As the geopolitical effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine become more obvious, the collective defense provided by NATO is the key security umbrella that unites European countries and protects them from further intrusion by their malicious eastern neighbor.
With Finland and Sweden having been invited to join NATO — which, if they join, would increase the number of member states from 30 to 32 — two more nations in the region are in line to be included in the regional security pact.
Meanwhile, the support that Russia has been receiving behind the scenes from China and other countries is one of the main reasons the war is still going on.
From NATO’s perspective, China is no less of a threat to Europe than Russia. A a summit in Madrid last week, NATO unveiled an updated version of its core mission — its “Strategic Concept” — which for the first time recognizes that China poses a “systemic challenge.”
The convergence of Russia and China has clearly prompted NATO to pay more attention to the Indo-Pacific region.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that China’s rise presents a challenge because of the diplomatic and military cooperation between China and Russia.
The Strategic Concept states that the alliance will work together to defend its security interests by addressing the systemic challenge that China poses to European and Atlantic security.
It says that NATO will defend its members’ common values and the rules-based international order, including freedom of navigation.
Another highlight of the NATO summit was the participation of leaders of four countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called for greater cooperation between the Indo-Pacific region and NATO. The Strategic Concept also reflects the common concerns of Asia-Pacific democracies. In response to China’s military expansion, its disruption of freedom of navigation and its attempts to turn the East China Sea, Taiwan Strait and South China Sea into its spheres of influence, democratic countries are now supporting each other to restrain China’s ambitions.
For NATO, most of whose members are European countries, to concern itself with the Asia-Pacific region, is a thorn in Beijing’s side.
Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun (張軍) denounced the move, saying: “We firmly oppose the efforts of some forces encouraging NATO to extend its tentacles further into the Asia-Pacific or to rely on military alliances to construct an Asia-Pacific version of NATO.”
The “long-outdated Cold War script must never be re-enacted in the Asia-Pacific,” Zhang said.
China’s eagerness to oppose the move shows how the atmosphere of democracies rallying together is hindering China’s expansionism. Similarly, North Korea used its official media to criticize joint military exercises to be held by the US, Japan and South Korea, calling them a dangerous signal that an “Asian version of NATO” is being created.
By expanding its membership, bolstering its armaments and guarding its lines of defense on the European continent, NATO is slowing the pace of Russia’s westward advance. This model of collective defense is making autocratic countries such as China and North Korea nervous. It also shows that if democracies can join hands to create an Asia-Pacific version of NATO, it will become a strong force for global military stability.
The US is the main country that maintains order in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to its military presence, it has established a chain of bilateral security agreements, such as the US-Japan Security Treaty, while the AUKUS partnership between Australia, the UK and the US was formed last year. There is also the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which has Japan, Australia, India and the US.
However, the vast Asia-Pacific region consists of many countries. Compared with NATO in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region clearly lacks multilateral security mechanisms for collective defense, which has allowed China to stir up trouble.
In a speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington on June 26, former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said that the US should expand the Quad’s membership to include South Korea, the UK and France, which would envelop AUKUS.
The war has been confined to Ukraine and not spread into central and eastern Europe because of NATO’s structure of common defense. If an Asia-Pacific version of NATO established a similarly strong multilateral security structure, it would encourage China to be more cautious and less aggressive. As to whether it would turn into a “new cold war,” that would depend on whether China is prepared to cease its military aggression.
The structure of the Cold War rivalry between the US and the former Soviet Union with its opposing eastern and western camps actually prevented the outbreak of a major war. Instead, a degree of stability was maintained based on mutual military restraint.
Some analysts believe the nations of the Asia-Pacific region are too different from each other and that some of them are vulnerable to Beijing’s divisive influence, making it difficult for them to join forces to resist China.
However, just as NATO was established mainly because of the grave threat posed by the Soviet Union, as aggression by China becomes more likely, security interests will become the overriding concern of its neighbors, whose survival will depend on first dealing with their common enemy.
The region should not wait for China to become more aggressive before thinking about how to deal with it.
NATO in Europe has been in operation for more than 70 years, but so far the Asia-Pacific version only exists on paper, if that.
In the face of the threat from China, it would be quicker for NATO to expand into Asia by getting key members to play a role in Asia-Pacific security.
Such a security setup could not omit Taiwan, which is on the front line of resistance against an authoritarian regime. An Asia-Pacific version of NATO would ensure that threatened democracies are no longer left to fight alone. Instead, it would enable them to join forces to prevent conflict.
To prevent war, a nation must be prepared for war.
British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Liz Truss last week said that the war between Russia and Ukraine shows that countries should support potential victims of aggression at an early stage and not wishfully expect the situation would not deteriorate.
This important lesson should also be applied to Taiwan, Truss said.
Her words were a warning that if countries are restricted by the idea of “one China” and are indecisive about their support for Taiwan, were Taiwan to get into trouble, the problem would surely spread throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Were that to happen — even with an Asia-Pacific version of NATO — breakthroughs by China would probably cause it to exist in name alone.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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