Jul 16, 2021
International Politics
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In 2019, China emerged prominently on NATO’s agenda, growing more prominent ever since. What accounts for this phenomenon? Is it best explained by Chinese behaviour, changing perceptions of its behaviour, or by an internal Alliance snowball effect resulting from the desire to appear dynamic and relevant, particularly following the Trump administration’s prioritization of China over Russia as the United States’ principal security challenge? To help answer this question, this article provides an historic overview of NATO’s policy approaches towards China. Contrary to the belief of many officials and commentators, China is not a new topic for the Alliance. In fact, China has regularly featured in NATO policies since the early Cold War, alternating between adversary to ally and back again. This article argues that despite recently prioritizing China in its discourse, the historical record provides ample reasons to cast doubt on any expectations this will lead to major substantive changes in NATO’s diplomacy or military posture.
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