Is NATO enlargement a sign of things to come for China?
The enlargement of NATO with the formal invitation of Sweden and Finland to join the alliance is also a nod towards China and its aspirations in the Pacific and against Taiwan. It is also a sign of the problems that the West will face if it is to face the various prongs of Chinese political aspirations.
Turkey’s objections against Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, in a bid to enhance the problematic image of Erdogan in the coming Turkish elections and also barter for Turkish interests, at a time when all alliance members should show solidarity, is maybe a sign of things to come when smaller countries in contact with China are called upon to decide their stance.
Various NATO members have different priorities as to interacting with China as part of the NATO alliance, since “it is primarily the US that wants NATO to deal with the systemic confrontation between the West and China”(Kaim and Stanzel 2022, 2).
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a test case for China for the way rogue powers are handled by the West.
If Russia comes out of the war with tangible territorial gains and without long-term repercussions, China will have a framework on which to build its territorial and political aspirations in the Pacific rim.
The recent NATO summit in Madrid addressed for the first time, via a new NATO Strategic Concept “the challenges posed by China”(ΝΑΤΟ 2022).
China was very quick in condemning this change in NATO policy but the strategic problem still remains. It is US interests that are much more at stake rather than those of the other countries participating in NATO.
The Madrid conference also set a very dangerous precedence for the future conduct of member states.
The blatant extortion by Turkey of the two soon-to-be member states, Sweden and Finland, and the bartering with Erdogan at a time of crisis, should make NATO and the US in particular, at least contemplate their view of Turkey and its place in the NATO alliance and stop treating it as a sacred cow.
In 2010, NATO’s Strategic Concept “called Russia a strategic partner”(Lawless, Wilson, and Corbet 2022) with Russia becoming the villain now. In the sphere of grand strategy, a hypothesis may be put forward that Russia was more useful in curtailing Chinese expansion along with the West since both countries share borders and China may pose a serious strategic threat to Russia in the coming decades.
After the invasion of Ukraine and a US response that seeks to diminish Russian military resources and political impetus and influence in what amounts to a proxy war, along with Moscow’s financial seclusion from the western led markets, Russia became a huge exporter of energy commodities towards both China and India.
These commodities literally help fuel the Chinese economy and help future Chinese aspirations.
A time may therefore arise when the protracted exclusion of Russia from somewhat normalized relations with the West will play into the hands of China, in a manner not envisioned now.
What seems possible now, drawing Russia into a forever “special operation” where it literally bleeds men, equipment, and international political status may become a strategic mistake when dealing with a China that will be emboldened enough to make military moves in the Pacific against US and Western interests.
Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, etc have much to lose as well if Chinese power is extended unfettered.
This is of course not a call for the not-too-distant reinstatement of Russia to the world scene or absolution of its invasion of Ukraine. The new Strategic Concept, by including China as a power that tries to subvert world order may be overextending NATO capabilities and the political intentions of its member states.
The looming European energy crisis that will surely come this winter due to Angela Merkel’s shortsighted policy of engorging Germany and Europe with Russian oil and gas, will make electorates and politicians in European NATO member states promptly reevaluate their ideas about keeping a strict moral stance against Russia when re-election or social instability is looming.
International relations are cynical and full of the ever-changing interests of the political actors, where concepts of a united strategy cannot possibly follow.
Kaim, Markus, and Angela Stanzel. 2022. “The Rise of China and Nato’s Strategic Concept.” 04
Lawless, Jill, Joseph Wilson, and Sylvie Corbet. 2022. “Russia and China Slam Nato After Alliance Raises Alarm.”
ΝΑΤΟ. 2022. “Madrid Summit Ends With Far-Reaching Decisions to Transform Nato.”
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