Today’s NATO summit is an opportunity for President Biden to reset relations with member states and focus efforts on meeting current and upcoming challenges to the alliance.
It is also a chance to demonstrate U.S. commitment to lead NATO into the future.
While the alliance has been strained by Russian aggression, strained relations with Turkey and criticism by both former President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, a revitalization is necessary to meet new security threats.
To start, as the U.S. and NATO progress with their removal of forces from Afghanistan, both need to ensure that the withdrawal of allied forces from the country avoids a fall of Saigon-style chaotic evacuation. Measures must also be taken to provide visas to Afghan interpreters and their families who risked their lives helping U.S. and allied personnel during the war.
President Biden and NATO also need to address Russia, China as well as the emerging challenges and opportunities associated with AI, 5G and next generation warfare.
Concerning Moscow, Mr. Biden has some cleaning up to do after some initial missteps.
A number of NATO countries remain troubled by the Biden administration’s May 19 waiving of sanctions on the company building Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany. This unfortunate decision, done in the name of mending frayed ties with Germany, has ensured the pipeline’s completion and strengthened Russia’s energy influence over Europe while providing Putin with a steady stream of revenue.
Another move by the Biden administration that has left many NATO allies worried was its April decision to drop plans of sending two Navy destroyers into the Black Sea after warnings from Russia to avoid escalating tensions when new fighting broke out between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists.
President Biden needs to reassure NATO allies in Central and Eastern Europe that his administration will do more to push back against Putin’s aggressive policies in the region. Unfortunately, there is considerable concern by American partners that Mr. Biden will not stand up to Mr. Putin as he tests boundaries.
Strong statements of NATO unity by Mr. Biden today in Brussels would be welcome. NATO allies need to know that Mr. Biden will be firm against Russian misbehavior and they want to see strong signs of U.S. commitment through military deterrence.
President Biden would also bolster confidence by condemning state terrorist acts by Russia’s GRU military intelligence, Federal Security Service (FSB) agents and hired hands on European soil – – in Prague (2014), Kyiv (2017), Berlin (2019), Lille, France (2020), Vienna (2020) and a string of assassinations in the United Kingdom dating back to 2006.
Nerves are rattled. Russia’s state-backed murders and regional military aggression prompted leaders of nine eastern European NATO member states (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia) to issue a May 10 joint statement condemning Moscow’s behavior. Complicating matters, Germany and France are intent on dialoguing with Russia, often prioritizing their individual national interests beyond that of NATO. While Germany’s reasons are economic in nature, France’s Macron is insistent on carving out a direct strategic dialogue with Russia to create an “architecture of trust and security” in Europe.
To repair these fissures, Mr. Biden needs to champion the solidarity that has been the bedrock of NATO’s mission since 1949. He also needs to provide the common vision necessary for dealing with Russia.
Regarding China, President Biden will need to make the case that the security challenges posed by Beijing’s maligned activity and advancing technological capabilities constitute an appropriate threat for NATO to address.
China’s weaponizing of AI, big data and autonomous systems into aircraft, undersea vessels, drones and other weapons systems are reason enough for NATO to collaborate on the development of new defensive and offensive technologies.
Beyond this, the U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence’s report raised flags about Beijing’s possible use of AI for “reconnaissance, electromagnetic countermeasures and co-ordinated firepower strikes”.
The Pentagon’s “AI partnership For Defense” – – a 13-country multilateral endeavor focused on AI’s defense applications – – and NATO’s proposed Defense Innovation Initiative are good first starts to meet the new technology challenges coming from Beijing, and Mr. Biden ought to throw his weight behind them.
President Biden ought to also support NATO engaging the private sector in the development of AI and quantum computing to ensure the alliance’s technological edge over China.
Yet, the case needs to be made that NATO has a role in addressing other threats posed by Beijing, namely:
•China’s designs on building naval bases on Africa’s west coast which would enable the People’s Liberation Army Navy to have a more sustained presence in the Atlantic Ocean and engage in more frequent joint military drills with Russia in the Mediterranean.
•China’s Belt and Road Initiative’s significant investment in critical European infrastructure ranging from ports, surveillance camera security systems to telecom networks.
•Beijing’s increased military activity in the Arctic as climate change contributes to melting ice in the region.
Despite these threats, there are divisions within NATO on what to do. While France and the United Kingdom have joined the U.S. Navy in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, Germany has been reticent to confront China due to its commercial relationship with China while Hungary enjoys close political ties with the Chinese Communist Party.
However, these differences among member states can be managed. The United States is uniquely positioned to make a difference.
Amid these tensions facing the alliance over Russia and China, President Biden must use the bully pulpit to assure NATO that it has America’s ironclad backing. This confidence building measure is crucial towards renewing the alliance’s commitment to collective defense to meet the challenges of our time. Mr. Biden ought to pursue this leadership responsibility with vigor.