Academic journal article Naval War College Review

NATO'S NEW ROLE: The Alliance's Response to a Rising China

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

NATO'S NEW ROLE: The Alliance's Response to a Rising China

Article excerpt

Russia's actions in Crimea and Ukraine have been momentous in their consequences for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Moscow has instilled new life in the almost seventy-year-old alliance. Doubts about its relevance and utility in the post-Cold War period have faded, at least for the time being, as leaders ponder what Russian leader Vladimir Putin will do next to challenge the alliance. This uncertainty weighs heavily on the heads of state and government of NATO's twenty-eight members.1 NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen characterized the situation well when he wrote, "In these turbulent times NATO must be prepared to undertake the full range of missions and to defend Allies against the full range of threats."2

These are indeed turbulent times. But this is not a novel situation for the alliance. Since its 1949 founding, NATO has experienced and survived many crises, including those in Berlin in 1958 and 1961, the Multilateral Force debate after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and the deployment of intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the 1980s. With the end of the Cold War, NATO confronted another crisis: one of confidence.

Our central argument is that the transatlantic relationship is challenged by not only Russia's Machtpolitik actions in Crimea and Ukraine but also the rise of China and the lack of a shared security identity between the United States and major NATO members. The deleterious consequences of China's rise are discerned increasingly well from Washington. As a result of Beijing's rise and the U.S. strategic rebalancing to Asia to reassure allies there and deter potential aggression, Europe is less important to the United States than it was during the Cold War.3 Yet a strong U.S. commitment to NATO remains important precisely because of the expansion of China's capabilities and the risk it poses to NATO.4

The consequences for NATO of the rise of China must be analyzed to identify policy solutions that will prevent a decline in the transatlantic alliance. To contribute to this objective, we review the major military, political, and normative aspects of the NATO alliance and argue that an explicit "Norms and Principles" component within NATO should be created to reinforce Western identity so as to help the organization remain unified in the face of a rising China.

Our argument is significant for two reasons. First, the rise of China has the potential to drive the transatlantic alliance apart. This is only in part because the United States increasingly is focused on China as a hegemonic threat. Before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. commitment to NATO was under strain as a result of the Obama administration's reorientation to confront the rise of China.5 Russia's actions have given the United States pause, and Washington is laboring to increase its presence in Europe while doing the same in Asia. In contrast, many in Europe view China not as a threat but as an increasingly sophisticated market, trading partner, investor, and lender. Generally, European capitals seek to maintain excellent relations with Beijing.6 Should this divergence continue to grow, it could place the United States and Europe at strategic loggerheads.

Second, a basic tenet of strategy is to divide your adversary from its allies and even win those allies over to your side. Thus, strategists should expect that China will seek to divide the West, if China's rise continues and security competition intensifies.7 A United States allied with Europe is a far stronger competitor than a United States divided from major European allies, who may remain observers or de facto neutrals in a Sino-American crisis. Accordingly, as Sino-American security competition increases, it is reasonable to expect that China will try to divide the United States from key NATO members through diplomatic and economic means. Members of the transatlantic community should anticipate this challenge and be prepared to meet it. …

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