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Biden plans to push NATO allies to take a tougher line with China, but their militaries aren't equipped for the challenge

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Biden, Nato
President Joe Biden at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 14, 2021. STEPHANIE LECOCQ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden plans to push NATO allies to adopt a tougher stance towards China at his first summit as president, but a new report says its a challenge few European members of the group are equipped to meet.

Jens Stoltenberg, the head of the 30-member military alliance of western nations, has said that one of the key issues leaders will discuss at Monday's meeting in Brussels will be the rising threat posed by China.

"We're not entering a new Cold War and China is not our adversary, not our enemy," Stoltenberg told reporters at the NATO headquarters ahead of the summit.

"But we need to address together, as the alliance, the challenges that the rise of China poses to our security."

The new focus on China reportedly came at the prompting of top Biden administration officials, with Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security advisor, saying the alliance would adopt a tough new stance against China.

"China will feature in the [NATO] communique in a more robust way than we've ever seen before," Sullivan told reporters on Sunday en route to Brussels from the UK, according to Reuters.

But the tough rhetoric belies the weakness of European militaries, according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank with close links to the Biden White House. The study was first reported by Politico.

The study detailed decades of decline by European militaries, such as: "Much of Europe's military hardware is in a shocking state of disrepair. Too many of Europe's forces aren't ready to fight. Its fighter jets and helicopters aren't ready to fly, its ships and submarines aren't ready to sail, and its vehicles and tanks aren't ready to roll."

It noted that of particular concern in connection with the challenge posed by distant potential enemies was the fact that European militaries lack the capacity for refueling fighter jets in the air, transporting troops long distances, and surveillance and reconnaissance capacities.

In contrast, China is believed to have among the world's most powerful militaries, with the Pentagon finding in a 2020 report the People's Liberation Army (PLA) was aiming to supplant the US as the world's leading military power by 2049.

The report found that Beijing has "has marshaled the resources, technology, and political will over the past two decades to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect."

The study said that the solution lies not just in higher military spending by European nations, but in increased cooperation and the more efficient use of resources creating a common European defense force.

Article 3 of the NATO treaty obliges members to develop their militaries to keep pace with threats to their security.

The Center for American Progress report said: "European military weakness makes shifting NATO's focus on China or threats to other regions of the world much more difficult. But if the EU significantly developed its military capacity such that it had the capabilities and ability to defend itself, it would be natural then for Nato to focus more on global challenges such as China."

Biden will be looking to undo Trump's chaos

Former President Donald Trump, during his time in power, often bullied and berated NATO allies over their relatively low military expenditure, and Biden will be seeking to smooth over the cracks that appeared in the alliance.

On Monday, Biden called NATO "critically important for US interests," signaling a sharp departure from Trump's intentions.

But China could present a new challenge to NATO unity. Some European nations don't share Biden's assessment of the challenge posed by China, with the EU signing a new investment pact with Beijing in April over the objections of the Biden administration.

The allies' inability to meet the challenges that Biden considers key could also be the source of new tensions.

Biden's appearance at Monday's NATO summit follows his three-day trip in Cornwall, Britain, for the G7 meeting. He plans to meet EU leaders on Tuesday and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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