China, Russia and climate change: why Australia’s place at the NATO Summit was so important

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese admitted at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Public Forum that some Australians may not understand why he’s at a NATO meeting in Spain. But that since COVID and the invasion of Ukraine, more Australians understood how connected nations are to each other and we can no longer “compartmentalise”.

NATO is a treaty-based organisation created in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. Australia isn’t a member, but an “enhanced opportunities partner”.

This was the first time Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand were invited as special guests to attend a NATO summit. While left unsaid by the prime minister, it was crucially important Australia attend at the leaders level and make our mark to secure Europe’s attention on Indo-Pacific security challenges.

Our invitation was clearly influenced by US President Joe Biden’s strong view “the linkage in security between the Indo-Pacific and the Euro-Atlantic is only deepening”.

The prime minister took the opportunity of the visit to send a message to the Chinese government that it should learn the lessons from Russia’s “strategic failure” in Ukraine.

As it transpired, the Madrid Summit felt to many like a watershed moment that may influence Australian and global national security in the future.

NATO and the partners demonstrated a unified commitment to the rule of law, sovereign borders and human security in Europe and beyond. All this in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the precedent it sets for other would-be aggressors.

NATO had to also consider their response to China’s growing influence and assertiveness and the security consequences of climate change. These are both of crucial import to Australia’s future.

The impact and importance of diplomatic moments like these need to be better communicated to the Australian public through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

Australia has been deepening ties with NATO
Australia’s invitation is the result of a long-term strategy to deepen ties with NATO. Australia is a partner not a member, and so this invitation to the Asia-Pacific countries is significant. It reflects NATO’s intent to focus on China and Indo-Pacific security for the first time in its history.

Australia’s relationship with NATO began to grow closer as a result of our deployments in Afghanistan under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Australia and NATO signed a joint political declaration in June 2012, then Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programs in 2013 and 2017.

In 2014, NATO further recognised Australia as a “valuable, capable and reliable partner” by granting Australia “enhanced opportunities partner” status (along with Finland, Georgia, Jordan, Sweden and Ukraine).

And in August 2019, Australia and NATO signed a renewed partnership agreement during an historic visit of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Australia.