NATO and Australia: vital partners in a new world war?

Apr 13, 2023
NATO flag fluttering in the wind in the arcades of the Cinquantenaire in Brussels.

Two recent news stories say it all. On the 4th of April the Sydney Morning Herald carried a report of an interview with Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO, in which he claimed that Australia was a vital partner in the organisation’s campaign to confront the security challenges posed by China and in particular NATO’s plans to defend Taiwan. Quite clearly this came as a surprise to many Australians.

But as far as I could see no one in the government responded to what was a provocative intervention in our national debate. We must assume that DFAT was happy to let Stoltenberg’s assertions remain uncorrected. And then on the 10th of the month The Australian carried a banner headline announcing that Prime Minister Albanese had been ‘called’ to attend NATO’s upcoming summit in Lithuania ‘amid fears over China’s growing alignment with Russia and the authoritarian powers’ systematic threat to the international order.’ The invitation was applauded by Sky News, the Murdoch papers and Canberra’s cabal of conservative commentators regarded by the main stream media as the indispensable ‘go to experts’.

Stoltenberg’s announcement of the plans for the new global NATO was delivered with inimitable European arrogance. There would be very few people in what we now call the Indo-Pacific, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, who will welcome the return of the erstwhile Imperial overlords seeking to recapture long lost prestige. For fifty years the west Europeans were tightly contained by the Soviet Union. And during those years de-colonisation had stripped the maritime powers of their vast empires and by the 1960’s, the newly liberated nations had become the biggest voting block in the U.N’s General Assembly.

NATO’s record since the dissolution of the Soviet Union is scarcely encouraging. From 2003, it took command of the war in Afghanistan and by 2010 all 30 member nations had troops in that beleaguered country and 130,000 personnel controlled 400 military bases. From 2015 to 2021, NATO was responsible for ‘Resolute Support’ which provided training, advice and support to the faltering Afghan army. NATO forces were also in IRAQ between 2004 and 2011 and reached as many as 112,000 at the end of 2009. And then there was the brutal and quite illegal attack on Libya in 2011. Airstrikes averaging 150 a day left behind social chaos and hundreds of civilian casualties. Ukraine will suffer for a generation from the devastation of a war both provoked and prolonged by NATO. Why would anyone, anywhere welcome the intervention by the new global NATO? And all over the world people know only too well that the European powers must take overreaching responsibility for the global wars of the C20th.

In his recent interview, Stoltenberg observed that ‘while NATO was, and would remain, a regional alliance…….the security challenges posed by China meant it needed to deepen its engagement with its like-minded partners in the Indian-Pacific, including Australia’. He emphasised that NATO could not act as if security was regional. ‘Security is global’, he declared, ‘the threats we face in this region are global threats.’ It is necessary here to pause for a moment to fully grasp what Stoltenberg was saying. There is no doubt whatsoever that the problem of China and Taiwan is a regional question and that as far as international law is concerned there is one China and Taiwan remains a detached Province of China. With NATO treating it as a global problem everything changes. Stoltenberg presages the instantaneous involvement of 30 nation states on the far side of the world. Only one conclusion is possible. The Europeans are looking forward to being involved in a new world war.

Is that what Australia wants? The lack of frank and open discussion about what plans are being discussed within the government makes it hard to judge. But the ideas of Defence Minister Marles and of the Prime Minister seem to be at cross purposes with those of Foreign Minister Wong. In numerous public addresses she has stressed the importance of closer engagement with our neighbours in the Pacific and South East Asia not a deeper embrace within the white man’s world. Perhaps more to the point is that she has frequently explained that our neighbours are emphatic about their desire to avoid serious conflict between China and America which would ravage the whole of our region.

What the closer association with NATO presages then, is one more entanglement. It would be a case of being locked into three different systems…..joined at the hip with America as a result of ANZUS, more recently bound together with both America and Britain as a result of AUKUS and now a willing proxy for NATO which has ambitions to once again exert power and influence in our part of the world. All the evidence suggests that we have made our decision. What we crave is security from Asia not security within Asia.


Editors’ note:

In a recent, positive development, the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday reported that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will not attend this year’s NATO summit.   See “Anthony Albanese to be a ‘no show’ at NATO in ‘disappointment’ for Brussels

Former Australian Foreign Minister and former Premier of NSW Bob Carr released a statement on Twitter shortly after endorsing the Prime Minister’s decision: “Solid national interest decision by PM Albanese not to attend NATO summit. Case-by-case partnership as with Ukraine and Afghanistan fine but integration with NATO not part of our international character.”

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