Already at NATO´s 70 years meeting in 2019, the transatlantic alliance due to Trump´s pressure for the first time declared that China was a „potential threat“. Now in June 2020, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has asked the defense alliance to prepare itself more effectively against threats from China. The country is investing heavily in nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that could reach Europe, Stoltenberg told „Welt am Sonntag“.
„One thing is clear: China is getting closer and closer to Europe’s front door,“ said Stoltenberg. The People’s Republic is present in the Arctic, Africa and the Mediterranean and is investing heavily in critical infrastructure in Europe. China is a „fixed size“ in cyberspace. NATO must respond to this development „because it represents a fundamental change in the global balance of power“.
No NATO member country is „directly“ threatened by China, said Stoltenberg. „But we find that there are very serious developments in the South China Sea.“ China is increasingly trying to hinder the freedom of movement for ships in international waters.
The former head of government in Norway asked China to abide by international shipping regulations. „We believe in free trade, freedom of navigation in international waters and compliance with laws – and that also applies to the South China Sea.“
Despite the tensions, the region is not a location for the defense alliance: „There is no reason to send Alliance troops there,“ Stoltenberg emphasized.
Till now it remained unclear how NATO should respond to this potential threat as only former German conservative party chief and defense minister Annegret Krampf-Karrenbauer (AKK) wanted to send German warships in the Indo-Pacific. The only thing missing was an AKK’s Hun speech in the tradition of Emperor Wilhelm 2, so that no Chinese would look at us „scheel“ anymore, and an international intervention army led by Germany, as in the good old times of the suppression of the 1900 boxer uprising. Perhaps the Summer Palace would survive this time unscathed. Germans to the front! At least, the Chinese wouldn´t look at Germans shyly anymore but laugh out loud.
The first more serious proposal comes from Ian Brzezinski, son of US President Carter´s former National Security Adviser Zbig Brzezinski, US geostrategist and author of the programmatic book „Chessboard“ who was the architect of the Sino-American normalization in 1979 and in the 2000s propagated a G2.-alliance between China and the USA to control the world which didn´t materialize. His son Ian already had a lot of functions and important positions in the US security apparatus. He was a Support Analyst/Information Assistant at the National Security Council in 1986–1987. He served as a member of the Policy Planning Staff in the Department of Defense in 1991–1993, and was also a consultant to the Center for Naval Analysis in 1991–1992. In 1993–1994, Brzezinski became a volunteer advisor to the government of Ukraine, where he assisted Ukraine’s National Security Council, Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and Parliament. He returned to the United States in 1995, and became Legislative Assistant for National Security Affairs to Senator William Roth. In 2000, he became a Senior Professional Staff Member for theU.S.Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy in 2001–2005 during Bush jr: s presidency. After leaving the Defense Department, Brzezinski became a Principal at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., providing policy and technical advice to U.S. combatant commands and foreign clients. He left Booz Allen Hamilton after five years, and now heads the Brzezinski Group, which provides similar services: “ … a strategic advisory firm serving the U.S. and international commercial clients in the financial, energy, and defense sectors. The Brzezinski Group assists them to navigate geopolitical developments, develop and execute market entry and opportunity capture strategies, and manage relationships with government entities.“ He is also a member of the Strategic Advisory Group at the Atlantic Council; in 2010 he was named a Senior Fellow in the Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. Brzezinski is a frequent contributor to the American press on foreign policy issues.
In an programmatic article „NATO’s role in a transatlantic strategy on China“ Mon, Jun 1, 2020 in the New Atlanticist, Ian Brzezinski proposes and outlines concrete measures NATO should be taking:
„When considering this issue, it is important to recognize that the foundation for a relevant NATO role in a transatlantic China strategy has long been established. For decades, the Alliance has been operating around the world. NATO has led the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan since 2003. Its naval forces have patrolled against pirates off the shores of Africa, commencing with operation OCEAN SHIELD in 2008. As a member of the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, NATO provides training to military establishments across the Middle East. And, on a daily basis the Alliance addresses terrorism, cyber-threats, disinformation, and other global issues.
„Most relevant to addressing China are the Alliance’s long-standing relationships with key democracies of the Indo-Pacific region. NATO established Global Partnerships with Korea, New Zealand, and Mongolia in 2012, Australia in 2013, and Japan in 2014. These relationships are predominantly consultative, but most of these partners have contributed to NATO missions, including in Afghanistan.
As the transatlantic community’s lead instrument for security collaboration, NATO can contribute to the former’s relationship with China in three important ways. As a multinational security forum, it can foster among NATO allies and partners a shared awareness of China’s capacities and activities that generate risk to and opportunity for the North Atlantic community. NATO has long served as an important forum through which its Allies and partners share intelligence data and assessments needed to foster and facilitate collaborative action.
Second, NATO can help develop and promulgate a transatlantic security strategy and posture regarding China. That strategy’s objectives should include the development of a cooperative relationship with China as well the dissuasion of China from undermining the interests of the transatlantic community. The latter would define the appropriate role and means for the Alliance to contribute to deterrence and when necessary defense against Chinese aggression that imperil those interests.
