NATO PA debates implications of China’s military ambitions, Beijing’s and Moscow’s challenge to arms control and to Arctic security

17 May 2021

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NATO Allies need to work closely together and with global partners to mitigate challenges posed by China, as Beijing’s military ambitions increasingly rub up against Allied interests in key domains like sea, space and cyber, lawmakers warned Sunday. 

“China’s military does not pose an immediate threat to Allies, but it is increasingly apparent it is an over-the-horizon challenge,” said a draft report debated by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. “As Allies hone their understanding and approach to China in the coming months and years, it is certain NATO will need a whole-of-Alliance effort.”  
The report, drafted by Portuguese lawmaker Lara Martinho, was debated in the NATO PA’s Defence and Security Committee (DSC) during the Assembly’s Spring Session, held online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

An expected update of NATO’s Strategic Concept should underscore the Alliance’s role as an anchor of global stability and defender of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law, Martinho noted during the meeting.  

Martinho’s draft report stresses that Allies should work closely to share information on China’s military and technological development; and cooperate with partners in the Indo-Pacific region, including through “more regular and more robust military exercises”.  

At the same time, NATO Allies should seek to expand cooperation with China in areas such as climate change and arms control. 

China also featured prominently in draft reports, under discussion at the session, on international arms control and security challenges in the High North. 

French Senator Cédric Perrin pointed to challenges that both Russia and China pose to the “ailing” arms control process.  

“Russia has been developing new, destabilising nuclear delivery systems that seek to undermine Euro-Atlantic peace and security … China’s evolving nuclear posture is potentially more concerning,” said Perrin, who authored the draft report.  

“Beijing is undertaking the most aggressive expansion of its nuclear arsenal in its history,” he cautioned. “This is especially concerning considering China’s ongoing refusal to engage in any serious dialogue about its nuclear forces.” 

Perrin urged Allies to develop a “a coherent, whole-of-Alliance approach to [China’s] evolving nuclear posture, all while trying to convince its leaders that participation in the arms control process is in their best interests.” 

Allies should maintain pressure on Russia for a return to arms control negotiations, including through sanctions where necessary, the draft report says.  

In addition, Allies should look towards modernising arms control regimes to take account of technological developments including in space, cyber and artificial intelligence. 

As global warming frees up trade routes and resource access, the Arctic risks being transformed from a “region of peaceful cooperation to one of great power competition,” says a report drafted by Jean-Charles Larsonneur, of the French National Assembly.  

“Russian military investments have been the most significant,” he wrote. “China is increasingly seeking new ways and means to expand its Arctic footprint… Concerns are mounting about these efforts laying the groundwork for China’s future militarisation of the region.” 

Larsonneur highlighted NATO’s expected Strategic Concept revision as an opportunity to outline a response to the rapidly evolving Arctic security environment.  

Allies should invest in modern intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets to ensure they have a clear picture of the region and make sure it can maintain a capable presence in the High North with sufficient resources to project power effectively, when and if necessary. 

The DSC also received a briefing from John Manza, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Operations, on the Alliance’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. He said the withdrawal was going quickly, efficiently, and to plan and should be completed “within a few months.” 

“Withdrawing out forces does not mean the end of our relationship with Afghanistan,” Manza insisted, pointing to plans to maintain financing as well as training for Afghan security forces, and to maintain Kabul airport and a hospital for international diplomatic and development staff.  

Download the Defence and Security Committee preliminary draft reports
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