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NATO foreign ministers discuss ‘aggressive’ Russia, reforms

Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg. (Policy Network/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A report presented to NATO foreign ministers on December 1 says the alliance must adapt to deal with new threats, including “persistently aggressive Russia” and “the rise of China.”

The ministers received the report on the first day of a two-day conference being held via video link as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that the ministers also discussed the Russian “military buildup” around the alliance, as well as its mission in Afghanistan.

The Western military alliance “will have to take some hard decisions” about the mission when NATO defense ministers meet in February, he said.

The 67-page report makes about 140 suggestions on how to reboot the alliance, which it says “must adapt to meet the needs of a more demanding strategic environment.”

It notes that while NATO faced one big threat during the Cold War, it now faces two “systemic rivals” — Russia and China — along with “the enduring threat of terrorism.”

It also suggests the Western military alliance find a way to stop individual countries from vetoing policy decisions, as Hungary has done over plans for a deeper partnership with non-NATO member Ukraine.

Other recommendations include creating a consultative body to coordinate a broader policy toward China, holding summits with European Union leaders, and giving the secretary-general more power over personnel and budgets.

“NATO needs a strong political dimension to match its military adaptation,” according to the report, whose suggestions are not binding.

The document is to be presented to NATO leaders at a summit planned for next year. They could be included in an update to NATO’s Strategic Concept document, which dates from 2010 and sought to consider Russia as a partner.

Speaking to reporters, Stoltenberg said the ministers discussed “Russia’s continued military buildup in our neighborhood, as well as arms control.”

He said NATO is adapting its deterrence posture “to address Russia’s destabilizing actions,” but the ministers agree that they must continue to pursue dialogue with Russia.

They also expressed support for preserving limitations on nuclear weapons and for developing a more comprehensive arms control regime and welcomed dialogue between Russia and the United States ahead of the expiration of their bilateral New START treaty in February.

“We should not find ourselves in a situation where there is no agreement regulating the number of nuclear warheads,” he said.

On Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said NATO supports the peace process while remaining committed to the mission to help Afghanistan fight terrorism.

But he added: “As we continue to assess the situation in Afghanistan, it is clear that we will face a turning point early next year.”

The security alliance risks an even longer-term engagement if the NATO mission stays in Afghanistan, and if it leaves there is a risk that it will become a safe haven for international terrorists again, Stoltenberg said.

“So, there is a price for staying longer, but there is also a price for leaving too soon,” he said.

NATO now has about 11,000 troops from dozens of countries stationed in the country. Their mandate is to help train and advise Afghanistan’s own national security forces.

But the presence of U.S. forces, which NATO relies on for air support, transport, and logistics, is scheduled to shrink by 2,000 troops to 2,500 by January 15.

Under a peace deal reached between the United States and the Taliban, all foreign troops should leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, if security conditions on the ground permit.