The US, Britain and the rest of the NATO alliance are expected to sharpen their language on the challenge posed by China, keep up pressure on Russia and for the first time make tackling the impact on security of climate change a key task.
President Joe Biden will touch down in Brussels on Sunday evening ahead of a summit on Monday of all 30 alliance leaders, including Boris Johnson, at NATO‘s giant, glass headquarters on the outskirts of the Belgian capital.
It comes ahead of Mr Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with Russia‘s Vladimir Putin in Switzerland on Wednesday and follows a three-day summit of the G7 in Cornwall – all designed to display democratic unity to the Kremlin.
Russia’s president told NBC News in an interview ahead of his meeting with Mr Biden that relations between Moscow and Washington were at their “lowest point”.
Speaking ahead of the NATO summit, its chief, Jens Stoltenberg, said it was a “pivotal moment” for the alliance.
“We are in an age of global competition and we must respond to many threats and challenges at the same time,” he said in a press conference on Friday. “We will also address the security impact of climate change, for the first time, making this an important task for NATO.”
The atmosphere at the summit is set to differ from the previous two gatherings in 2017 and 2019, when then-president Donald Trump stole the show.
He upturned what is usually a carefully choreographed and planned piece of diplomatic theatre, berating allies as “delinquent” for failing to pay their fair share of the bill towards collective defence and instead overly-relying on the US military.
Mr Trump even threatened to pull the US out of NATO – a move that would have dealt a hammer blow to what is regarded by its members as the cornerstone of their security.
All eyes this time will be on Mr Biden.
In a return to the language normally expected from US leaders, he is expected to affirm his country’s “unwavering commitment” to the alliance and to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which requires all allies to come to the defence of any member state if attacked.
But allies remain under pressure, even without Mr Trump’s threats, to meet previous commitments to move towards spending at least 2% of national income on defence by 2024 – a pledge made at a NATO summit in Wales in 2014.
Failure to do so would send the wrong signal to the Biden administration and to NATO’s adversaries, a European source said.
The summit on Monday will be relatively short, taking place just in the afternoon.
In terms of concrete outcomes, allies are expected to sign up to a communique which looks set to include a toughening of language about the challenge posed by China, according to three European sources.
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China was mentioned for the first time in a NATO leaders’ communique after the previous summit, hosted by the UK, in 2019 – when it was described as a challenge and an opportunity.
Eighteen months later, this language will remain balanced but is expected to give more of a sense of how Beijing, with its growing military power, poses a challenge to the world’s democracies.
The allies will still stress areas of co-operation, including climate change.
But there is concern particularly in the US about the threat posed by a rising China, with officials accusing the ruling Chinese Communist Party of human rights abuses and attempting to undermine international rules established since the Second World War.
NATO allies will also finalise what is being called the NATO 2030 initiative – a plan to transform the alliance to meet emerging and future threats. It includes plans to better exploit emerging technologies, enhance cyber defences, and combat climate change.
The initiative was devised after Mr Trump and France‘s President Emmanuel Macron questioned the relevance of an alliance that was established at the start of the Cold War to tackle the then-Soviet Union.