During NATO’s annual summit in Madrid this week, the thirty-nation military alliance is expected to label China a “systemic challenge,” according to Bloomberg—a step taken as part of revisions to the bloc’s Strategic Concept plan.
The Strategic Concept document, updated roughly once per decade, reflects NATO’s projected development and priorities for the upcoming decade. The last plan was written in 2010 and included no references to China. The 2010 document also labeled Russia as a security partner, language reflecting the relatively positive relationship that former Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev had established with the West during his term in office from 2008 to 2012. In retrospect, this period is widely regarded today as an interregnum for Medvedev’s predecessor and successor, Vladimir Putin, who Medvedev appointed prime minister during his term. Putin immediately elevated Medvedev to the same office following his return to the presidency. The Strategic Concept’s positive description of Russia from this period is certain to be scrapped, and harsher language imposed.
Anonymous officials quoted by Bloomberg suggested that the description of China as a “strategic challenge” intentionally fell short of describing Beijing as an “adversary.” Instead, the document intends to highlight areas of disagreement between Brussels and Beijing, including China’s advanced cybersecurity capabilities, its disinformation campaigns in the West, and its high degree of control over global supply chains.
The Strategic Concept is scheduled to be approved in Madrid during the upcoming summit on Wednesday. The document’s precise wording has reportedly been the subject of contention behind closed doors. Some NATO allies, including the United States, are thought to have pushed for a harsher stance on China, while others with deeper political and economic ties to Beijing, including Germany and France, have sought to moderate the document’s language. In addition to the reference to a “systemic challenge,” the document will reportedly also include an emphasis on NATO’s “willingness to work on areas of common interest” with the Chinese government.
An anonymous White House official said on Sunday that the resulting language would be “strong,” and would include reference to Chinese military ambitions in East Asia, including its growing military activity around Taiwan and in the South China Sea, according to Reuters. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan claimed that the document would “speak in ways that are unprecedented about the challenge that China poses.”
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.