NATO's shift towards Asia Pacific only aggravates its dilemma

China Military Online
Chen Zhuo
2024-07-10 17:11:25

By Xiang Haoyu

Although the NATO Summit held on July 9 in Washington, D.C. was claimed to be "the most ambitious summit since the end of the Cold War" by the US Secretary of State Blinken, the 75-year-old organization is in deep trouble both internally and externally. The protracted geopolitical conflicts in Europe and the uncertain results of the US presidential election both cast a shadow over the event.

This year's summit focused on three topics: the Ukraine issue, including assistance to the country and its entry into NATO; enhancing the organization's defense and deterrence capability; and deepening the collaboration with Indo-Pacific partners. Yet all of these are subject to changes given NATO's current dilemma.

As a political-military alliance that upholds collective security, NATO's justification for existence depends on the creation of common external threats. It should have been dissolved after the end of the Cold War, but has kept on living by constantly creating new "rivals" driven by America's selfish aim of maintaining its unipolar hegemony. Five years ago, the organization experienced a series of internal tensions and divergences due to America's shaky leadership and unstable foreign policies. The lack of strategic coordination among its European members prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to repeatedly call the organization "brain dead". It wasn't until the Ukraine crisis that NATO got a "booster jab" that pulled the members together again, and new members were introduced.

What's confusing is that NATO doesn't seem eager to solve its immediate geopolitical crisis, but was in a hurry to extend its hands to the Asia Pacific. At the Madrid summit in 2022, the NATO positioned China as a "systemic challenge" in its "strategic concept", revealing its intention to contain China. Following America's "Indo-Pacific strategy", the organization has since enhanced its military presence in the Asia Pacific. Members like the UK, France, Germany and Canada have kept sending vessels and aircraft to participate in multilateral joint exercises and training in the region, and leaders of Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand joined the NATO summit for two consecutive years, enhancing their military and security cooperation under the Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAPs).

But NATO's shift towards the "Asian Pacific shift" doesn't go as smoothly as the US wishes. For one thing, NATO's plan to set up a Tokyo office was suspended due to France's opposition; the protracted Ukraine crisis has fatigued some countries with endless assistance; and Hungary's deviation on Russia relations also gives NATO executives a major headache. The political uncertainty in many European countries has encumbered the organization's military investment in the Asia Pacific.

For another, the four Asian-Pacific countries all have their own problems and haven't fit in with NATO so well owing to both subjective and objective factors. Japan has been a vanguard in this round of NATO's Asian Pacific expansion towards the Asia Pacific, but Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is troubled by low support rate and dim political prospects, and his aggressive approach to military buildup faces various internal and external restrictions. The Yoon Suk-yeol administration of the ROK was also forced to adjust its pro-US diplomatic policy after losing the parliamentary election. Recently, Australia is obviously less active in containing China as the relations between the two countries have improved. New Zealand, though a member of the Five Eyes, has no interest in engaging in major-country competition or geopolitical game, and is therefore seen by the US as the weakest link in the anti-China alliance.

Despite the headwinds, the US and some of its allies still cling to the Cold War mindset and will continue to pursue major-country competition and bloc confrontation in the Asia Pacific in the name that "the securities of the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific are inseparable". While Biden is in office, the US has primarily established a minilateral alliance system in the Asia Pacific, and allies like Japan, the ROK, Australia and the Philippines, in particular, have sped up the formation of a joint commanding and integrated deterrence system, resulting increasingly similar security architecture between the Asia Pacific and NATO.

With peace and development remaining the global theme, it's not easy for NATO to find and keep a common "imaginary enemy" for all members. For this gigantic organization, unbridled expansion and strategic outreach will only further divide the demands of its members and drive up its administrative costs, eventually aggravating its dilemma.

(The author is a research fellow at the Department for Asia-Pacific Studies, China Institute of International Studies)

Editor's note: Originally published on, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

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