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Commentary: US dreams of Asian NATO
( 2003-07-18 07:13) (China Daily)

With the United States stepping up its largest military strategic redeployment since World War II, the voices in that country backing the establishment of an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) became recently particularly loud.

Under the Pentagon's military programme, the United States is preparing major shifts in the deployment of its forces in the Asia-Pacific region, including the movement of US marines from bases on the Japanese island of Okinawa to Australia, and the use of new basing facilities in Singapore and the Philippines.

Washington also plans to withdraw some US troops from the Demilitarized Zone within the Republic of Korea.

The moves are aimed at calming down the public anger in the Republic of Korea and Japan at the US army bases in their countries and at forming a more mobile, smaller-scale chain of bases in the Asia-Pacific region.

The United States is designing a NATO-like multilateral military mechanism for Asia to better serve its own strategic interests.

Some US scholars hold that the absence of a multilateral security system in Asia has been one of Washington's major strategic mistakes.

Saul Saunders, a US expert on Asian affairs, said one of the major errors of Washington's Asia policy since World War II has been the lack of a multilateral security system analogous to NATO in this region.

The argument is by no means a new one in the United States.

As early as the 1950s, John Foster Dulles, then US Secretary of State, advocated that the United States build a military alliance in Southeast Asia to deal with the former Soviet Union and the newly founded People's Republic of China -- two arch-enemies of the United States at that time.

In 1954, the United States, Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand created the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), a regional defence alliance. The area covered by SEATO was vaguely defined to include Southeast Asia, the western Pacific, and the entire territories of the Asian member countries.

Collective security was to be provided in case of armed attack against any of the parties within the treaty area or against any country in that area that the members unanimously agreed to designate, with the consent of that country's government.

A protocol to the treaty brought Cambodia, Laos and South Viet Nam under the protection of the organization.

Pakistan withdrew from SEATO in 1968, and France suspended financial support in 1975. The organization held its final exercise on February 20, 1976 and came to an end on June 30, 1977.

Having been dormant for several decades, the concept has obviously been revived by the global and Asia-Pacific strategic readjustment that the Bush administration and some US think-tanks have always attempted to pursue, especially since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and this year's Iraq War.

The Pentagon's Asia-Pacific military strategy has put India in a prominent position compared to other Asian countries.

In the eyes of the United States, India holds an important strategic position linking the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. By strengthening its ties with the South Asian country, the United States can not only consolidate and expand its strategic presence in South Asia but also further squeeze Russia's and China's strategic clout out of the region.

Talks between Pentagon senior advisers and their New Delhi counterparts were held in late May on the prospects for a new security system for an Asian version of NATO.

A Pentagon report recommended that the United States should construct a long-term alliance with India to contain Washington's potential Asian adversaries.

Robert Blackwill, the outgoing US ambassador to India and a strong advocate of a US-Indian alliance, said the United States should "strengthen political, economic and military-to-military relations with those Asian states that share our democratic values and national interests. That spells India.''

Washington's basic purpose for closer ties with India and an Asian version of NATO is to extend its status as the world's sole superpower.

In his State of the Union address in January, Bush said the United States has absolutely dominant power over other countries. That is true.

US gross domestic product last year amounted to US$10 trillion, one-third of the world total. Its military expenditure is more than the total of the next 15 biggest countries.

Washington's economic and military power should not necessarily mean that it is easy for the United States to establish lasting hegemony in the world by strengthening its military ties with other countries, which was a popular way of operating during the Cold War.

Without a definite enemy, it will be very difficult for the idea of an Asian version of NATO to gain extensive support from the international community and even within the United States itself.


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