02 October 2020

The US proposes an “Asian NATO”

Sergiu Medar

Within the India-US online Forum, which enjoyed the participation of the Indian Foreign Affairs Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and the Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Stephan Begun, the latter launched US’s proposal to establish a new NATO in the Indo-Pacific region. This might follow the structure of the current QUAD, a cooperation organization in the defence field, composed of the US, India, Japan and Australia. The new organization would be created to counter China’s attempts to expand its influence towards this region.

Image source: Profimedia

In 2007, Shinzo Abe, at that time prime-minister of Japan, at his very first mandate, has proposed for the most important democratic states in the Indo-Pacific region, the US, India, Australia and Japan to identify a diplomatic formula to gather the security interests in the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue”, known as QUAD. This has become a debate forum of the main threats against its member states, as well as an image of the global security and the place of the Indo-Pacific region in this image. Within this informal forum, the member states are periodically organizing high-level meetings and discussions on the assistance for economic and development programs as well as military drills.

For ten years, the project was abandoned. In 2017, the Trump’s Administration, in order to prevent and deter the China’s influence area expansion has elaborated the Indo-Pacific strategy where QUAD has a central role.

At the end of August 2020, at the online US-India Forum, Stephen Begun, the Deputy Under-Secretary of State, was mentioning that there are no international organizations in the Indo-Pacific region to “allow the establishment of a critical table around the same values, to attract more states from the Indo-Pacific region, organized in a structured manner”. Then, Begun made a daring suggestion, giving NATO as an example, saying that the democratic states in the mentioned area could organize themselves in the same manner to defend and expand the democratic values in region’s states.

A series of leaders of these states are, however, circumspect to this idea, as an organization to go against China would create tensions in the South-East Asia. The US did not hide its intention to combat, through this Asian NATO, China’s efforts to aggressively expand its influence area. Washington is not happy only with QUAD, which involves only military cooperation and wants a political assumed involvement in a democratic development of the South-Eastern Asia states. It means the establishment of a military bloc to be composed not only of the military bases of the US from Okinawa, Diego Garcia and Australia, but also other bases in the Indo-Pacific area, to be built or adapted to the new missions.

When on April 4th 1949 it was signed the Washington foundation Treaty of NATO, the document was not mentioning anything about the Soviet Union, although everybody knew that that was, in fact, treaty’s objective. Then, NATO got involved in the wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

If an Asian NATO is created, then this would be, first of all, favoring the US. Just like the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, most likely, China will not be mentioned, but the fact that this is the objective of the new organization will be understood and pretty obvious.

Begun said that the deterrence of China’s aggressive expansionist tendencies is not the only objective of this new regional security organization. The fights against coronavirus, commerce, the technologies transfer, the protection of the maritime and terrestrial logistic routes, etc. are just some of the possible missions of this Asian NATO.

The White House would have to attract in this new NATO the states which are in a territorial conflict with China. In this category are included states like Vietnam and Philippines. Some of them might bring a financial and material contribution to the military structure of the new military bloc. This new organization supports a new global order, based on the current liberal democracy’s principles.

Diplomatic discussions have started with the high-level representatives of South Korea, Vietnam and New Zeeland. Weekly meetings take place between them and the other QUAD members.

The efforts the White House is doing to get the political agreement of the US Congress and the other QUAD member states or the new candidate states are strongly supported by the entire US industrial military complex. The motivation behind this is that within the Trans-Atlantic Alliance most of the military equipment is Made in the USA. The force structures of the new organizations might be equipped with the same military equipment.

The current QUAD states, together with the USA, cannot average out the power balance with China. Thus, the White House must make some intense diplomatic efforts to attract, in the new NATO, other South-East Asia states, such as Indonesia and Thailand. Washington’s arguments in these cases, alike in other states in the South China Sea region are China’s frequent breaches of the international legislation. These refer to the delimitation of the territorial waters and the exclusive economic areas as well as the expansion, as much as the law allows it, of these waters using the artificial islands method.

But China does not stand around to White House’s diplomatic efforts. In order to increase India’s reticence, Beijing has intensified the cooperation with states hostile to India, like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. To that end, it used the economic and security advantages offered by the giant Chinese program Belt and Road Initiative that these states are part of.

When Beijing firmly accused both QUAD and the Asian NATO project, the US Congress’s reaction was firm and bipartisan, which creates enough premises for a future legislation proposal about this diplomatic and military construction to be easily approved.

But not all QUAD member states are, however, as enthusiastic as the other states in the Indo-Pacific area. In this category is included, first of all, India. The New Delhi’s government position is essential for the new organization. We also should not ignore that this is the most populated democracy in the world.  With India as a member of a new NATO this would compete, in terms of the human resource and economic perspectives, with China.

At the India-USA online Forum which was held on August 31st 2020, India participated through Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the New Delhi’s government, although he is known for being a strong supporter for India not being part of any military bloc, as well as a supporter of an independent foreign policy. The Indian media has accused the position of the Foreign Affairs Minister claiming that it was a serious deviation from the foreign affairs principles of Modi’s government.  Most likely, China’s offensive attitude on India, as well as the fact that it got close to almost all India’s neighbor states have increased its concerns on a political and economic destabilization. In this situation, India has the following options: a. to accept the entry in the influence zone of a dictatorial state, in other words China; b. to enter in Russia’s influence area, which has agreements with China to not affect each other’s interests; c. to enter in the influence area of a big democratic power, the USA.

In the autumn of 2020, in New Delhi, it will take place the net ministers meeting between the QUAD states together with New Zeeland, South Korea and Vietnam, where India will have to come up with an answer to the mentioned questions.

The US policy in Asia is going now in a different direction, yet having the same purpose: China’s isolation and deterrence.

These directions include, besides the establishment of an Asian NATO, the establishment of an alliance of Gulf’s states, with US and Israel’s participation.

Thus, the US would control both the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific region. It is noteworthy observing that Washington which, unlike China, extends its influence areas also through the dislocation of armed forces, follows the exact routers of the Belt and Road Initiatives, seeking to average out the influence balance in the countries the Belt passes through.

The new organizations will be financed by its member states, as the US will not make, most likely, the same mistake it made when it has funded some European member states of the North-Atlantic Alliance.

Translated by Andreea Soare