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What should NATO do about Asia?

NATO Asia Wales

Prime Minister David Cameron, host of the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales,  has indicated that one of the five goals for this gathering should be the establishment of a ‘global security network‘ of partnerships.

“we should demonstrate a clear commitment to working with others who share our values and to maintaining an international rules-based order that promotes freedom, democracy and the rule of law. I support the proposed interoperability initiative with 24 of our partners to sustain these skills and relationships and I would like our defence ministers to meet with a smaller group to discuss enhanced opportunities for working together. ” (link)

Good idea. I suggest the Allies begin by looking at Asia.

I can think of at least three reasons NATO should take a position on its role in Asian security:

(A) Just as security in Asia is becoming vital for global economic prosperity, it is also becoming more fragile. We have a stake. (B) America’s alliance structure in Asia means conflict there would likely involve NATO’s leading ally, and Washington would expect NATO Allies’ support. We will be involved. (C) History shows that Asian allies play a key role in successful Western grand strategy: (i) Anglo-Japan Alliance to contain Russia; (ii) Chiang and Mao and finally Stalin for the continental front against Imperial Japan; (iii) Nixon’s turn to China to contain the USSR. We will need Asia again.

Then again, there are also factors that make it difficult for NATO to take a more meaningful position on Asian security:

(a) The greatest driver of instability in Asia is China’s rise, and NATO allies can’t agree on a China policy. We are divided. (b) NATO Allies are focused on collective defence and responding to the threat from Russia in Ukraine and other places on its Eastern Border. We are short-sighted in our thinking. (c) Cuts in NATO Allies’ defence spending have greatly reduced its capability to deploy in Asia. We are weak.

So what should NATO do about it? A new trans-Atlantic bargain – USA supports European Allies’ efforts to deter Russia, and in return European Allies support American efforts to deter conflict in Asia – is probably unrealistic. Rather than one big thing, it might be better to go for a lot of little moves that shift the centre of gravity in the right direction:

1) Differentiate NATO’s partners in Asia according to two groups: those who show a commitment to the organization’s founding principles (democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law), and those who don’t. The former would include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, ROK, Mongolia. They get the full package including consultation on NATO activity, intelligence sharing, joint exercises and other close partnership activity. Those who fail to show such commitment get engagement to build confidence and mutual understanding, but also become the target of an advocacy effort in order to further the principles of the North Atlantic treaty.

2) Make Asian security issues a regular topic of consultations under Article 4, and invite the first category of Asian partners.

3) Beef up aspects of NATO interoperability that are relevant for Asian security, such as maritime cooperation, joint amphibious operations and military support to civil emergency planning for disaster response. Make sure to conduct at least one big exercise in these areas per year, inviting the close Asian partners.

4) Extend cooperation to close Asian partners on doctrine and tactics in fields like cyber, SOF, and conducting ‘grey area’ operations and information warfare.

5) Extend cooperation on Security Sector Reform and civil-military relations to Asian nations such as Myanmar, that are oriented towards closer adherence to NATO principles.

6) NATO could forge a partnership with ASEAN, as suggested by US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta at the 2013 Shangri La dialogue (link).

7) Establish a NATO East Asia Liaison office (similar to that put in place for Central Asia) to enhance NATO Allies understanding of Asian security, liaise in the region and work with Australia, NZ, ROK, Japan, and Mongolian authorities to maximise NATO’s partnership instruments in support of the goals set out in their cooperation programmes with the Alliance.

I understand those who argue for a focus on today’s threats, and would not have Asian affairs take up space on the agenda at the expense of issues like Ukraine and the Islamic State. But before long Asia’s security issues are going to look just as important to NATO as Russia and Islamist terrorism looks today. But understanding and relationships take time to build, and so the sooner we turn our attention to Asia the better.

If NATO could agree on these small steps now, then after a few years it would be in a better position to judge whether the protection of its core interests require it to engage more directly in Asian security.

NATO PLAN AHEAD

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The UK’s new Asia policy: a ‘multidimensional’ and independent pivot

Hugo Swire, UK minister of state at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibilities for the Far East, Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, Latin America, the Falklands, Australasia, and the Pacific.

Hugo Swire, minister of state at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibilities for the Far East, Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, Latin America, the Falklands, Australasia, and the Pacific.

 

President Obama’s ‘Pivot‘ or ‘re-balance to Asia’ policy stimulated a lot of thinking, including among European countries on how they ought to respond. In an earlier post to this blog, I divided their reactions into three categories: backfillers (leave Asia to Uncle Sam, and help by shouldering more of the burden of security in Europe’s neighbourhood), ‘me-too’- ists (let’s have our own ‘pivot’), and skeptics (Europe doesn’t ‘do’ security, and certainly not as far away as Asia). The British Foreign Office Minister of State for Asia Hugo Swire gave a speech that leaves no doubt about where the UK sits on this. Entitled “The UK in the Asian Century“, Swire’s speech at the Carnegie institute in Washington DC (on July 15) laid it on the line, not sparing his American audience. These are the messages and themes I noted:

1) Independent. This is not a policy of support for the US Pivot and the UK has no intention of leaving Asia to its American allies. This is a policy about UK interests in Asia, which Swire groups into three areas: prosperity, security and values (note the order). The speech began with a lot of history to drive home the point that the UK interest in Asia is deeply and firmly rooted. There is no antagonism with the US Pivot, though. The theme of independence was tempered by a recognition that the US and UK have a ‘shared interest’ in Asian stability and prosperity, and indeed cooperation could strengthen trans-Atlantic ties. However, there was no mistaking the tone of ‘we would be doing all this even if we had never heard of your pivot’.

