Paused, but not abandoned
NATO's eastward push is demonstrative that the organization has become an instrument of US policy rather than a defensive alliance
From Vilnius, Lithuania, NATO cast its eyes eastward to Ukraine. For NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, there was a desire to look even further east beyond Ukraine. He, some NATO members and invited guests remain undeterred in their desire to bring NATO into Asia.
During a speech at Keio University this February, Stoltenberg noted that "this idea that we can say that China doesn't matter for NATO is wrong".
Following the Vilnius meeting, this group may assiduously nurture the growing eastward ambition to support the US desire to preserve US influence. Although deferred in Vilnius, pressure will be maintained to establish a NATO office in Tokyo as a hub for cooperation with Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea. Japan has already upgraded its representation to NATO by creating a new ambassador post.
The risk remains. NATO is being encouraged to become a broader instrument of US foreign policy applied outside of the European context.
NATO is one of the major military alliances, but in the Asia-Pacific region, it is superseded by AUKUS, the security grouping of Australia, the United Kingdom and the US, the renewal of US base agreements with the Philippines and the active encouragement of Japan's remilitarization. The US is also forging ad-hoc alliances in the mold of the "Coalition of the Willing", as deployed in the Middle East conflicts and elsewhere.
It appears the ambition to extend NATO to encompass what might be called a North Asia Treaty Organization has not abated. Stoltenberg suggested leaders in the ROK, Australia and Japan were clearly concerned that what is "happening in Europe today could happen in Asia tomorrow".
His views were not compelling enough to convince all in attendance at Vilnius that NATO expansion eastward beyond Ukraine was an immediate priority, although the invited guest countries from Asia did not step back from their desire to see NATO in Asia. Some analysts argue that NATO will formalize "Indo-Pacific Four", or IP4, as the new collective title for Australia, Japan, the ROK and New Zealand, its designated observer partners in Asia.
The clear objective of any eastward NATO expansion is to further assist the United States to contain China. However, any NATO push into Asia is a relatively minor part of the large-scale US activity in the Asia-Pacific region.
It is estimated that the US currently maintains more than 800 military facilities outside of the US. Multiple US military facilities are located around the maritime borders of China. The facilities are claimed to be necessary to preserve the global-rules based order and protect freedom of navigation.
The European version of NATO might aim to bring significant military or diplomatic advantages to efforts by the US to inhibit China's development progress. But it is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as the Quad, which is the security dialogue platform for Australia, India, Japan and the US, the trilateral US, Japan, Australia security dialogue and the emerging US, Japan, the ROK trilateral dialogue that challenge the stability of the region in a complex way.
The attempt by the United Kingdom and the US to expand or export the NATO organizational model to Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the ROK is as significant as any direct European participation in the region. A NATO organizational model is a potential threat to regional peace and security because it further unifies US efforts to contain China by militaristic means.
Regional players such as the ROK, Japan and Australia are already building the capacity, with US backing, to sustain efforts to contain China. This is driving the militarization of the Asia-Pacific region, which has seen military spending increase to $575 billion in 2022. And the A$368 billion ($249.5 billion) planned expenditure by Australia on AUKUS nuclear submarines will accelerate the militarization of this region. Asia and Oceania accounted for about 41 percent of global arms imports during 2018-22.
As Joseph Camilleri, emeritus professor at La Trobe University, says "the United States can no longer afford the high cost of mounting a long-term containment policy that holds any prospect of stemming China's rise. To bridge the deficit, it must turn to allies, old and new". He sees the globalization of NATO as part of a bigger story, a multi-layered US-led "Indo-Pacific strategy", whose clear aim is to contain China and preserve the US' regional and global dominance.
A decision to extend NATO further east into the Asia-Pacific region was deferred at the Vilnius summit but it remains on the NATO agenda as a symbolic endorsement of the US objective to halt China's development by every means possible.
The author is an international financial technical analysis expert and a former national board member of the Australia China Business Council. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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