NATO Foreign Ministers preach post-Trump unity: Rise of China and an ‘assertive and aggressive’ Russia top agenda

A review of the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting, 23-24 March 2021

By Dr. Ian Davis, NATO Watch

Key activities and decisions taken:

  • The ministers agreed a formal joint statement on the “enduring transatlantic bond”—a message that sought to turn the page on the divisions of the Trump era.
  • The United States continued to rebuild bridges with its NATO allies. “You have our unshakeable vow: America is fully committed to NATO”, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech.
  • The US Secretary of State and NATO Secretary General continued to encourage the alliance to position itself in opposition to China.
  • NATO continued to argue that despite years of pressure and efforts to engage in a meaningful dialogue, Russia has increased its pattern of repressive behaviour at home and aggressive behaviour abroad.
  • As was the case at the Defence Ministers meeting in February 2021, the critical issue of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, scheduled for completion by 1 May, was discussed but a decision was again deferred until the Biden administration completes its own review of the situation.
  • The ministers had a “very positive discussion” on the NATO 2030 initiative, but there appeared to be little that was new, with one exception: Ministers agreed a report aimed at increasing NATO’s ability to understand, adapt and mitigate the security impact of climate change. Inexplicably, the report remains classified.
  • NATO is aiming to create a ‘virus-free’ zone at its headquarters in Brussels to allow a Summit to take place in June.
  • Despite the transatlantic bonhomie, on the side lines tensions resurfaced re Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 air defence system and US opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The NATO Foreign Ministers meeting was held in person at NATO headquarters for the first time since 2019. The meeting discussed four main issues: (a) NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan; (b) Security across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including the NATO mission in Iraq; (c) The NATO 2030 initiative and the continued adaptation of the alliance; and (d) Relations with Russia, with the participation of NATO partners Finland, Sweden and the EU Union High Representative.

Read the attached pdf briefing to find out more.