Third, NATO’s civilian and military capacities should be used to facilitate the defense and security component of a Western strategy addressing China—including in the tasks of engagement, deterrence, and defense.
The following are five actions NATO could undertake as part of its approach to China, none of which would require it to undertake a significant reprioritization of its current mission sets and all of which would support the aforementioned:
The Alliance should offer to establish a NATO-China Council. This would mirror the NATO-Russia Council whose roots date back to 1997. Its establishment would recognize and respond to the realty of China’s growing influence and reach. This forum would spur Alliance members to more seriously and comprehensively address in a coordinated manner the challenges posed by China. Its establishment would underscore that this dimension of great power competition is not between China and the United States but between China and the transatlantic community, one bound by shared values, interests, and history. And this forum could be used to identify and foster opportunities for constructive collaboration with China, such as counter-piracy operations.
Second, NATO should deepen its engagement with its Pacific partners, Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Mongolia. The consultative dimension of these relationships should be complemented with more regular and more robust military exercises (especially air, maritime, and special forces exercises) and operations, including those designed to ensure freedom of navigation. Such events under the NATO flag would be a useful complement to US maritime and air exercisers in the Pacific that have long featured the participation of European allies. Past US RIMPAC exercise series, for example, have included military aircraft, ships and staffs from Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands Norway, and the United Kingdom. In less tense times, China even participated in RIMPAC events.
Third, the Alliance should establish in the Indo-Pacific, perhaps in one of the region’s partner countries, a Center of Excellence (COE) and integrate officers and NCOs from selected partners into the Alliance’s Command Structure. Both initiatives would help increase the Alliance’s understanding of the Indo-Pacific region, institutionalize its presence in the region, and deepen these partners’ familiarization with NATO missions, structures, and protocols.
The Alliance should also establish a small military headquarters element in the Indo-Pacific region, perhaps embedded in the COE or in United States Pacific Command to help facilitate and coordinate NATO exercises and operations. It, too, could contribute to Alliance’s awareness of developments in the region and, if the opportunity emerges, Alliance collaboration with China.
These initiatives will take effort to launch and execute. Some allies will balk at adding additional missions to NATO and their own military forces when resources are already strained. But the aforementioned will not generate onerous costs and can build upon European, US, and Canadian military operations in the Pacific that are already the norm.
Moreover, European attitudes toward China have significantly hardened. Eighteen months ago, many Europeans were content to regard China as an economic partner, notwithstanding its authoritarian political system and aggressive conduct in the Pacific. That has since changed as Europe has experienced with increasing frequency Beijing’s diplomatic and economic belligerence toward those that criticize its actions and policies. In March 2019 the European Union formally described China as a “strategic competitor,” “an economic competitor,” and “a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.” Beijing pugnacious conduct during the coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this new European perspective.
Beijing will likely balk at the offer of a NATO-China council as it will oppose an increased NATO presence in the Indo-China, especially one that fosters deeper political-military collaboration among the region’s democracies. Even NATO Partners in Asia may balk at elevating their relations with NATO out of a desire to avoid further complicating relations with China.
NATO may have to initiate its China strategy on its own, leveraging the territories Allies control in the Indo-Pacific and conducting its own operations and exercises in the region. That will demonstrate the commitment and determination necessary to earn the confidence and support of its partners for a more active Alliance presence in the region. China will then also be likely to demur, realizing that having regular communication with the world’s most powerful military alliance can be important means to avoid conflict, promote peace, and facilitate mutually useful cooperation.
A NATO strategy for China alone will be not a sufficient solution to the West’s increasingly tense relationship with Beijing. A coherent and effective transatlantic strategy for China will have to be comprehensive, one that leverages the full complement of diplomatic, economic, technological, social, and military capabilities and dynamics that define geopolitical power. For it to have maximum success it will have to combine the capacities of both Europe and North America and be reinforced through collaboration with community’s democratic partners in the Indo-Pacific. „
The question is if Ian Brzezinski´s ideas will find supporters. First: Is Trump interested in a NATO-China Council as he normally dislikes multilateral and international institutions, forums and organizations, but prefers more bilateral talks and deals between two or maybe even three strong leaders? Does he still think that NATO is obsolete and the best way is to rely on the USA and America First instead of having foul compromises with NATO partners? Secondly: Is China interested in this agenda? As it already rejected the idea between trilateral talks about New Start or other armaments control talks, would it like the idea of a NATO-China Council?
A former NATO General thinks similar:
“Correct, I believe, that it was Trump who as the first draw our attention to bad China.
We tend to see China only as a sales market. I heard that VW (before CORONA) made about 60% profit there. Siemens and everyone else similar. Also interesting. NATO China Council, a good idea, other suggestions too. if the Chinese want it at all. At new START, as you know, they declined the invitation. And then there’s America!.So far, all US governments have had no interest in us / NATO appearing only partially in „their Pacific region“. The British okay, rest no.”
