NAATO: Blueprint for Asian
security By Jayanthi Iyengar
PUNE, India - As the Asian Tigers begin to roar
again, India and China position themselves as the
economic powerhouses to the world and play their share
of politics, Taiwan and South Korea flex their muscles
and the Arab world continues in turmoil, experts have
started proposing various options for Asian security.
As the United States plans to shift its forces
in Asia, coming up with a blueprint for Asian security
is an urgent but complicated and divisive prospect; any
idea is likely to generate both furious criticism and
wary analysis. At least, say some observers, it's time
to get the conversation started.
One of the most
intriguing and controversial ideas - critics call it a
non-starter and supporters are subdued while praising
some aspects - has been put forward by M D Nalapat,
professor of geopolitics and the UNESCO (United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Peace
Chair at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education in
Karnataka state. The academy is India's elite private
university, independent of government or
broadly deals with the creation of a US-led North
America Asia Treaty Organization (NAATO) to counter the
non-democratic forces in Asia, including China, Pakistan
and the fundamentalist Arab world. What is significant
about this formula is that unlike many other academic
concepts, this one has generated some interest and small
One of the strongest supporters of an
Indo-US alliance predictably has been former US
ambassador to India Robert Blackwill. Before leaving his
post, he said the United States should "strengthen
political, economic and military-to-military relations
with those Asian states that share our democratic values
and national interests. That spells India."
Brigadier Arun Sahgal of the Institute of Defense
Studies and Analysis in New Delhi is wary: "As a concept
it is a good idea but somewhat premature at present and
in [the] near term." He said the Asian security scenario
continues to be in a state of flux and is not likely to
be responsive to any such concept of dramatic
Pentagon approves of closer
India-US ties At the ground level, the Pentagon
too has taken note of the prospect of closer Indo-US
ties and the possibility of a US-led Asian NAATO. The
first step in this direction was a seminar held by the
US Office of Net Assessment, the Pentagon's key
think-tank, in India in 2002 with counterparts from
India's Integrated Defense Staff. This led to discreet
talks between senior advisers to the Pentagon and to the
Indian government last May on the prospects a US-led
Asian NAATO. Nalapat was a participant.
talks between Andrew Marshall, director of the
Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, and high-level
Indian civilian advisers have not been publicized, but
they reflect an important warming of the US-Indian
relationship," United Press International (UPI) reported
at the time.
The news wire service, which also
quoted Nalapat extensively then, pointed out that having
been non-aligned throughout the Cold War, with close
economic ties to the Soviet Union, India had long been
seen in Washington as a less-than-friendly and
impoverished nation. "Now a nuclear power, with a
thriving high-tech sector in a growing economy
increasingly tied to the US, India is seen as a key
strategic player in Asia and a potential ally that
already sends its troops and naval forces on joint
exercises with the US," UPI said.
Nalapat, in an interview with Asia Times Online, said
that as early as 1983 he had proposed an
India-China-Russia axis as a counter to NATO, the North
American Treaty Organization. Twenty years down the
line, however, when Asia and the world are transformed,
he has dramatically redefined his security concept. He
now promotes an Asian NAATO, which he calls "an
He points out that
Asia's 500 years of recorded history have never before
witnessed the extraordinary pace of change that
characterizes the present era. So rapid is the
transformation that if Asia had changed every 500 years,
then 50 years, it now changes its face every five years.
China in 2003 was not the same country it was in 1983.
India also has changed dramatically during the last
decade of liberalization. Four of the world's eight
known nuclear-weapon powers are in Asia - China, India,
Israel and Pakistan. Russia, the fifth, occupies half
the Asian continent's landmass. Two of the world's three
largest militaries, China's and India's - the third is
the US Army - are in Asia. The continent's economic and
security landscape is altering at a speed not found
elsewhere on the planet.
US Asian alliances
outdated, unworkable However, what remains static
is the region's security infrastructure, says Nalapat.
The United States, in particular, still relies on a
network of alliances that was set up in the early 1950s.
