US Secretary of Defense intends to renew relations with NATO amid threats from China and Russia

WASHINGTON – US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will meet with members of the world’s most powerful military alliance on Wednesday for the first time since joining the Biden administration.

At a two-day meeting, ministers from 30 NATO countries will discuss a range of problems facing the bloc.

The virtual meeting comes shortly after President Biden’s call to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with America’s closest allies to learn more about the new American leader’s foreign policy agenda.

“America cannot afford to be further away from the world stage,” Biden said at the State Department.

Biden’s message was in stark contrast to his predecessor’s “America First” policy, which at times seemed to irritate NATO members.

“I think the alliance is strong and united, and everyone knows that the US plays a very important role in NATO,” former US envoy to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison told CNBC.

Many of the issues regarding China that the Biden administration is trying to resolve are also in the common interests of the NATO alliance, she said.

“We’ve really paid much more attention to China in the last two years,” Hutchison said. “China is indeed on NATO radar.”

Biden also said that the United States will change its approach in relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days when the United States did not resist aggressive Russian actions, interference in our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning of its citizens are gone,” Biden said earlier this month.

“Our relations with Russia will become more effective when we work in the same coalition and coordination with our other like-minded people,” he added.

The White House is currently examining other Russian actions, including a hacker attack on SolarWinds, reports of Russian payments for the killings of American soldiers, and potential election interference.

“There has never been a respite in NATO’s Russia policy,” Hutchison told CNBC when asked about the alliance’s approach. “I don’t think the course will change, because I think we were tough with Russia.”

Hutchison noted that soon after the poisoning of the leader of the Russian opposition, Alexei Navalny, NATO condemned Moscow’s actions.

“Our allies voted unanimously to condemn Russia in the situation with Navalny, when it became clear that Russia had poisoned him,” Hutchison said.

A senior Defense Ministry official told reporters on the eve of the meeting that “it is clear that Russia poses a threat to all NATO members, including the United States.”

“Russia is undermining transparency and predictability,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They use military force to achieve their goals. They support the factions they control and wreak havoc and doubt, undermining a rules-based international order. ”

According to the official, the US “will work with Russia to advance its interests while holding it accountable for its reckless and aggressive actions.”

“We want to discuss this with our allies this week,” the official said.

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