military capabilities on its eastern flank. Whereas multinational Battlegroups have already been deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the borders of Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania have now been strengthened. This means deploying a total of eight Battle Groups from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea - around 5,000 troops - as well as positioning air police units in both theatres.

Los líderes aliados han pedido a los altos mandos de la Alianza que desarrollen nuevos planes de seguridad y defensa que permitan poner en marcha medidas concretas para reforzar a largo plazo las fuerzas militares combinadas
PHOTO/NATO - Allied leaders have asked senior Alliance leaders to develop new security and defence plans to put in place concrete measures to strengthen the combined military forces for the long term.

On the one hand, the United States and NATO have sent a clear message to Beijing, urging it to refrain from providing economic or military support to Russia's war effort. At the same time, they urge Xi Jinping to use 'significant leverage with Moscow to promote an immediate and peaceful resolution'. China understands the second demand, but not the first. It argues that Washington and the Alliance are unwavering in their support for Ukraine and deliver weapons systems for its defence. On the other hand, they flatly reject Beijing's support for Moscow. 

The Strategic Concept to be finalised in Madrid in 90 days' time will put a definitive end to the one that remains in force today. It was sanctioned in Lisbon in November 2010, when Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark was Secretary General of the Organisation, and the reality of the world we live in has left it completely out of play.

El Ejército de Tierra español tiene desplegados en Letonia un subgrupo táctico formado por carros Leopard 2 y vehículos de combate Pizarro, que han sido reforzados con una Unidad de Artillería, otra de Ingenieros y medios de apoyo logístico
PHOTO/NATO - The Spanish Army has deployed a tactical sub-group in Latvia consisting of Leopard 2 tanks and Pizarro combat vehicles, which have been reinforced with an artillery unit, an engineer unit and logistical support assets. 

Under the motto "Active Engagement, Modern Defence", the then 28 Allies - Montenegro joined in June 2017 and North Macedonia in March 2020 - established NATO's future on three pillars that have proven to be solid: collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. And also on a supposed fourth foundation that has, however, proved weak: having Russia as a strategic partner.