A top NATO official has warned of a shift in global military strength from the Western military alliance to China and Russia, a move he said could make a global conflict more likely.
In an address to the Atlantic Council, a NATO-affiliated think tank, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation General Denis Mercier reportedly said Thursday that the "risk for a major interstate conflict has increased" as non-Western powers, especially Russia and China, rocked the U.S.-led balance of power with their own push for greater military and economic clout. Both countries have undergone significant campaigns to revamp and modernize their forces, unsettling the transatlantic coalition.
"China is leveraging its economic power to increase defense spending as a foundation of the growing global power strategy," Mercier said, according to The Hill.
"The neighboring India is following the same path and could reach a comparable status in the medium term. At the same time, Russia is resurfacing with the will to become a major power again, challenging the established order in the former Soviet space," he added.
Mercier's remarks came in direct response to NATO's latest Strategic Foresight Analysis report, which was published last month with the stated goal of analyzing current international policy trends to shape the multinational coalition's strategy through 2035. The report claimed that "one of the biggest changes in the world is the increased risk of major conflict" since the release of similar reports in 2013 and 2015.
NATO partially blamed this on the "actions of a resurgent Russia in Eastern Europe and a more assertive China in the South China Sea using both hard and soft power to achieve political ends." Economically, things were changing too, with the report finding that "the global economic power shift away from the established, advanced economies in North America, Western Europe and Japan is likely to continue to 2035 and beyond."
"As power is shifting away from the West toward Asia, the West’s ability to influence the agenda on a global scale is expected to be reduced," the report read.
In September, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Marine General Joseph Dunford, told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his reappointment hearing that, while he considered North Korea the foremost threat to the U.S. "in terms of the sense of urgency," Russia led "in terms of overall military capability" and he expected China would become "the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025."
China's increasingly important role on the international stage was put in the spotlight last month during the quinquennial Communist Party Congress, which made President Xi Jinping's consolidation of power and influence apparent for the world to see. Xi has rapidly reformed his country's military, which boasted the largest standing army on Earth, to create a 21st-century fighting force capable of protecting Beijing's initiative to establish trading routes across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, as well as countering the U.S. presence in the Pacific.
Meanwhile, Russia's military rise has been viewed as particularly challenging to Western interests, as the country has already begun to replace the U.S. as the leading power broker in the Middle East and has expanded its influence in Europe. Following Russian President Vladimir Putin's 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, NATO assumed a more militant stance toward its rival, and the two have embarked on a major arms race across the region.
Xi and Putin have also sought to establish greater ties with one another in order to provide an alternative to the Western status quo. China and Russia have conducted joint drills across the world, from East Asia to the Baltics, and the Chinese Defense Ministry announced Friday that China and Russia would team up for an anti-missile exercise as both countries express opposition to the U.S.'s installation of the Terminal High Altitute Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, according to Reuters.