Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

NATO and China


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NATO

Mains level : Rise of China in the global agenda

In a communiqué issued following the June 14 summit of its member-states in Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), for the first time, explicitly described China as a security risk.

Try answering this question:

Q.NATO has been an ideal vehicle for power-projection around the world by the US. Critically comment.

China as a global threat

  • China has never figured in NATO summit declarations before, except for a minor reference in 2019 to the “opportunities and challenges” it presented.
  • But China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to NATO security.
  • China has reacted sharply. It has urged NATO to view China’s development rationally, stop exaggerating various forms of China threat theory.
  • The other two threats identified by the NATO communiqué are on predictable lines: Russia and terrorism.

Focus over two nations

  • There is a significant difference, however, between a strategic focus on countering Russia and casting China as a “systemic challenge”.
  • This goes back to NATO’s founding mandate and subsequent history.

What is NATO, btw?

  • NATO, the planet’s largest — and largest-ever — military alliance, was formed in 1949 by 12 Allied powers to counter the massive Soviet armies stationed in Eastern and Central Europe after Second World War.
  • According to Paul-Henri Spaak, the second Secretary-General of NATO, it was, ironically enough, Joseph Stalin who is the true father of NATO.
  • It was Stalin’s overreach — especially with the Berlin blockade of 1948-49 and the orchestrated coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948 — that convinced a diverse set of war-ravaged European nations to come together under an American security blanket.
  • The collective defence principle enshrined in NATO’s Article V states that “an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies”.
  • The formation of NATO, and its Soviet counterpart, the Warsaw Pact, in 1955, inaugurated the Cold War era.

NATO and its relevance now

  • NATO was completely successful in its mission of protecting the “Euro-Atlantic area” from Soviet expansion and preventing war between the two superpowers.
  • When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, questions were raised about NATO’s relevance and future.
  • Since the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) became irrelevant when the Communist bloc disappeared, one cannot justify the continuation of a military alliance formed to protect Europe from Communist expansion.

Post-Cold War era mandate of NATO

  • Its bureaucracy succeeded in refashioning NATO for the post-Cold war era.
  • The refashioning rested on a paradigm shift — from collective defence, which implied a known adversary, to collective security, which is open-ended, and might require action against any number of threats.
  • The threat included unknown ones and non-state actors.
  • In other words, the elimination of one threat to Europe — communist Russia — did not necessarily mean that security risks to Europe have vanished.

Why dismantle a beneficial arrangement

  • Another factor in the persistence of NATO is that, like all successful alliances, it has been a mutually beneficial arrangement.
  • For Europe, it was an attractive bargain where, in exchange for a marginal loss in autonomy, it enjoyed absolute security at a cheap price.
  • Not having to spend massively on defence allowed Europe to focus on building powerful economies and invest its surplus in a strong welfare state.
  • NATO also offered the added bonus of keeping Germany down — historically a major factor for peace and stability in the region.

An effective American weapon

  • For the US, NATO has been an ideal vehicle for power projection around the world — in places beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
  • It views NATO as a tool to ensure the primacy of American interests across the globe.
  • Unsurprisingly, NATO’s post-Cold War role has evolved in tandem with U.S. foreign policy priorities.
  • The NATO doctrine of “enlargement”, which Russia calls “expansion”, is essentially about extending the American military footprint by bringing in new members.
  • That is how NATO’s membership today stands at 30, having added 14 members between 1999 and 2020.

The final truth

  • The Biden administration wants to mobilize NATO member-states behind its larger objective of containing China.
  • NATO’s European member states may view China as an economic rival and adversary, but they are unconvinced by the American line that it is an outright security threat.
  • This line also, in a way, points to the underlying logic behind NATO’s persistence in the post-Soviet world.
  • Unlike the Soviet Union, China offers no alternative vision of society that could make Western capitalism insecure.
  • In fact, its own economy is already deeply integrated into Western markets. China, nonetheless, is perceived as posing a ‘threat’.
  • It remains to be seen how far an ageing Europe would be willing to commit itself to a strategic path that prefers confrontation to collaboration like the US.

Also read:

India & NATO

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