China, Eastern Flank, and Ukraine’s Membership Aspirations Feature as NATO Foreign Ministers Meet

James Carstensen | November 30, 2022 | 3:38pm EST
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NATO foreign ministers meet in Bucharest, Romania on Wednesday. (Photo by Daniel Mihailescu / AFP via Getty Images)
NATO foreign ministers meet in Bucharest, Romania on Wednesday. (Photo by Daniel Mihailescu / AFP via Getty Images)

Berlin ( – NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest, Romania have warned against reliance on China, pledged support for the alliance’s eastern flank, and reaffirmed NATO’s “open door policy” – although stopping short of offering concrete steps for Ukraine to join.

“The war in Ukraine has demonstrated our dangerous dependency on Russian gas,” NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday after the two-day meeting.

“This should also lead us to assess our dependencies on other authoritarian regimes, not least China. For our supply chains, technology or infrastructure.”

Stoltenberg said NATO allies would continue to trade with China but need to be “aware of our dependencies” and “reduce our vulnerabilities.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed similar sentiments following the meetings.

“The members of our alliance remain concerned by the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] coercive policies, by its use of disinformation, by its rapid, opaque military build-up, including its cooperation with Russia,” he said on Wednesday.

“But we also remain committed to maintaining a constructive dialogue with China wherever we can, and we welcome opportunities to work together on common challenges.”

Meanwhile Germany and Norway announced plans for a NATO-led initiative to protect critical underwater infrastructure, weeks after explosions hit the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in Berlin on Wednesday that Stoltenberg would be asked to “set up a coordination office for the protection of underwater infrastructure.”

The two-day meeting saw the foreign ministers of NATO aspirants Finland and Sweden join for the first time. The alliance also pledged support for Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia, three non-members which Stoltenberg said were facing pressure from Russia.

“Allies agreed to step up our tailored support, including on capacity-building, reforms, and training to improve their security and defense institutions,” he said of the three.

The efforts include a defense capacity building program and the establishment of a NATO facility in Sarajevo.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, whose country will host next year’s NATO leaders’ summit, said the alliance expects “significant progress in strengthening our forward defense and the security of the whole eastern flank” before the Vilnius gathering next summer.

Support for Ukraine, no membership moves yet

Several allies announced support and further aid to Ukraine’s forces battling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, with Slovakia pledging artillery and armored personnel carriers and the U.S. announcing $53 million for critical electricity grid equipment that has been damaged by massive Russian attacks.

NATO members have to date ruled out supplying long-range missiles or other offensive weaponry to Ukraine, amid concerns it could escalate the conflict with Russia.

However, some members have urged the alliance to go further, with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu calling on NATO partners to pledge one percent of their GDP to military support for Ukraine.

“I hope that in the future we can celebrate Ukraine receiving an invitation to become a NATO member,” said Reinsalu.

Fourteen years ago NATO members – at a summit also held in the Romanian capital – could not reach consensus in providing Ukraine and Georgia with “membership action plans” (MAPs) putting them on a formal path to join the alliance.

The U.S. pushed at the time for MAPs for Ukraine and Georgia, but opposition came from a group of allies heavily reliant on Russian energy, including Germany and France.

Instead, NATO agreed that that two “will become members” at some future, unspecified date, a pledge that has been repeated at almost every NATO summit since, but with little actual progress made.

In a statement issued during this week’s meetings, the foreign ministers said, “We firmly stand behind our commitment to the alliance’s open door policy.”

“We reaffirm the decisions we took at the 2008 Bucharest summit and all subsequent decisions with respect to Georgia and Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg said while the alliance stands by the 2008 decisions, “the main focus now is on supporting Ukraine, ensuring that President Putin doesn’t win.”

Asked whether Ukraine had earned entry into NATO, Stoltenberg made clear that prevailing in the war with Russia would be a requirement, for that to be “at the table.”

But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the end of the war in his country should not be a precondition for progress in his country’s bid to join the alliance.

“We will become a NATO member state, but this does not mean that nothing should be done between now and the moment when we become a NATO member,” he said on Wednesday.

“I am speaking about the necessity to start a discussion of how to deal with our application,” he said. “There is a specific procedure. And we should not just sit still and do nothing until we win.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was critical of statements emanating from the NATO meeting.

“The wording contained in the document indicates that NATO is absolutely not interested in a political and diplomatic solution in Ukraine,” she told reporters in Moscow, without elaborating.

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