Jan. 27 (UPI) -- NATO must take a global approach and work more closely with Asia-Pacific region democracies, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.
Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, he told the military bloc's one-day meeting of its Allied Chiefs of Defense to ensure that NATO will "remain fit to face any challenge the future may bring."
"Our armed forces have ensured that this health crisis has not become a security crisis, but COVID-19 has not made other challenges go away," Stoltenberg added.
Stoltenberg's interest in working with democracies outside of NATO's North American and European spheres is in part because of concerns that China is emerging as a global, instead of regional, threat.
The 60-page "NATO Document 2020," released in November 2020, explains strategic plans through 2030, and prominently mentions "the China threat" to NATO security and the security of its members.
"The main characteristic of the current security environment is the re-emergence of geopolitical competition," the document says.
"Return of geopolitical competition has brought about a proliferation of hybrid attacks. This 'grey zone' activity has eroded the traditional boundaries of conflict. Domestic and international security bleed across each other," it says.
NATO's external presence is most notable in Afghanistan.
A revolving group of NATO troops, under a United Nations mandate, has been deployed since 2003 present to "prevent the country from ever becoming again a safe haven for terrorism," a NATO position paper says.
On Jan. 7, Stoltenberg called 2021 a "pivotal year" in terms of NATO's continued presence in Afghanistan.
"Next month, NATO's defense ministers will meet, and they need to decide whether to remain, whether to stay in Afghanistan with our military presence, and then risk being engaged in a prolonged military presence in Afghanistan, or whether to leave, but then risk that Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists," he said.
He added that NATO defense ministers will assess the future of NATO's mission in Afghanistan at a February meeting in Brussels.