ROME — NATO will not label China as an adversary in its next strategy document in part because it is too far away from the alliance’s sphere of interest, but members must still try to match its technological progress, according to the chair of NATO’s Military Committee.
Adm. Rob Bauer, of the Royal Netherlands Navy, said China is a growing concern to NATO but the chances are slim the country will be categorized an an enemy in the Strategic Concept document due for release next year. Bauer serves as the conduit through which advice from NATO’s 30 defense chiefs is channeled to political decision-makers.
“I would say it is unlikely at the moment that China changes from a ‘challenge’ to an ‘adversary’ in the Strategic Concept,” he told reporters while visiting the NATO Defense College in Rome.
“China is not physically adjacent to the Euro-Atlantic area, which is the geographically bounded area defining the NATO alliance,” he added. “The perspective from the U.S. is different because they are part of the Pacific. For them, the relationship is [a] different one than for NATO.”
The comments by NATO’s most senior military officer follow those last month by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said China is not an enemy of the alliance, even though a NATO document in June said that “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security.”
That marked a change from NATO’s current Strategic Concept, which was issued in 2010 and does not mention China.
“The concern is growing,” Bauer acknowledged. “In the political realm, that is because, for example, the rules-based international order is challenged increasingly by China — but probably not with direct military consequences for NATO.
“In space and in cyber, we are challenged by China. So it is a growing concern because the Chinese armed forces are growing rapidly without being part of any arms control format.”
Bauer singled out China’s test in August of a hypersonic missile, which entered low Earth orbit. “We have all so far agreed not to militarize space, so everyone is thinking: ‘What is this?’ They say it is it nothing, but it is very concerning.”
What is particularly worrying is China’s ability to fly a hypersonic missile over both poles, something with which Western defense systems are not equipped to deal, he said. The technology was a “wakeup call,” he added.
“Because for a long time we all assumed we were strategically and technologically more advanced than anyone. Now we see things that are worrying. We talk about ‘near peer’ enemies, meaning they are good but not as good as we are. But in some cases we talk of peer enemies, and in some areas we are concerned they are talking about us now as ‘near peer’ enemies,” he said.
To speed up the development of military technology, NATO members must imitate Israel, he said, pointing to “cooperation between the scientific world, industry and military.” He added that in Israel, “there are a lot of ex-military that go into industry and the scientific world. It is one large group that thinks alike and understands the issues and each other. It’s a great network.”
“You cannot copy the system, but there are many things we can learn from Israel in terms of their ability to implement new technologies very, very quickly.”
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.