Omer Onhon

NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting In Riga Came at a Time of All Kinds of Happenings

NATO Foreign Ministers held their last meeting of the year in Riga on November 30-December 1, with lots to talk about. In 2020 Macron had declared that “NATO is braindead”. He was upset about what he called insufficient consultation among the Allies. What led him to come up with these comments was basically his frustration at Turkey’s military operation in Syria. In other words, he was upset that France was sidelined in an area where it somehow regards itself as “the country with historical responsibilities”!

It is also worth noting that France, who came up with these complaints, has always been the lead nation for “less NATO- more EU”. France, which has been the most vocal proponent of autonomous defense identity for the European Union, has also argued strongly that the right platform for political consultation is the European Union and not NATO. In any case, NATO took these arguments seriously and responded by initiating certain work. The first product was the “NATO 2030 agenda” which was developed with a view to ensure that the Alliance could face effectively the challenges of today and the future.

The Alliance is now working on a new Strategic Concept, to be formally adopted at the Madrid Summit in June 2022. The previous Strategic Concept, adopted in the Brussels Summit, is eleven years old. Since then, a lot has changed. The new concept will “define security challenges and outline the political and military tasks NATO will carry out to address them”. This will be done by way of building on elements of the old, which are relevant in present times. All these are taking place at a time when there are various challenges and a worldwide re-positioning.

The USA is shifting its focus and re-arranging its military assets. Doing this without compromising in places of major importance, such as Europe and the Middle East is a serious challenge.

On the other side, Russia and China are also re-positioning. China under President Xi Jinping is more assertive. Russia is expanding its presence through posturing, new weapons demos and at times, interference. Russia and China are conducting joint military activities as well.

Russia and China also have partners and allies. Iran, for example, is on the stage. In March, China concluded a major agreement with Tehran for 400 billion dollars of investment over the next 25 years in exchange for steady shipments of oil and gas. On another note, after so many years, Iran finally was accepted as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in September.

With all the geo-strategic and technological developments, security no longer has boundaries or regional limitations. New partnerships are on the horizon. NATO Secretary General stressed that NATO should intensify its cooperation with partners in the Asia-Pacific, namely, Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

That statement should be read in conjunction with developments in Asia and with formations such as AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, USA) and Quadrilateral Security Dialogue/QUAD (India, Japan, Australia, USA). Russia and China both have the full attention of NATO.

In its June 2021 communique, NATO referred to Russia as a “threat to Euro-Atlantic security.” In the same document, it was stated that “China can present challenges.”

Even in six months these references evolved. In the words of NATO Secretary-General in Riga a few days ago; “Russia and China are undermining the international rules-based on order. The Russian regime is aggressive abroad and oppressive at home. The Chinese Communist Party is using its economic and military might to coerce other countries and control its own people”.

Whereas China is relatively new to the Alliance, history with Russia goes way back. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a new era of relations between NATO and Russia. In 2002, the NATO-Russia Council was established. It was a useful forum for consultation on a wide range of security issues of common interest. However, Russian intervention in Ukraine in April 2014 and later, and the alleged election interference, cyberattacks and the targeting of Russian opposition figures and dissidents changed everything. Relations were strained. The last meeting of the Council was in 2019. After that date, Russia did not respond to calls by NATO to hold a meeting.

NATO-Russia relations took a further dive when NATO canceled the accreditation of several Russian diplomats for alleged involvement in spy work. Russia responded by suspending its mission to NATO and shutting down the Alliance's liaison mission as well as its information office in Moscow.

NATO Ministers’ Riga meeting became dominated by recent escalation between Russia and Ukraine relations, stemming from extensive Russian military build-up near Ukraine. NATO Ministers stated solidarity with Ukraine and warned Russia that any aggression against it, would have serious political and economic implications.

Russia rejected these claims. Putin came up with Russia’s threat perceptions and emphasized his country’s concern about NATO’s eastward expansion and deployment of weapons close to its borders.

NATO has its hands full with a variety of issues and challenges both from within and outside and on many fronts.

One other issue which marked the Ministers' meeting was the evaluation that had to be done as a result of the recent tragic developments in Afghanistan. The result of the evaluation can be summarized as follows: even though military wise there were some successes, as a whole and with special reference to nation-building, NATO was not well prepared and goals were not realistic. In case there is a similar happening in the future, things must be done in a different way, and a lot will have to be accomplished between now and the Summit in Madrid next year.