Ambitions of NATO in Asia are simply a delusion of grandeur

Jul 17, 2023
NATO flag fluttering in the wind in the arcades of the Cinquantenaire in Brussels.

The North Atlantic military alliance has no business in the continent and it should just stop going on about the so-called China threat.

As Nato and its boss, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, keep banging on about “the China threat”, you really have to wonder what the real game plan is.

A joint communique by Nato’s 31 member states has rebuked China for “coercive policies”. Are those like the severe unilateral sanctions imposed on dozens of countries around the world by the United States and to a lesser extent, the European Union, usually in defiance of international law?

It blasts China for “deepening strategic partnership” with Russia. Is that like Finland and Sweden joining Nato, or inviting South Korea and Japan to deepen relations?

Speaking to the press, Stoltenberg himself singled out China for “increasingly challenging the rules-based international order, refusing to condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine, threatening Taiwan and carrying out substantial military build-up”.

Sometimes you just wish Western leaders could use more creative or at least different terms and phrases rather than repeating the same tiresome billboard slogans.

“Rules-based international order”? Like the one imposed and enforced by the same select few of the leading Nato member states? I got a kick recently out of reading the headline of a critical op-ed, “The West’s ‘international community’ consists of only 10 countries”. Well, just about, plus or minus a handful depending on the international situation in question.

“Substantial military build-up”? Sure, just like the more than US$1 trillion annual military budget and extra funding from the US this year, without doubt the biggest in all of human history relative to a country’s productivity!

I think what all that really means is that Nato, led by the US, is preparing the global public that it is expanding its “North Atlantic” mission to one that will cover the Indo-Pacific as well. Here, the “China threat” offers the rationale, so it has to be dialled up and repeated at every opportunity. I bet there is even a public relations manual in Brussels that offers instructions to that effect.

It’s a very bad idea though, unless the biggest EU states want to commit hara-kiri for America’s sake and kiss the EU as an independent entity goodbye.

But my argument in the following is that it’s also not in the Anglo-American interest to do so even if they manage to drag the Europeans, kicking and screaming, back into Asia as part of an alliance-building run amok.

Let’s start with an alleged cause of the Russian invasion, and then its negation. Thesis: Nato’s eastward expansion – and especially potential Ukraine membership – threatened Russia so much it was forced to launch a pre-emptive invasion in “self-defence”.

Antithesis: No, that’s simply not true.

I would argue that both the thesis and its negation amount to two different but cogent arguments against Nato’s expansion into Asia.

If it’s true that Nato’s eastern expansion caused Russia to make a stand over Ukraine, then its expansion into Asia will force China’s hand over Taiwan even more.

Remember Ukraine was historically considered within Russia’s sphere of influence, but even Moscow acknowledged its status as an independent state after 1991. Beijing, however, has always considered Taiwan an inalienable part of China.

Therefore, Nato’s expansion into China’s backyard will be seen as even more provocative than it did to Russia. That will make it more likely, not less, for China to invade. In other words, it’s time for Nato to learn a lesson from Ukraine and not repeat it in Asia.

For the antithesis, suppose Nato has nothing to do with Russia’s invasion. Those Russians are criminals and thugs, just like the Chinese. They pick on Ukraine because they can, primarily because it isn’t a member of Nato for which an attack on one member is an attack on all.

If so, how can Nato protect Taiwan unless the island becomes part of Nato, either as an independent nation or a protectorate? Either status amounts to a casus belli, but the former especially, for Beijing. Again, that makes it more likely not less for mainland China to invade.

I rest my case.


First published in the South China Morning Post July 12, 2023

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