In the midst of Putin’s war, NATO keeps its eyes on China

Welcome back to Foreign Police‘s SitRep. This is Robbie, who is riding solo this week while Jack enjoys some well deserved rest.

Since Jack isn’t here to stop me, I’m using my executive privilege to fully educate myself on the NATO stuff in this week’s newsletter. Be warned: this edition is for the most extreme adrenaline junkies, as I’ll be diving into decades-old archives on NATO enlargement. Exciting stuff.

Alright, here’s what to expect for the day: NATO keeps China on its radar as its foreign ministers meet in Brussels, Finland and Sweden are moving closer to joining NATO, and a vote in Congress about NATO that took a lot of people by surprise.

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NATO keeps tabs on China as Russia grabs headlines

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unsurprisingly topped the agenda at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday.

But there was another part of the meeting that may have been lost in the fray: a new diplomatic milestone that showed how the alliance is trying to tackle China’s rise as a global superpower, even as ‘it deals with the immediate crisis of enormous Russian power. invasion of Ukraine.

East meets West. Senior diplomats from Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand attended the semi-regular meeting of NATO foreign ministers. It’s a first, as Julianne Smith, the US ambassador to NATO, told reporters during a briefing this week.

Their presence aims to show the Kremlin that the European and Asian partners agree to condemn the Russian invasion and intensify diplomatic and economic pressure on Moscow.

But it’s also about sending a message to China, something senior Biden administration officials are pushing even as they grapple with the immediate crisis in Ukraine.

Double trouble. “It is now for the United States a Eurasian theater. We look at the challenge from Russia and China [in the] long-term in a similar way,” said Heather Conley, head of the German Marshall Fund think tank. “We are going to need to have a NATO that prioritizes the collective defense of Europe while being able to build greater partnerships and liaison mechanisms with our Indo-Pacific allies.”

Prior to Russia’s invasion, NATO was beginning to think about how to approach China as a geopolitical threat, thanks to not-so-subtle promptings from Washington.

A new strategy. NATO is expected to release a new “strategic concept” document later this year, the guiding document intended to set the alliance’s strategy for the decades to come. Prior to Russia’s invasion, China was expected to get first place in the strategic concept, with Russia coming second.

Flip the script. “The effect of this crisis has been to overturn that order,” said Rose Gottemoeller, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and former NATO assistant secretary general. “Russia will be front and center, as it has been historically, but…China will not be ignored either.”

“China will, for the first time, be present in a NATO strategic concept. It just won’t be the kind of headline it would have been if this crisis in Ukraine hadn’t happened,” she added.

West beats east? Still, China is a much tougher threat to the alliance to deal with, Conley said. Beyond simple geography, it is because this is not a traditional, simple challenge that NATO has trained with for decades, unlike the collective defense against Russian threats against Europe.

It’s also because Europe is so closely tied economically to China, and not all Europeans see China as Washington’s existential threat, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine sucked all the oxygen of the diplomatic rooms in Brussels.

“The Russian threat is so overwhelming right now…that I don’t think the Europeans are politically prepared or have the courage right now to be able to think about this broadly. [on China]but Washington, of course, thinks that broadly now,” Conley said.


US President Joe Biden appointed Linda Fagan to be the next Commander of the United States Coast Guard. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to command a U.S. military branch.

The Senate Intelligence Committee held a hearing Wednesday to Kate Heinzelman to be general counsel of the CIA.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a nomination hearing Thursday for four of Biden’s ambassador choices: Caroline Kennedy for Australia, Philip Goldberg for South Korea, MaryKay Carlson for the Philippines, and Mark Nathanson for Norway.

Michael Horowitzdirector of Perry World House at the University of Pennsylvania, joins the U.S. Department of Defense as director of the department’s new Office of Emerging Capabilities Policy.

Julia Friedlander leaves the Atlantic Council to become CEO of the non-profit organization Atlantik-Brücke.


What should be at the top of your radar, if it isn’t already.

Doubts? Two interesting data points highlight an interesting trend in US and Republican Party policy on NATO. The first is what was supposed to be an innocuous and symbolic vote in the House of Representatives expressing support for NATO. It passed, unsurprisingly, but 63 Republican lawmakers — nearly a third of the entire party in the House — voted vs this.

The second is a new Pew Research Poll this shows that 47% of conservative Republicans believe the United States does not benefit from NATO membership (while 82% of Democrats believe the country benefits “a lot/quite” from NATO membership ). The Republican Party has traditionally been a stronghold of NATO support and is still by a wide margin in Congress and a thinner margin in public opinion. But does everything change?

Let’s take our relationship to the next level. After decades of careful military non-alignment, Finland is on the verge of joining NATO thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as FP reported this week. Neighboring Sweden is a little further behind but likely to join if Finland takes the plunge, defense analysts and European officials said.

Everyone in NATO seems on board with the deal despite the fact that it could further stoke tensions with Moscow. (The foreign ministers of Finland and Sweden also joined the big NATO meeting on Thursday.) Adding Finland will more than double the total length of NATO’s border with Russia, from about 750 miles currently to nearly 1,600 miles.



U.S. Marines take part in a joint amphibious assault exercise as part of the annual U.S.-Philippine military exercise Balikatan off the waters of the South China Sea in Claveria, Cagayan province, Philippines, March 31 .Ezra Acayan/Getty Images


The brewing storm. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was partly the culmination of decades of tension between the West and Moscow over NATO expansion. One now declassified memo of December 1994 highlights how long this conflict had been simmering.

The memo, from Nicholas Burns (now US Ambassador to China) to then-US Under Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, follows a meeting in Budapest, Hungary, between the US President of at the time, Bill Clinton, and his former Russian president. counterpart, Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin surprised the Americans with a angry speech over NATO expansion, accusing a “domineering” Washington of trying to “divide [the] new continent” by expanding the alliance.

Yeltsin “pissed off” Clinton. Clinton was “really pissed off and his anger grew when we got back to Washington,” Burns wrote to Talbott in a direct note on the plane ride home from Budapest.

“[Clinton] wants us to figure out how to improve our communications with Russia on NATO. He asked me whether or not we should try to be more candid with the Russians by giving them a clearer picture of how we see the expansion process unfolding,” Burns wrote. “He understands that in addition to the problem of Yeltsin dumping on us in public, we also have to deal with Russia’s real and legitimate security concerns over NATO enlargement.”

A diplomatic triumph… That meeting that pissed Clinton off so much was not a total loss, however. This led to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurancesin which the United States, Britain and Russia pledged to respect Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty – a commitment that led kyiv to relinquish its massive arsenal of era nuclear weapons Soviet Union in a landmark victory for global nuclear non-proliferation.

…With a tragic ending. The rest is history. Russia violated this memorandum in 2014 with its first limited invasion of Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea. Then he violated it again in February with a massive invasion.

As for Clinton’s request to the State Department to find ways to appease Russia on NATO expansion, well…


Friday, April 8: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz travels to London to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Sunday April 10: France holds its first round of presidential elections.

Wednesday April 13: The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on ballistic missile defense.

Wednesday April 13: Stacey Dixon, the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


Dancing is the best form of deterrence. Since we are talking about NATO, enjoy it video of a group of NATO leaders swaying awkwardly while singing “We are the world” during a major NATO meeting in Turkey in 2015. Viewer discretion is advised.