Australia, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
were then at the core of the alliance. Today, they
remain so, despite the emergence of India as a major
power, the steady democratization of parts of the Middle
East, and the rise of the People's Republic of China
(PRC) as a superpower. The rise of China, many analysts
say, has the potential to unseat, or dethrone, the US
from its current dominance in Asia.
that worked so well earlier is proving inefficient now,
whether it be in North Korea or in Iraq," Nalapat said,
with the net result that the US is unable to implement a
coherent security strategy in Asia. Nalapat's solution
to the new security problems is thus an Asian NAATO
based on economics. Unlike NATO, which was set up to
help contain the former Soviet Union, NAATO would not
have any country as its target, unless that state
attacked one of the NAATO members. Central to this theme
is the linking of democracies in North America and Asia
in a security relationship.
automatically includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar
in the Middle East; Australia, India, the Philippines,
Singapore in South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific;
Japan and South Korea in East Asia; and the US and
Canada in North America. It excludes China, Pakistan and
Saudi Arabia. Nalapat argues that those three countries
could be included when they become democracies. "I have
included Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, as they are on
the road to democracy. Iraq too will probably be in this
list soon. There has to be a common world view, and this
is possible only if all the members of Asian NAATO are
either full democracies or getting there," he said.
He added that in Kuwait, for example, the emir
has decreed that women should be given the vote, thus
putting that country far ahead of Saudi Arabia in terms
of personal freedom. "As for Pakistan, the army needs to
get prised loose from civilian institutions if that
country is to qualify. As for the PRC, that will take a
while," he said.
Nalapat believes that this
alliance would dampen rather that heighten tensions in
an already volatile Asia. Taiwan, for instance, figures
on his list of Asian NAATO members, since it is a
democracy. An attack on Taiwan would be met by action
against the aggressor by the whole of Asian NAATO. Some
say Taiwan should only be a junior partner.
Though excluded, China would
benefit This alliance would actually be
beneficial to the PRC, Nalapat said, as it would enable
the moderates to keep hotheads at bay, once it became
clear that an attack on Taiwan would result in a war not
just with Taipei but with Washington, New Delhi and
Tokyo as well.
He points out that China has
constantly - and correctly - lectured India on the need
to avoid conflict with Pakistan and use peaceful means
to settle differences. "Beijing should do the same with
respect to Taipei. Force should be taken off the table.
Once Asian NAATO comes into being, it will be. No
country likes to commit suicide."
that an Asian NAATO is needed to secure democracies
across the region from threats from authoritarian and
extremist states. Should any democracy in Asia get
attacked, Asian NAATO would come to its defense. This
would act as a powerful disincentive to aggression and
avoid Asia repeating the sorry European experience of
the 1930s, he said.
Such an alliance is also
needed to coordinate action in the "war against terror"
and to integrate militaries and security infrastructure.
This would generate a synergy as great as the one that
was enjoyed by Western Europe from 1950-85, Nalapat
says. Further, the past decade has also seen major
changes within Asia and the world, which mandate such an
These developments are political,
global and regional, as well as economic, including:
The disintegration of the Soviet Union.
The transition of India from a socialist republic
and a former ally of the Soviet Union into a relatively
free-market economy, with the United States as the ally
The interdependence of India and US on each other.
The European Union banking on Eastern Europe to
supply cheap labor.
The resurgence of a new Russia, which lacks its
earlier competitive edge as a supplier of defense
India leans to US in post-Cold
War era Though the principle of non-alignment
continues to be spearheaded and propounded by India and
the regional bloc continues to exist, Nalapat points out
that ground-level economic changes are continuously
pushing India toward an Indo-US alliance in the
post-Cold War era. He calls these forces the emergence
of two Indias, the old and the new. The "old" India is
traditional. It relies on bribes and government to
preserve shrinking domestic monopolies. The "new" India
is unafraid to compete globally and relies on skills
rather than on bags full of cash. The new
information-technology (IT) and biotech companies are an
example of New India.
