GP Insights # 473, 21 February 2021
On 17 February, the NATO defence ministers met to address NATO's missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, review progress for a fairer burden-sharing, and discuss the NATO 2030 initiative in their two-day virtual conference. The ministers also met with their NATO partners Finland, Sweden, and the European Union to address the shared security challenges. The important outcome from the conference has been US President Joe Biden’s reaffirmation to NATO.
On 19 February, Biden told at the online session of the Munich Security Conference: “The United States is fully committed to our NATO alliance, and I welcome your growing investment in the military capabilities that enable our shared defenses." “An attack on one is an attack on all. That is our unshakeable vow.” This was Biden’s first speech on the international platform after winning the election.
On 17 February, the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “This is our first meeting with the new Biden administration and an opportunity to prepare the NATO summit in Brussels later this year.”
What is the background?
First, Biden’s restores the US commitment to the Atlantic alliance. Since the Trump administration, there has been a trust deficit and a strained partnership with the European leaders. Trump had publicly hammered and sought to shame, Germany and other NATO members for not meeting a target of spending 2 per cent of their gross domestic output on defence. But Biden’s speech sort to signal a different approach. He reversed Trump's decision to withdraw troops from the US bases in Germany and also outlined a vision of international engagement that will put West-led multilateralism at the core of the security agenda of NATO.
Second, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. The issue of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq has been a challenge discussed at the conference. The Doha Agreement formalized the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan by 1 May, however, neither the conditions are palpable or mature for it. Before the meeting, the Taliban said, “Our message to the upcoming NATO ministerial meeting is that the continuation of occupation and war is neither in your interest nor in the interest of your and our people.” Contrastingly, on 15 February, Stoltenberg said the presence of the alliance’s troops in Afghanistan is “conditions-based.” In Iraq, NATO has a training and advisory mission, which Biden welcomed in his speech. Thus, the ministerial meeting, that builds the groundwork for the lager NATO summit in Brussels later in the year, will face withdrawal question solemnly.
Third, a curtain-raiser for NATO’s Brussel’s summit. The Defense Ministers meeting has been a modest affair, unlike in the past, with representation only from the major Western powers. Later in 2021, the conference in all likelihood will see participation from top officials from China and Russia. The defense meeting took stock of the threat posed by Russia in the backdrop of the diplomatic crisis over Navalny’s arrest. "The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponizes corruption to try to undermine our system of governance," said Biden.
What does it mean?
The meeting charts the course for a probable future relationship between the European leaders and the US within the alliance. Though Biden made a passing reference to NATO budgetary contributions, the issue of sharing burdens and defence spending is not likely to outrightly smoothen a wrinkled relationship. Biden has made it clear for the NATO members that China along with Russia should be on any future agenda for NATO. Thus, one could anticipate a strategic blueprint for NATO in maintaining its relation with China.
The alliance may not simply return to an old-world order while the transition for NATO will be an important marker to watch for in 2021.