And there are other disagreements between the USA and Europe, especially Germany in NATO:
The Trump-USA perceives Merkel.-Germany as the most destructive power in NATO to counter Russia and China. Mirroring Trumps point of view, an US senator already in January 2020 complained about the German role within NATO and the EU.Republican US Senator Tom Cotton sees German policy against Russia and China as a threat to NATO.
Cotton told the International Politics magazine, with reference to Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping, „NATO’s greatest threat today is the refusal of some members to take seriously the evil intentions of these two men and their policies.“ The senator explicitly criticized the Federal Republic in this connection. He demanded that Germany stand against the planned Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline and against the Chinese mobile phone company Huawei.
„Take Huawei, which some NATO members like Germany may want to give access to their 5G infrastructure, although the company has been proven to be spying for China,“ Cotton said. „Or Nord Stream 2, which, frankly, is a disgusting and disgraceful project. Germany is promoting the commercial use of the pipeline.“ The US imposed sanctions on Nord Stream 2 last month to stop the completion of the Baltic Sea pipeline from Russia to Germany. The punitive measures were adopted in Congress by all parties.
Cotton said Nord Stream 2 would double the amount of gas that Russia could export to Europe past NATO’s eastern border. „Russia can then blackmail countries like Poland and the Baltic States even better by threatening their energy supplies. At the same time, NATO’s dependence on Russia to heat their homes and energy for their economies is growing.“ He emphasized: „The first step in counteracting Russia and China is to stop strengthening their position through projects like Nord Stream 2.“
The Arkansas senator warned Huawei of potential ramifications for intelligence cooperation. „I am deeply concerned about the German government’s proposal to include Huawei in the country’s 5G infrastructure. Huawei is an arm of the Chinese Communist Party for information gathering.“ Huawei networks pose a risk to German security „that cannot be mitigated“. Cotton added, „Unfortunately, Huawei’s presence in allied nations‘ networks will force the US government to review our intelligence exchange procedures.“
To nurture Western fears of China the Peace Research Institute SIPRI published in its year book the first analysis of Chinese armaments industry claiming that it would be No.2 just after the USA. However, Chinese weapon industry till now mostly produces for its own military. The study is available at:
China produces more armaments than any other country in the world except the United States. This is the assessment of the Stockholm Peace Research Institute Sipri. Chinese companies produced less armaments than US corporations, but more than the entire arms industry in Russia, the peace researchers said in an analysis released on Monday.
It is the first comprehensive estimate of the Chinese arms sector by Sipri – until now, due to the lack of transparent data from the People’s Republic, the institute had not classified China’s armaments companies in a global comparison. China’s military expenditure, on the other hand, was recorded very well by the peace researchers: For example, in 2017 the armaments budget amounted to an estimated $ 228 billion. The following year it was $ 250 billion.
Now the Sipri researchers have evaluated reliable data from 2015 to 2017 for the first time in order to publish reliable estimates based on key figures from large Chinese armaments companies. „We have long suspected and estimated that China’s defense industry is very large,“ said Sipri expert Nan Tian. The Sipri researchers had opened up new sources, which is why they now consider their data to be reliable. From this year onwards, the Chinese figures should also be taken into account for the first time in the Sipri report on global arms sales, which will be published in December.
The four Chinese corporations examined sell a total of $ 54.1 billion in armaments, which is more than $ 16 billion more than the top ten largest Russian companies, but well below the number of US corporations. The largest of the four Chinese companies, aircraft manufacturer Avic, sold $ 20.1 billion in armaments. This would make Avic the sixth largest producer in the world. Compared to the arms sales of companies from other countries, all four Chinese companies are among the 20 largest defense companies in the world in 2017. Three of them even rank in the top ten – ahead of the European Airbus group. In 2017, Sipri’s Top 20 included eleven American, six European and three Russian groups.
According to the researchers, China’s armaments industry consists of ten large arms companies and a research institute. They found data from four of these companies with reliable financial information. In these reports, arms sales were not explicitly listed, but according to Tian they could still be calculated – mostly the sales category „other“ in these reports indicated weapons or armaments.
The actual value of arms sales across the Chinese defense industry is likely to be a little higher, totaling between $ 70 and $ 80 billion, Tian said. For a full picture, more information would have to be found on the other six Chinese defense companies. However, China has already secured second place among the global arms producers based on the values of the four groups analyzed. The largest buyer of the goods is the People’s Republic itself.
Almost all weapons that China produces are bought domestically by the Chinese military.
Sipri expert Nan Tian
„Almost all of the weapons that China produces are bought domestically by the Chinese military,“ said Tian. One reason for this is that Beijing wants to become completely independent of other countries in the manufacture of weapons and technologies for its military. At the same time, there is a slow trend, according to which the demand from abroad for Chinese armaments is increasing. However, there is still a long way to go before China reaches Russia’s export figures, Tian said.
According to the peace researchers, China has invested large sums in the modernization of its armaments industry since the 1960s, especially since 1999. In contrast to most companies in the West, Chinese armaments companies focus on a specific production sector such as airspace or land systems.
Sipri defines arms sales as sales of military goods and services to military buyers at home and abroad. Most of the companies that are known as armaments companies sell weapons and armaments as well as other products for the civilian market.