The Obama administration’s so-called pivot to Asia will have only a small and indirect impact on the strengthening of NATO’s partnerships in Asia.
The pivot is part of US defense policy, not NATO policy. It is primarily a result of the return of forces to the region from deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
NATO’s partnerships in Asia are not a result of the US pivot. They exist due to the relative growth of Asia’s geostrategic power and the need for greater cooperation against common threats to the peace and prosperity of Asia and the transatlantic community.
There are many misperceptions that NATO partnerships are a precursor to NATO expansion into other regions and the addition of new members to NATO from Asia or the Middle East. This is not true.
NATO is not seeking new members in other regions, and NATO’s partners in other regions are not seeking NATO membership. NATO partnerships outside of Europe are for improving cooperation, not for partners to become NATO members.
Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently stated this very clearly. "Let there be no doubt. This is not about replacing our existing partnerships. It is not about expanding our footprint into other parts of the world. Nor is it about NATO assuming global responsibilities."
NATO partnerships are being strengthened because it is in the interest of NATO, its partners and the international community as a whole, for countries to improve their ability to work together in the face of common security problems.
From the proliferation of WMD technology, to escalating cyber threats, to growing violence from extremist groups, the international community is facing numerous dangerous challenges.
At the same time, worldwide economic troubles are reducing national budgets and decreasing the capabilities of nations to deal with these rising threats.
NATO partnerships help countries continue to protect their people and interests by working together rather than separately.
Asia and the transatlantic community already benefit from NATO partnerships. For example, NATO navies and naval units from Asian powers such as China and India work together in counter-piracy missions.
By working together, they not only help protect lives and keep the peace, but also prevent rogue actors from damaging the international trade in food, energy, and products, which all of our economies depend on.
NATO partnerships also contribute to the international community by increasing communication and understanding between NATO and its partners.
In addition to the Asian countries that participated in the meeting for International Security Assistance Force partners at the NATO summit in Chicago in May, Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea were also invited to attend what the White House described as "an unprecedented meeting to discuss ways to further broaden and deepen NATO’s cooperation with partner nations."
In fact, improving relations with partners was one of NATO’s three main priorities at the Chicago summit.
NATO partnerships will not expand NATO into Asia or other regions. The purpose of NATO partnerships is to expand international cooperation in security matters and help make the world safer for all of us.
As Rasmussen said, "This is about NATO assuming a global perspective. Playing its part globally, and strengthening our ability to act in concert with our partners around the globe."
NATO partnerships are not a threat to Asia. They are an opportunity for Asia and the transatlantic countries to work together. Asia should welcome NATO’s willingness to contribute to the security of the international community and join NATO in building partnerships for peace.
Jorge Benitez is the Director of NATOSource and a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. This piece originally appeared in the Global Times. Photo Credit: Sun Ying/Global Times