2) Multi-dimensional. UK policy towards Asia will consist in cross-regional relationships, nurturing old friendships and developing new ones. Bilateral relationships like that with Japan, and multi-lateral like that with ASEAN – and through the EU. UK interests lie in three dimensions (a) Prosperity and Economy- free trade, exports, FDI, G8 and EU trade deals, bilateral trade deals. (b) Security- ‘make a contribution’ directly. That sounds like military deployments  (Brunei, 5 Power Defence Agreements, Naval HADR), but it can also be measured in diplomacy and support as in Mindinao and Myanmar. Bilateral defence and security cooperation, e.g. with Japan. Diplomacy: ideas, expertise ad capacity. (c) Values: Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law. ASEAN is particularly attractive as a driver of change on these lines. Values can also promoted through defence engagement, e.g. with Myanmar and now Thailand. And don’t forget, Hong Kong and DPRK.

3) Open to cooperation on UK and US common interests which lie in regional stability, open trading arrangements, Human Rights and freedoms, and the rules-based international system.

Mr Douglas Paal (moderating for Carnegie) focused on two areas of possible dissonance between UK and US policy. (i) British cooperation (with ships!) with US efforts to uphold Rule of Law in dealing with China? Swire pointed to ASEAN as the focus for the solution, which is ‘local’.  (ii) Tibet – is the UK going soft on Human Rights there? Swire says the position is not changed, and the issue is best handled through the bilateral relationship with China.

Questions came from the audience on North Korea and rights, democracy in China, stability in Pakistan. Swire pointed to the ability of the UK to get information into NK (via its Embassy and British Council activities). UK does not resile from commitments to Hong Kong. UK is sensitive to peace and stability in Pakistan because of the UK’s Pakistani diaspora and the risk of links to jihad in Afghanistan and also Syria. Speaking of Hong Kong, Paal noted how gratifying it has been to see Britain NOT dropping its interest in Asia after the return of the colony to China.

So it all ended on a friendly note. However, there was no mistaking the tone of the message: The UK has permanent interests in Asia and regardless of what other countries or organizations decide, it has a strategy – including a military component – for achieving its objectives.

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Will NATO ‘regroup’ in Asia?

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What will this September’s NATO Summit say about the alliance’s role in Asian security?

Chatham House’s Director Dr Robin Niblett is arguing that NATO needs to step up  (link) -

“NATO members would all be seriously affected by an outbreak of hostilities in East Asia. Western companies with global supply chains rely on smooth transportation links between Asia, the US and Europe. The notion that the US alone among NATO members should take responsibility for helping to manage crises in the Asia-Pacific region while its European allies focus on commercial interests would erode the foundation of the Atlantic Alliance at a time when changing demographic profiles and geographic perspectives are weakening the transatlantic instinct…
…The Wales summit may see NATO begin to distinguish between its different types of partners. For example, long-term enhanced, cooperative arrangements would make sense with the small number of countries in Europe and beyond – such as Finland, Sweden and Australia – that share the transatlantic community’s principles and have participated in recent military operations alongside NATO forces. Countries such as South Korea and Japan, which have not been as closely involved in operations, but are also treaty allies of the US, could constitute the next level of cooperative arrangement. “

 

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War history and the Commonwealth Pivot to Asia

There is something interesting developing between Japan and the old British-led ‘Commonwealth of Nations‘. Long out of fashion, the Commonwealth has been popping up again in an unexpected guise – the grouping of like-minded nations forging alliances with Japan.

Here are two recent examples :

1) Australian PM Tony Abbott’s speech to welcome Japan’s PM Abe on July 8, 2014 was a breakthrough in terms of the use of WWII history for contemporary geostrategic advantage. As I have suggested in this blog before (link), Prime Minister Abe’s ‘unapologetic’ style was seen as an opportunity for Japan’s adversaries to isolate it from partners and allies today. It seems to be working only in the case of South Korea, where Imperial Japan bashing is also good domestic politics. PM Abbott turned the table by acknowledging the respect Australians paid to those who fought for Japan in WWII:

“We admired the skill and the sense of honour that they brought to their task although we disagreed with what they did. Perhaps we grasped, even then, that with a change of heart the fiercest of opponents could be the best of friends.”

Abbott also made reference to the coming centenary of WWI, when the Japanese warship Ibuki escorted the Anzak convoy to the Middle East; another way of putting WWII history in a more nuanced context.
PM Abe was apparently prepared to reciprocate:

“Our fathers and grandfathers lived in a time that saw Kokoda and Sandakan.”

