President Joe Biden, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talk after posing for a family photo during the NATO summit at the Alliance's headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium, June 14, 2021.

President Joe Biden, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talk after posing for a family photo during the NATO summit at the Alliance's headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium, June 14, 2021. Pool via AP / Kevin Lamarque

NATO Condemns Russia’s ‘Aggressive Actions’ Ahead of Biden-Putin Meeting

President Joe Biden spent a full day consulting with NATO allies about countering Russia and China.

NATO leaders emerged from their Monday summit united in their determination to counter Russia, but American officials have yet to convince their alliance counterparts to oppose China with similar full-throatedness. The communique from the summit mentions Russia 62 times, and China just 10.

But President Joe Biden said he received nothing but support for his plans to meet with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva. When asked if any international leaders worried that the meeting could be seen as rewarding the Russian leader for committing human rights abuses and invading another sovereign country, Biden said every NATO official he spoke with thanked him for his diplomatic outreach.

“Every world leader here as a member of NATO spoke today, and most of them mentioned it, [and] thanked me for meeting with Putin now. Every single one,” Biden said at a press conference on Monday in Brussels. “They thought it was thoroughly important that I do, and I had discussions with them...about what was important from their perspective and what they thought was not important.”

Biden told reporters on his first international trip that he intends to tell Putin that the two nations should find areas where they can work together. But Biden also said he will make clear “where the red lines are” in areas such as cyber attacks.

At the NATO meeting, officials agreed to develop a new Strategic Concept that will be unveiled at the next summit in 2022. The most recent concept document, which was written in 2010, called Russia a “constructive partner” and hardly mentioned China at all, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told press aboard Air Force One. 

The joint agreement from the summit takes a strong stance against Moscow, condemning Putin’s “aggressive actions” in both its traditional military build up and its use of hybrid tactics such as spreading disinformation, cyber attacks, and election interference that all threaten NATO members and increase instability in the region.

“Russia continues to breach the values, principles, trust, and commitments outlined in agreed documents that underpin the NATO-Russia relationship,” the communique says. “Until Russia demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there can be no return to ‘business as usual.’”

Sullivan said the communique talks about the threat from China in a more “robust” way than past documents; it says Beijing poses “systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security.”

But some analysts aren’t sure what business an alliance formed to fend off the Soviet Union has in taking on China. It’s also not clear that NATO countries have the military capabilities to counter China even if they wanted to, Michael Desch, an international relations professor at the University of Notre Dame, said on a press call ahead of the summit. 

“There is no meaningful military mission for NATO in terms of dealing with China, full stop,” Desch said on a call hosted by Defense Priorities. 

On Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO countries must address the challenge posed by China even while some, especially Germany, continue to conduct a lot of trade with Beijing. 

“It’s not either do nothing and trade or you do a lot and are not able to trade. The world is not that simple,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference. “We can work on arms control with China and continue to trade with them.”

At the summit, Biden said he had a “positive and productive” talk on the sidelines with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who also said at a press conference following the bilateral meeting that he believes “there are no problems in Turkey-U.S. ties that don’t have a solution.” 

But neither leader offered any specifics on how the two nations might solve looming conflicts, especially Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system that led to its ejection from the F-35 program. Erdogan said he and Biden did discuss the S-400, but simply said that he conveyed his “previous thoughts” to Biden—suggesting they did not resolve the issue. 

NATO leaders also discussed the end of the fight in Afghanistan. The communique stresses that though the military mission is ending, the diplomatic mission is not, echoing a message Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeatedly told Congress last week. After NATO nations withdraw their troops, the alliance will maintain a senior civilian representative’s office in Kabul and will continue to provide training and money to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. 

As Biden left NATO headquarters, he stopped by the 9/11 memorial and briefly touched a piece of steel from the World Trade Center that sits on the lawn, honoring the thousands of NATO troops who fought alongside Americans in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks. 

“I constantly remind Americans that when America was attacked for the first time on its shores since what happened back in the beginning of World War II, NATO stepped up. NATO stepped up and they honored Article 5,” Biden said earlier on Wednesday. “I just want all of Europe to know that the United States is there. The United States is there.”