After NATO leaders put China on the official agenda for the first time ever last December, the organization has continued to be very vocal in the first months of 2020 about China’s economic, military, and cyber activities.
Press reports in December quoted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as saying, “[T]he rises of China — the economic rise, the military rise — provides some opportunities but also some serious challenges.” Though characteristically diplomatic in tone and verbiage for the head of an international organization, Stoltenberg has maintained focus on China. On the heels of Secretary Esper’s speech at the Munich Security Conference in February, in which he said China’s “growing economic, military, and diplomatic power often manifests itself in ways that are threatening, coercive, and counter to the rules-based international order,” Stoltenberg followed suit, noting the shifting global balance of power stemming, in part, from China now having the second-largest defense budget in the world and heavy investment in new military capabilities.
NATO’s awakening to Chinese threats is strategic both politically and pragmatically. Politically, it signals to President Trump that the Allies stand with the United States (NATO’s biggest donor, by far) in its defense-based concerns about China, despite certain Member States’ governments allowing Chinese technology firms to operate on their countries’ civilian communications networks. Pragmatically, it reflects the reality that China’s activities and influence geographically surround NATO countries, with its being a dominant development presence to the south in Africa, and being an increasingly major player in the Arctic to the north.
But senior NATO officials have also gone further than repeating the typical talking points. Some have also taken opportunities to provide other insights and opine on areas of concern in their personal capacities. In February, NATO Legal Advisor Andres Munoz Mosquera and Nikoleta Chalanouli (who formerly served in several NATO elements) published the insightful essay, China, an Active Practitioner of Legal Warfare, on the Lawfire blog of Duke Law’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security. In it, Mosquera and Chalanouli examine how China is methodologically leveraging the vocabulary and institutions of international law, human rights, and the rules-based international order in support of its propaganda agenda. The article can be found at https://sites.duke.edu/