The foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s thirty member states issued a statement yesterday after a two-day meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels. They dutifully reiterated the military bloc’s credo of “reaffirm[ing] the enduring transatlantic bond between Europe and North America, with NATO at its heart,” as during the meeting itself they predictably excoriated its military adversary for the past 72 years: Russia, Soviet and post-Soviet.
Most relevantly, and most menacingly given the current almost complete breakdown of ties with Russia, the foreign ministers of nations with a collective population of one billion also reaffirmed their “solemn commitment to the Washington Treaty, including that an attack against one Ally shall be considered an attack against us all, as enshrined in Article 5.”
The world’s only nuclear alliance – the U.S., Britain and France being founding members – quite unambiguously revealed which situations and events could and which adversaries may well trigger an Article 5 response: “Assertive and authoritarian powers, and non-state actors, challenge the rules-based international order, including through hybrid and cyber threats, the malicious use of new technologies, as well as other asymmetric threats.”
In a press conference NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (who touted the fact that NATO’s collective population was one billion) was less nebulous in discussing the authoritarian threats to the rules-based international order in stating that the military bloc is “building new partnerships with partners in our neighbourhood, training, capacity building, but also building partnerships with like-minded countries, for instance in the Asia-Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.”
He added: “They are partners so we’d like to strengthen our partnership to stand up for a rules-based order and also address the consequences of the rise of China.”
He also discussed increasing NATO’s role in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia – and in the Asia-Pacific region, as mentioned, especially with in regard to increasing military cooperation and integration with “like-minded countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea in the Asia-Pacific region.”
When asked specifically about Australia, he delivered himself of this diatribe:
“First of all, I think it’s important that we stand together because we are like-minded democracies. And when we see attacks on our rules-based international order, which has served Australia, NATO Allies, and many other countries so well over so many decades, we need to stand up and defend this rules-based order. And just by strengthening the partnership, we are sending a clear message to countries like for instance China which is actually undermining these rules-based order.
“I also think it is important that we demonstrate that we are able to stand together when we see China trying to bully countries all over the world. They have behaved very badly against Australia after Australia has asked for an independent investigations to the originals of the coronavirus.”
If possible he was even more bellicose toward Russia, accusing it of undermining and destabilizing “its neighbours, including Ukraine, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova,” of supporting a “crackdown” in Belarus, interfering in the Western Balkans, continuing “its wide-ranging” military build-up “From the Baltic to the Black Sea, in the Middle East and North Africa, and from the Mediterranean to the Arctic,” disinformation and propaganda, “efforts to influence elections” (presumably in the West), cyber attacks and use of chemical weapons at home and abroad. The allusion to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are in reference to the Donbass and Crimea, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Transdniester, respectively. In all four cases NATO is indicating its resolve to contest Russian influence. Crimea has been reabsorbed into Russia and hosts the Russian Black Sea fleet; the Donbass is on Russia’s western border; Russia has troops in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniester.
In terms of further consolidating a military condon sanitaire between Russia and the rest of Europe and the Black Sea region, he focused on the second area:
“NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea region with three littoral states: Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria are NATO members, and then two: Ukraine and Georgia are close NATO partners. We have increased our presence on land, at sea, in the air, but we have also stepped up the cooperation with close and highly valued partners – Georgia and Ukraine.
“We will continue to do so, and we are looking into how we can further strengthen the partnership both the political and the practical support, and we also welcome the fact that both Ukraine and Georgia are providing support and help to different NATO missions and operations.”
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was just as blunt, stating at NATO headquarters after the two-day ministerial ended:
“There’s no question that Beijing’s coercive behavior threatens our collective security and prosperity and that it is actively working to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share.”
Not to be neglected, Russia was taken to task by Blinken over the Nord Stream 2 project:
“The pipeline divides Europe, it exposes Ukraine and central Europe to Russian manipulation and coercion, it goes against Europe’s own stated energy security goals, so what I said was that we will continue to monitor activity to complete and certify the pipeline, and if that activity takes place, we’ll make a determination on the applicability of sanctions.”
The U.S. and NATO have drawn a line across the planet: nations either fall into line with the rules-based international order or they will be isolated, ostracized and attacked. This month, March, which witnessed the launching of wars against Yugoslavia in 1999, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, offers sufficient warning that such threats are not to be taken lightly.