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U.S. Uses NATO Summit To Take A Tougher Stance On China

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

It was like the first day back at school, seeing all your old friends again. That is how U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson characterized President Joe Biden's first NATO meeting, at least according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization held their summit in Brussels yesterday, and Biden delivered one big message to NATO partners.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Everyone in that room today understood the shared appreciation, quite frankly, that America is back.

MCCAMMON: Biden now turns his attention to a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where the two are expected to talk about nuclear stability, arms control agreements and cyberattacks among other issues on Wednesday. Ivo Daalder was U.S. ambassador to NATO under President Obama, and he joins us now. Ambassador Daalder, welcome.

IVO DAALDER: My pleasure.

MCCAMMON: I want to begin with China. NATO came out with a strong shared statement about the security issues that country poses. Let's hear what NATO's secretary general, Stoltenberg, said yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENS STOLTENBERG: China's growing influence on international policies presents challenges to alliance security.

MCCAMMON: How will the alliance address those challenges when some members will also want to keep their economic ties with China?

DAALDER: Well, it's important that NATO focused on China as a challenge and characterized Russia as a threat, a threat to its security that needs a direct response. When it comes to China, it is trying to raise the awareness of China's presence globally, but increasingly also in Europe, and that there is a need for the alliance and the 30 members of that alliance to work together to meet that challenge, to have common approaches and common policies on cyber, which is an issue that the Chinese are involved in, to be aware and share intelligence and information about where the Chinese may be acting militarily and, as necessary, build up the capacity to respond should China in the future come to threaten the security of the North Atlantic area, which is what NATO is all about.

MCCAMMON: What do you expect to see when it comes to NATO's efforts to check China's military power?

DAALDER: Well, I think what we'll see is first and most importantly, a strengthening of NATO's partnerships with critical Asian democracies, Japan, Korea, Australia and other countries. These partnerships exchange information, allow for interoperability of the armed forces so that when there are military operations, they can work together. All of these countries had forces and capabilities deployed in Afghanistan, for example. So that's one way.

The second is that intelligence about the Chinese and growing capability will be shared among the NATO allies. And third, if and when the Chinese approach militarily in the European region, as they do, that we have a capacity to respond should they, in one form or another, decide to use military force. And finally, there is the whole area of cyber and new technologies which are directed both against Russia but also against China. Having the capacity to detect cyber intrusions, defending cyber systems and, if necessary, responding to cyber attacks is as applicable to China as it is to Russia.

MCCAMMON: Right. And on that note, how do you think NATO should respond to, you know, a massive cyber attack on an ally in the future?

DAALDER: Well, it depends a little bit on the extent of the damage that such an attack inflicts. But NATO is prepared to invoke its most solemn obligation, what President Biden called the sacred obligation of Article 5, which is that an attack against one is an attack against all. So if there were a massive cyber attack, NATO could respond in a way, in a manner of its own choosing. It could be a cyber response. It could be a cyber defensive response or offensive response or indeed a military response, again, depending on the damage that such an attack would inflict on NATO countries.

MCCAMMON: When it comes to a cyber response, though, how equipped is NATO to deal with that, to do that, given the technological capabilities of Russia and China?

DAALDER: So NATO itself doesn't have much of a cyber capability, but that's how NATO operates. It's individual nations that contribute military capabilities and then operate under an integrated command structure. So NATO doesn't actually have any ground forces. Germany or the United States or the U.K. will provide those forces under the NATO command structure to operate. And so in the case of cyber, the same would be the case. The United States or the U.K., two major cyber-militarian capabilities, would be able to use their forces in response to an attack, say, on a country that doesn't have that capability and do so in a coordinated manner and under the direction of the NATO political authorities.

MCCAMMON: Regarding Russia, I want to quickly play what Stoltenberg said yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STOLTENBERG: Our relationship with Russia is at its lowest point since the Cold War, and Moscow's aggressive actions are a threat to our security.

MCCAMMON: And briefly, in about 30 seconds, what progress has NATO made toward addressing Russian aggression?

DAALDER: Very significant progress since 2014. It's deployed forces into the Baltic region and further east. It created the command structure, and most importantly, it has enhanced its capabilities for seven years running. It has increased defense spending significantly to provide for the capacity to defend its NATO territory against a potential attack from Russia.

MCCAMMON: I have been speaking with former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder. Thanks so much for taking the time.

DAALDER: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.