Wednesday, April 16, 2014
NATO reaches into Asia-Pacific on behalf of US foreign policy interests
Global Times | February 26, 2013 19:38
By Clifford A. Kiracofe
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Will NATO become a key factor in the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific? Some leading circles in the US and in Europe see it as part of a system to contain a rising China.

The Obama "pivot" policy, now called "rebalancing," aims to step up security cooperation with "democratic" Asia-Pacific states. Though some cooperative relations with China have been developed, an edgy tone appeared in Washington's more forward regional diplomacy, along with visibly stepped up regional military activities and deployments.

The globalization of NATO is integral to the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific policy, and reflects continuity with several decades of US policy.

Though many believe NATO is an anachronism whose mission ended with the end of the Cold War, powerful transatlantic circles keep it going and search for new missions and news areas of operation outside the North Atlantic. International terrorism and the rise of China, for example, serve as justifications.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen does not hesitate to preach the globalization of NATO. In his remarks to the recent annual Munich Security Conference, Rasmussen emphasized this process, and praised the work of former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright for assisting NATO globalization.

How has NATO evolved historically? NATO began in 1949 as a Cold War mechanism aimed at the Soviet Union. At the end of the Cold War, in 1991, intense debate began in the US over the future of NATO. 

Critics said that its time was over and that the US should wind down participation. After all, it is a large financial burden on the US. Europe had fully recovered from World War II and was in fact an economic and diplomatic competitor of the US.

Europe enjoyed a free ride for its security over the years because it spent relatively little on defense and NATO than did the US. US taxpayers picked up the tab, and still do. 

Debate focused on the NATO mission. The dominant transatlantic elite pushed for "out of area" missions outside the geographic North Atlantic region. Afghanistan is an example of such mission creep reflecting NATO concern with Central Asia.

To expand areas of operations, NATO created new mechanisms such as the Partnership for Peace, the Mediterranean Dialogue, and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

In 1992, NATO developed ties with Japan and also newly emerged Central Asian nations. The Central Asian nations participated in the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, later renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Additionally, Central Asian nations began to participate in the NATO Group of Defense Ministers.

With respect to the Asia-Pacific, NATO developed the Tailored Cooperation Packages which took in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea. This led to these nations cooperating in the Afghan war, extending NATO's reach through Central Asia to the Pacific Rim.

What about today? NATO advocates have called for a formal expanded security mechanism in the Asia-Pacific region which could expand to include more "democratic" states. 

There are several ideas for increasing security mechanisms in the Asia-Pacific. For example, some would like to turn ASEAN more toward security issues and then toward relations with NATO. Others believe the new Trans-Pacific Partnership could evolve into a military partner of NATO.

Some observers see Washington's strategy as one of phased encirclement of China so as to "manage" the Eurasian and Asia-Pacific security environment, especially the rise of China. 

Some Western strategists go so far as to argue that to make such a strategic concept more effective in the long run, it is necessary to nudge Moscow away from too close ties to Beijing. They believe that cutting against Moscow's Eurasian option aids the long range containment of a rising China.

While strategic concepts and mechanisms are evolving, NATO as an instrument of US global policy will play a significant role for years to come as Washington eyes the Asia-Pacific.

The author is an educator and former senior professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

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