Stretching NATO to Asia-Pacific

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) came into being to defend Europe from the communist threat during the cold war having primary mandate in European theater. The cold war ended with the defeat of communism and former Soviet Union. Therefore, the logic demanded NATOs end too but it did not happen and the world saw its first ever bigger leap into Afghanistan (Asia). Its relevance was justified through new nature of threats, i.e. terrorism and all other non-conventional matrix of threats. Now the NATO is going global and the United States (US) wants it intact for bandwagoning. In near future, the world might witness NATO in other conflict-prone zones of the world, especially in Asia-Pacific as maritime East Asia is becoming increasingly dangerous.

European member states of NATO have been observing the US Asia “pivot” or “rebalancing” anxiously as they see US withdrawal from Europe and greater focus on “Asia-Pacific”. NATO partners are concerned due to this development. But they also “see America’s turn to the Asia-Pacific region…the most significant opportunity to bolster the trans-Atlantic link since the attacks of September 11, 2001”. NATO’s challenges are worldwide, not regional, in dimension as globalization and technology have changed the character of the international system. The member states had acknowledged the global role of NATO’s security in Lisbon in November 2010 when they recognized the new strategic idea, i.e. “Smart defense”—NATO’s ways of increasing operational capabilities—a comeback to the shifting security paradigm. What occurs in the South China Sea alters the grouping virtually what happens in the English Channel. Keeping in view China’s unprecedented rise and subsequent threat as portrayed by the US, “Europe should join US rebalance to Asia, said former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on January 8, 2013 at Kings College in London, England.” He went on to say that NATO needs to spend in intelligence and special operations forces. “Panetta also urged investment in the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter, a stealthy warplane a number of European allies intend to purchase”.

The NATO-Japan cooperation is already in place. The NATO is fast becoming a global policeman as it has gradually attained global perspective in the guise of “stabilization through consultation and cooperation.” Though Japan does not presume NATO to perform a direct military act in the Asia-Pacific region yet it is looking for a partner with shared perceptions and approaches. Thus, the “Joint Political Declaration”, endorsed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Japanese Prime Minister “Shinzo Abe” on April 15, 2013, should be interpreted as a starting point for further initiatives. Why choosing basic values with NATO is substantial for Japan’s security policy? Briefly, it provides legality to Japan’s attempts to perform a bigger representation in regional and global security. In the same speech, Abe made clear his aim to amend the exposition of the Constitution to permit Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defense.

This aggressive stance might be appreciated by NATO partner states, however, Japan’s neighboring states, i.e. China and South Korea have responded entirely different. But the problem still lingers on due to NATO’s inadequacy and commitment with this region. Other elements that challenge NATO’s possible adventure in the region include as to what extent countries like Australia, Japan, India, Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand could comply with NATO’s role and possible backlash. Also; since NATO left Afghanistan without restoring peace and victory there, how could countries of Asia-Pacific rely on an organization that lacks sufficient funds to sustain its operations outside. But the question arises why does Japan look for legality from NATO? China and South Korea see this move by Japan with suspicion. In its December 18, 2013 editorial, the “China Daily” cautioned against Abe’s “proactive pacifism,” affirming that “the catchy but vague expression” is “Abe’s camouflage to woo international understanding of Japan’s move to become a military power.” The “China Daily” also elucidated that Abe’s doctrine expects to turn Japan’s “Self-Defense Forces” into “Ordinary Armed Forces.” China’s perception is shared by South Korea, another considerable ally of the US in East Asia, which explicitly demonstrated its uncertainties about Japan’s likely return to pre-war militarism. The Abe administration’s resolution to modify the explanation of the Constitution was contentious, since Article 9 clearly elucidated that the “Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” Therefore, alliance engagement in Asia is expected to create controversy. No matter how NATO chooses to pursue an Asia-Pacific strategy, doing so will be a source of concern for other actors in the area and for some in Europe too. But the US is bent upon in making NATO regional in character, global in stature and Pacific in direction to further its own security interests.

Published by: Pakistan Observer, June 10, 2015

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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About the Author

Khalid Hussain Chandio has been working as Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). Previously, he had joined IPRI as Assistant Research Officer (ARO) in October 2007. He was then promoted as Research Officer (RO) in February 2013. Before joining IPRI, he worked in different capacities i.e., Media Analyst and Junior Analyst in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Pakistan, which gave him greater insight in the research and analysis fields. His areas of research include the United States of America (USA) [Its Foreign and Defence Policy, Pak-US Relations, Role of Lobbies in the USA, and Domestic Politics in the USA]. Khalid regularly contributes articles on current strategic issues in English Dailies of Pakistan. He holds M.Phil in International Relations (IR) from School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, Pakistan and M.Sc in Defence and Strategic Studies (DSS) from the same university.

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