Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke on Friday of a “new chapter” in the western military alliance before the organisation's first meeting with US President Joe Biden after four tumultuous years of the Donald Trump administration.
Mr Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, said the new US president offered a chance to strengthen the 30-nation security pact in the face of a rising China and an assertive Russia as well as the emerging dangers of cyber attacks, hypersonic missiles and climate change.
Mr Biden will meet allied leaders at the June 14 conference in Brussels after stressing his differences from his predecessor, Mr Trump, who frequently sparred with European leaders and derided Nato as a costly drain on American taxpayers.
“I welcome President Biden's clear message on strengthening alliances, starting with Nato,” Mr Stoltenberg told an online meeting of the Brookings Institution.
“We have a unique opportunity to open a new chapter in transatlantic relations. We must seize this opportunity to strengthen Nato and the vital transatlantic bond to keep our people safe in a more contested world.”
At the top of the conference's agenda is the subject of winding down Nato operations in Afghanistan. Mr Biden has said all US troops will have left the conflict-ravaged country by September 11, but it is likely that many will have already left by mid-June.
Big questions remain over how Nato will keep funding Afghanistan’s graft-ridden security forces, whether it will continue training special forces troops outside the country and who will maintain security at embassies in the capital of Kabul.
Other challenges for Nato leaders include boosted military spending by Russia, the rise of China, the impact of climate change, missile defence, cyber and hybrid warfare, and the use of disinformation.
After the summit, Mr Biden will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva on June 16 for face-to-face talks on arms reductions and a recent spate of cyber attacks on US firms linked to Russian hackers.
Nato, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, was created in 1949 to counter the threat of the communist Soviet Union but found renewed purpose in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks on the US and after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
The alliance is now under pressure to tackle some of the world’s most intractable crises and Washington has pushed it to consider its position on China, an economic titan with growing military clout.
Mr Stoltenberg also announced plans for greater military training with non-Nato members Iraq, Jordan, Georgia and Ukraine, helping those countries to combat terrorism and cyber attacks and to modernise their forces.
“Nato has a long track record and we must build on it because training and building the capacity of our partners is the best way to ensure stability in our neighbourhood,” Mr Stoltenberg said.