It was a reference obscure to many listeners outside Australia, but as a Sydney Morning Herald headline put it, Abe’s words caused the Australian Parliament to freeze in ‘a moment that stopped time':

“…to Australians who know the story, it was the greatest atrocity of the Asian-Pacific war…In a world moved on and a region colliding in new ways, it was a moment to stop time.”

In his remarks to the Australian Parliament, PM Abe used stories of Australia and Japan’s postwar reconciliation to cement a very contemporary bond – a ‘Pacific community’ for the 21st century:

Australia and Japan have now freed ourselves from one old layer and are now moving towards a new “special relationship.” … Today, Prime Minister Abbott and I will sign an agreement concerning the transfer of defence equipment and technology. That will make the first cut engraving the special relationship in our future history.

It earned Abbott criticism at home:

“In his comments on the submariners Abbott verged on prostituting history for his own geo-political ends.”

And from abroad. In an editorial on 14 July, the Global Times said Australia was in no position to criticize China’s human rights record in part because it

“…used to be a place roamed by rascals and outlaws from Europe”.

But the response from China only confirmed that the post-war Asian consensus about Japan’s security role has been broken. Abe and Abbott’s bonding over shared war memories sent a new message – We fought, but with honour. There were atrocities, but we have put it behind us. Others may try to use history to divide us, but today’s common interests are too strong for us to let that happen.

2) The UK Minister for Asia, Hugo Swire presented the UK’s Asia strategy on 15 July, and had this to say:

More broadly, the Commonwealth gives a unique extra dimension to our relations with many countries in the region – those I have just mentioned, plus several of the Pacific Islands…We have reinvigorated our relationships with our Pacific allies Australia and New Zealand, not least through a highly successful AUKMIN process,..Although we are not a major military power in the region, the UK makes an important contribution. As well as our military involvement through the Five Power Defence Arrangements and the Brunei Garrison, the Royal Navy continues to work closely with counterparts from the US, China and Japan… With Japan, for example … our joint work has entered a new phase. We have made clear that we welcome a greater role for Japan in international peace and security, which will allow more practical cooperation with the UK and other countries in areas such as peacekeeping operations and humanitarian and disaster relief. During Prime Minister Abe’s visit to London, we announced we would develop a “comprehensive framework” to deepen our security co-operation. This builds on an agreement to collaborate on the research, production and development of defence equipment signed last year…The final pillar of our approach to Asia Pacific is the promotion of our values. Throughout the region, Britain speaks in support of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is of course vital that like-minded countries in Europe and America, in particular, do so in a concerted and coordinated way…

Is this “The Rebirth of the (British) Empire“? Although there is some congruence with PM Abe’s ‘democratic security diamond‘, it is no use trying to frame the emerging alignment of nations on Asian security issues according to the old pink zones of Britain’s Empire. Anyway,  too many of the countries in question (Burma, Vietnam, USA) were never Commonwealth members anyway. However, we may see  more attempts to select from our common history and patch together a sense of historical community between Europe, America, Australia, New Zeland, Malasia, Singapore, India, Myanmar and the rest. Look out for commemorations of our alliance in WW I (so useful to contrast against what China and Russia have started to call the ‘war against fascism‘). Look out for other old/new allies to adopt the ‘put it all behind us’ line and incant about shared values of democracy, human rights, rule of law, and free trade. Never mind the patchy record of the old commonwealth on these standards – it’s the contrast that counts. As long as it comes across as the alternative to dictatorship, corruption and the state controlled economy, the message will be clearly heard.

 

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NATO and Asia-Pacific Security

“America, Europe and the Pacific,” speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, San Francisco, July 9, 2014.

Transcript here.

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Hugo Swire on UK’s Asia policy ‘far beyond China’

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s recent visit to London was widely hailed as a great commercial success, leading to energy and finance deals worth billions. Yet the UK’s future in Asia extends far beyond China. Going beyond mutually beneficial bilateral relations, the UK is focused on reinforcing a multi-faceted approach encompassing business, security, and values.

The Rt Hon Hugo Swire, MP, minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, addressed the UK’s Asia-Pacific policy and explained both the UK’s current involvement and future aspirations in the region. Carnegie’s Douglas H. Paal moderated.

See the following link for a transcript of the speech:

“The UK in the Asian Century”

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Jakarta: An exercise in disaster management Pt4

Jakarta: An exercise in disaster management Pt4.

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UK & Asia advancing Military-to-Military Cooperation at Shangri La 2014

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EU Centre Singapore summarises EU partnerships in Asian security

indexThe European Union Centre in Singapore has published a new background paper that offers a nice summary of the EU’s advance into Asia as security partner, with a provocative title:
The European Union and global security: is the EU becoming the indispensable partner?

Author: Dr. Cesare Onestini, EU Visiting Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy National University of Singapore

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Japan & Italy in talks for intelligence-sharing pact

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, background, arrives in Rome's Villa Pamphili for a meeting with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, on June 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, background, arrives in Rome’s Villa Pamphili for a meeting with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, on June 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

See following link for Mainichi report:

Japan, Italy to step up talks for intelligence-sharing pact

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