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 in a 2013 speech at King’s College London (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

2 Comments

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2 responses to “What should NATO do about Asia?

  1. We interesting read. However, I think there could be a greater emphasis on maritime security and naval cooperation. Asia is by nature a maritime theater and NATO is by nature a maritime alliance, with decades of experience in combined naval operations. Besides the four Contact Countries, engaging on the seas with NATO could be of interest for India, Singapore and the Philippines.

  2. How about a maritime security dialogue with ASEAN?

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