Thirteen years ago, this columnist put forward the idea of an “Asian NATO”, a military alliance which would have the United States, India, Japan, Singapore and Kuwait at its core. While military to military cooperation has substantially increased between all these countries, the refusal of the US to delink itself while in Asia from its European partners ensured that an alliance that would eclipse NATO in Asia could never be set up. Any movement in such a direction was resisted by France and Germany, who insisted that they — using the cover of NATO — and they alone had the right and the ability to intervene in Asia. Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and that of Iraq in 2003, the US has invariably brought along a European partner, usually the country that had been the colonial master of the target entity during the centuries when imperialism was in vogue. Thus it was UK troops who marched besides their US counterparts in both Afghanistan and Iraq, sent there by Tony Blair, who apparently shares with David Cameron an affinity towards the philosophy that motivated Rudyard Kipling. The present UK Prime Minister was quick to hop onto Nicolas Sarkozy’s assault on the hapless Muammar Gaddafi, in the process rendering almost all of Libya ungovernable. However, so long as oil from that country flows into tankers sent by companies based within NATO member-states, such outcomes may be excused. As Donald Rumsfeld says, “Stuff happens.”
Given the death-grip of Europe over US military (and strategic) policy, it makes sense for Asian countries to band together and form an organisation that comprises only countries within Asia, the same way as NATO comprises only countries in Europe and North America (although Israel would be a logical addition). While NATO had as its initial target the USSR, and since 2001 the non-western world, an Asian Security Initiative would ensure that the different militaries in the continent pool their skills in order to work out effective responses to such modern threats as piracy, cyber-war and terrorism. While the purpose of this columnist in sketching an outline of “NAATO” (North America Asia Treaty Organisation) was to do battle against precisely such threats, others saw it as a counter to China, or as an alliance that would be able to keep Beijing in check, should the PLA get too frisky. Since 1999 (when the idea was first evolved), the geopolitical landscape of the globe has changed. While at that point in time, it was conceptually possible to visualise a scenario in which China could be countered through military force, in 2012, the assets of the PLA have grown to a scale which makes such an operation untenable to those not in favour of suicide.
The refusal of the US to delink itself while in Asia from its European partners ensured that an alliance that would eclipse NATO in Asia could never be set up.
It was Rupert Murdoch who snarled to Harold Evans, the editor of one of his newspapers, that “If you treat me as an outsider, I will behave as one.” There are sound commercial reasons why the “China Threat” theory has been blown up to the immense proportions that it occupies for a country that last went to war in 1979. This is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to companies within NATO member-states to retain market share against their Chinese competitors. Not being able to succeed through price or quality, the security argument gets used to block Chinese products from a market. Even were Beijing’s intentions less than benign (and it must a said that some of its recent utterances have a most un-Dengian bellicosity about them), it would be best to give the PRC an opportunity to integrate within an Asian Security Initiative. China is fast becoming the single largest source of capital to industry, as well as a source of hi-tech items. Those who talk of “containing” or — more extreme — militarily tackling China are living in a dream world. Such a course would become necessary only were Beijing to go to war itself. Given the innate caution of the Chinese Communist Party, and the strong influence of the pacifist philosophy of Deng Xiaoping, that seems very unlikely. It needs to be remembered that since 1962,w not a single bullet has been fired in anger on either side of the Sino-Indian border. Those hyping up the “threat of war” usually have as their objective the sale of yet more weapons to India.
The ASI would have the means and the mandate to keep the peace in Asia, and to prevent outside powers from militarily intervening on the continent, except with its consent. The time for a pan-Asia security system has arrived, and as a start, the newly-energised Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) can form its nucleus.