NATO: Beyond the North Atlantic – Asia Times

This article was first published by Pacific Forum, a 1975-founded international policy research institute based in Honolulu.

NATO’s Washington Summit marks the Alliance’s 75th&nbsp, season. The feeling is barely joyful. Two and a half times into Russia’s war of Ukraine, the West’s ability to stay the course is exceedingly in question.

However, even if previous United States President Donald Trump does not win in November, recent&nbsp, polling&nbsp, suggests some Americans share his views that Europeans need to carry the lion’s share for their country’s protection given another pressures on the United States.

For pre-occupations, understandable as they are, may n’t allow another crucial challenge to pass down NATO’s mission in DC: Indo-Pacific protection.

In 2022, NATO recognized China as a proper challenge, an extraordinary step. While Beijing’s so-called” no limits&nbsp, relationship” announced only weeks before Russia’s war was a motivator, so too was China’s increasing antagonism over problems like the South China Sea and Taiwan. As Japan’s Prime Minister&nbsp, Fumio Kishida&nbsp, put it, some feared that” tomorrow’s Ukraine may be tomorrow’s East Asia”.

As a result, NATO has been deepening its partnerships with the so-called” Indo-Pacific Four ( IP4 )”: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. Therefore far, however, these connections have been limited to political discourse and new technology partnerships. According to Article 30 of the Washington mountain declaration from the NATO head of state and government, it reads this manner:

We may meet with the management of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea, and the European Union to examine common security issues and areas of assistance. &nbsp, The Indo-Pacific is essential for NATO, given that advances in that place directly impact Euro-Atlantic protection. &nbsp, We welcome the continuing efforts of our Asia-Pacific companions to Euro-Atlantic safety. &nbsp, We are strengthening speech to address cross-regional challenges and are enhancing our practical assistance, including through premier projects in the areas of supporting Ukraine, computer army, countering propaganda, and systems. These initiatives will strengthen our ability to collaborate on shared stability goals.

Not all in the Indo-Pacific have welcomed this new interest, with the Ukraine war and growing US-China conflicts crystalizing&nbsp, distinctions of opinion&nbsp, in Southeast Asia, in special, regarding how best to handle local protection.

The risk of a local disaster or conflict between great powers continues to grow despite any doubts about a NATO part in the region. This year, the South China Sea’s aggression has increased significantly, putting the possibility of a mistake that could quickly turn into a global problems. Russia and North Korea’s new mutual&nbsp, defense pact&nbsp, had more destabilize the Asian Peninsula as well as creating still more difficulties for Ukraine.

However, China’s army is now larger than America’s and its air pressure on-course to&nbsp, statistically overtake&nbsp, the United States. China has also been honing methods to&nbsp, isolate Taiwan, while a growing army of rockets and&nbsp, nuclear weapons&nbsp, provides Beijing with more choices to hinder any US treatment.

As the country’s stock, China already has the foundation for a battle economy on unparalleled scale. By contrast, American garrisons are depleted, and commercial bases never yet mobilized. At the same time, weakening financial development, failures in the real estate market, rising youth&nbsp, unemployment&nbsp, and multinational&nbsp, business flight&nbsp, could all see President Xi’s power extremely challenged. This could see him cornered into an act of aggression, given Beijing’s strategy of coercion against Taiwan appears to be failing.

The effects of such crises coming on top of the conflict in Ukraine as well as the Middle East’s growing violence may be catastrophic. If China were to become an equal or dominant security power in the Indo-Pacific, for example, that could force regional nations to realign their posture. Alternatively, America and China might be propelled into a devastating war costing the global economy to the tune of&nbsp,$ 10 trillion. Any conflict could fundamentally deteriorate the United States ‘ ability to contribute to European security, and both the Indo-Pacific and Europe would be affected by these developments.

In response, it seems that the two countries have a common interest in NATO intervening more to deter a conflict in East Asia. A more strategic plan by the alliance might also safeguard US security interests in the future. Given the threat posed by Russia, Europe may balk at additional commitments, just as Indo-Pacific centrality might be threatened by a larger NATO presence. Leaving the problem to America and its regional allies, however, ignores two critical problems.

First, the Indo-Pacific lacks the type of collective defense enjoyed by NATO. Instead, bilateral “hub and spokes” treaties with the United States, overlaid with a plethora of sometimes-competing minilateral pacts, predominate.

Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral James Stavridis&nbsp, recently suggested&nbsp, extending NATO membership to Indo-Pacific countries to overcome this challenge. This may not be a quick fix, however, given protracted debates over European enlargement. Nor would all in Indo-Pacific welcome such an offer given varying regional perspectives.

Second, when it comes to US-China tensions, the military balance of power is currently in Beijing’s favor due to proximity, mass, and technological edge. Some NATO countries ‘ initiatives, often with Indo-Pacific partners, will close the gap, but none will be operational before Xi’s declaration of the People’s Liberation Army’s readiness for war in 2027.

NATO must therefore act decisively and boldly to stop aggression, but in ways that neither outweigh the regional threat nor drain resources spent defending against Russia in the Euro-Atlantic. Rather than deploying forces on-masse, then, a new alliance strategy could instead be developed around four pillars:

  • First, NATO might alter its boundaries to include US-held territory in the Pacific, including the state of Hawaii and Guam. They are currently exempt from the collective defense guarantee under Article 5, but adding them could deter aggressors from firing missiles against US regional forces in an escalating crisis.
  • Second, NATO could assist Indo-Pacific partners in developing regional interoperability, which the alliance has benefited from for decades, allowing them to react to any aggression more quickly. In situations where opposing theaters collaborate, this would also aid in theater coordination.
  • It would be a quick way to synchronize the content and timing of NATO exercises with those taking place in the Indo-Pacific. This would encourage the US’s strategy of moving theaters and help allies create multiple predicaments for China, Russia, and North Korea.
  • Fourth measure, the alliance might develop a number of emergency plans to react to scenarios in which Eurasian autocracies act violently. For one thing, blocking the flow of global goods would be necessary for what is likely to be a protracted war. Many of these trade routes are within the NATO’s purview but are beyond that of the PLA and are tasks that are best suited for the Alliance’s 300 patrol vessels, leaving high-end platforms to concentrate on Russia.

NATO could do all of which relatively quickly to close a temporal deterrence gap between the US and its Indo-Pacific partners. Given the increased risk and repercussions of a new crisis or conflict, the Alliance and its Indo-Pacific partners may want to take this next step in their burgeoning relations while acknowledging these proposals as paradigm-changing proposals.

Former Director of Strategic Analysis and Futures at the Defense Concepts and Doctrine Center, UK Royal Navy Commodore Peter Olive ( retired ).