NATO and AUKUS: the makings of an Asian NATO

In this recent presentation to the International Manifesto Group webinar, The Case Against NATO, Dr Jenny Clegg traces the makings of an Asian NATO via such mechanisms as AUKUS and the Quad whose fundamental purposes are to contain and confront a rising China. She further draws attention to the extension of NATO influence into the Asia Pacific through its Partnerships for Peace for example with Japan, South Korea and Australia; and also considers the impact of the Ukraine crisis in relation to these developments with the increase of tensions, divisions and militarisation in the region

NATO serves as the nuclear-armed fortress that helps to elevate the West above the ‘Rest’; it anchors Europe to its western orientation, severing it from its Eurasian geography.

But NATO members are also Pacific powers – the US, Canada, but also France and Britain, which maintain possession of a few islands and hence some considerable maritime territory. 

In this Pacific presence can be seen the makings of an Asian NATO as a counter to the growing Eurasian dimension.

Whilst the world’s focus is on Russia in the Ukraine, for the US, China is the ‘pacing challenge’, and from this perspective, the Ukraine crisis can be seen as the first phase in the US’s last-ditch battle to retain its world supremacy, a battle pitting ‘democracies against autocracies’ in which NATO is to serve as the armed vanguard against the so-called Russia-China alliance.

The world before NATO was to be a new world of the UN Charter which, in the coordination of the wartime allies – the US, UK, Soviet Union and China – and in its commitment to national sovereignty, held the promise of a multipolar world.

It was this new world of the equality of nations that the US set out to smash in driving the first Cold War.

From Cold War to thaw back to Cold War in the Asia Pacific

The Cold War in the Pacific divided China and Korea and involved two hot wars – in Korea and Indochina – at the cost of countless lives and countless war crimes.

The US sought to set up an Asian NATO – however Australia lacked trust in Japan after WW2; Japan’s military was constrained under Article 9 of its constitution; and many South East Asian states, having fought to gain independence, chose non-alignment over subordination in a military alliance.

SEATO – Southeast Asia Treaty Organization – was set up in 1955 to block the ‘communist domino effect’ but it lacked unity and folded in 1977. The US instead relied on bilateral alliances and a spread of some 400 military bases to encircle China.

The Cold War never ended in the Pacific – China and Korea remain divided. Nevertheless, a degree of thaw in the 1990s allowed China to improve its relations in the region whilst ASEAN extended membership to the three communist-aligned Indochinese nations along with Myanmar.  Regional economic growth entered a new phase.

But then, sending things into reverse, Obama embarked on his Asian pivot launching the freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.  Following this, Trump declared China a strategic competitor, initiating the Quad to draw India into a new network with Australia, Japan and the US.

2020 saw the counter-hegemonic trend gather momentum with agreement on RCEP – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, embracing large parts of East Asia and Oceania; the EU was also about to sign a major investment deal with China – these two  developments recalling the coalition of Germany all the way across to China which Brzezinski foresaw in 1997, claiming this would be hostile to the US.

The US then prepared to strike back, launching the New Cold War, followed in September 2021 by AUKUS – a mini–Asian NATO, an intervention by the outside Anglosphere which started to sow disunity within the region, undermining its resolve for Asians to deal with Asian affairs.

NATO in the Pacific

NATO itself has been expanding into Asia since 2012 with its Partnerships for Peace programme drawing in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, and the Philippines. 

By 2014, an equation was already being drawn between Russia and the Ukraine and China in the South China Sea.

At the 2019 NATO summit, Pompeo raised the issue of the China threat and, in 2021, the NATO 2030 document widened its focus to include the ‘IndoPacific’, making very clear a strategy of: Russia first then China.

Biden has advanced on Trump’s anti-China approach in two key ways, elevating the Quad and bringing the Taiwan issue more into view. But the Quad lacks military muscle – hence the announcement of AUKUS. 

The US and UK are to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, not only violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but also subverting the nuclear weapons free zones of South East Asia and the South Pacific – both important advances of regional independence in the 1980s.  These submarines will extend Australia’s naval reach much further into the South and East China Seas. 

Australia is to be transformed into a forward base for the US military, providing the core of a regional ‘hybrid warfare’ network, with looser links bringing nations into various regional networks under US direction, covering diplomacy, intelligence sharing, media narratives, supply chains and so on. 

The pact also represents a new level of cooperation in military technologies – in quantum computing and digital technologies – as exemplified in the recent announcement on the development of hypersonic weaponry. 

Accompanying the promotion of arms sales and the implementation of sanctions, AUKUS then is designed to secure US dominance over East Asia’s future growth in its support of US competition at the cutting edge of new technologies.

The impact of the Ukraine crisis

Amidst the Ukraine crisis, fears have been raised of a Chinese military takeover of Taiwan – in a completely false parallel between Ukraine, a sovereign state and Taiwan, recognised by the UN as a part of China.

As in Europe, militarisation in East Asia is accelerating: Japan has just increased its military budget by $50bn; Australia has estimated the cost of AUKUS at an eye-watering $250bn. With the newly elected conservative president in South Korea, a North East Asian arc with Japan and the US, comes into view, and with both Japan and South Korea strengthening military links with Australia, there are possible ties here into AUKUS in the South.

AUKUS only received a lukewarm reception amongst regional powers with Indonesia and Malaysia most openly expressing their reservations. Again, as in Europe, pressure is being brought to bear to erode the long held stabilising positions of Japan’s peace clause and ASEAN’s non-aligned inclinations, using the threat of sanctions to splinter and subordinate the organisation so as to clear the obstacles to militarisation.

Rather than Ukraine-Taiwan, Ukraine-the South China Sea may offer a better parallel: whilst Russia insists on Ukraine’s neutrality, China has been seeking the neutrality of the South China Sea in negotiations on a code of conduct which limits permission for outside powers to set up naval bases.

The marker of the Cold War battle line of ‘democracies versus autocracies’ is being drawn by the US around the so-called democratic right of nations to choose their allies. This is also the meaning behind the ‘free and open IndoPacific’ – that is freedom to join in the making of an Asian NATO.

Why is it that the US is blocking peace negotiations on Ukraine’s neutrality? Why can’t it accept the legitimacy of Russia’s security concerns?  Not least, because this would set a precedent for China over Taiwan and the South China Sea.  And it is China that is seen as the real, comprehensive challenger.

Amidst false allegations that China is supplying arms to Russia and propping Russia up, NATO is strengthening its links with the Pacific 4 – Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.  The upcoming summit this June will set the stage for an attempt to legitimise NATO’s increasing penetration into the IndoPacific region as the necessary opposition to the so-called ‘Russia-China alliance’.

In conclusion

NATO expansion is the root cause of the war in Europe; through its links into the Asia Pacific, it is equally intent to divide and destabilise a region now forecast to overtake Europe as the centre of the world economy by 2030.

Russia first, China next, NATO is bringing on a new world order – it’s called the jungle.

If China has not criticised Russia, at least one reason is because it looks to the long term – to a new security plan not just for Europe but one which restores its Eurasian orientation, a new Eurasian Security Order

China, in taking its stand on the indivisibility of security, on security for all – not of one at the expense of another – is keeping alive the spirit of the UN Charter.

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