"This is the sector that
is pulling the rest of the economy out of the rut caused
by 50 years of state socialism," he said. The most
important factor about this sector is that 85 percent of
its technology and markets are US-linked. The European
Union and China are also big markets, but India has a
small role to play here. Unlike the US, which is linked
to India, the EU is betting on Eastern Europe to meets
its needs for fresh labor and skills, which it requires
to compete with the US. India has a marginal role in
this vision of a European, rather than a global, Europe.
As for China, the PRC sees India as a competitor
rather than as a partner. The only major economy ready
to engage India on acceptable terms is the United
States, says Nalapat. The resurgence of Russia, India's
traditional strategic ally, has begun, but from the
defense perspective, this new Russia lags far behind in
high technology. Further, Russians are constantly
increasing their prices, as are the French.
"Thus the best way of modernizing the military
[for India] is to establish an alliance with the US," he
concluded. That brings up the question of why the US
should choose to align with India and not with China and
Pakistan. A known impediment is the existing US-Japanese
alliance, and the age-old political animosity between
China and Japan, which make a US-China axis difficult.
US carries less colonial baggage than
Europe However, Nalapat has an additional
explanation. He points out that unlike the Europeans,
the Americans do not carry the same burden of colonial
baggage. Indeed, by allowing Europe - in the form of
NATO - to tag along with it everywhere, Washington is
creating a perception that it itself is part of the
colonial legacy, rather than what it is - a former
colony that was liberated, as were India and Ireland.
That in sum explains why the Asian democracies
should join hands with the US and Canada in Asia to form
an Asian NAATO.
Professor Nalapat's concept of
Asian NAATO generates a lot of heat in security circles,
particularly in the US, China, India and Taiwan. Chinese
and Taiwanese security experts are wary about going on
record, but the media in both the countries have quoted
him directly or indirectly.
A Taiwan government
official, who did not wish to be identified, refers to
Nalapat as a "great intellectual and thinker with a
far-reaching concept". The Chinese publications have not
lagged behind. The Beijing Review carried an interview
with him late last year, while the People's Daily has
quoted him on the issue and on China time and again. The
Taiwan Times referred to him as an expert whose views
had been noted with interest by Washington. In the US,
the reactions are expectedly positive, while in India -
the largest democracy - they are understandably mixed.
On the Indo-US front, Armeane M Choksi,
president of the Washington-based US-India Institute,
makes three points.
First, India is undoubtedly a better partner to the
United States than China is because of shared common
values - democracy, freedom, rule of law, open markets
and similar strategic interests such as the global "war"
on Islamic terrorism, which has affected India far more
deeply than China.
Second, it is not clear whether China is willing to
be a strategic partner or is a strategic competitor or a
strategic threat to the United States. "Is China really
interested in letting the US be the dominant economic
and military power in the East or does it wish to occupy
that position itself? These questions and the lack of
shared common values and principles raise doubts about
China as a partner in this alliance at this stage,"
Third, for a new alliance such as NAATO to be
effective, shared common values and principles such as
democracy must be a binding factor. She cites the United
Nations, where any sovereign state can be a member
regardless of shared, common values or principles. This
broad membership of nations with often diverging
interests has resulted in the lowest-common-denominator
approach to any problem, making the UN a far less
effective institution than it could have been. "It
mostly functions as a talk shop that has some cathartic
value but not much," she explained.
disagrees with a prevalent view that an Asian security
alliance should be led by Asia and strongly argues in
favor of a US-led structure. "That [an Asian NAATO led
by Asian countries] degenerates into ethnic politics.
The driving principle should be to include those
countries that have a strategic interest in that part of
the world, have common values, and the strongest
economic and military power should lead that alliance if
it is to be truly effective and credible. These factors
make it obvious that it should be the US that should
lead the alliance," she said.
The only problem
she foresees with Nalapat's concept relates to the
inclusion of Taiwan. She says Taiwan qualifies when
democracy is the unifying principle, just as Pakistan
will qualify when it rids itself of terrorism and
military dictatorship. However, Taiwan could pose a
political problem, as the United States has its "one
China" policy. Hence she suggests for Taiwan "possibly
an associate membership to begin with" - something
Taiwan surely would resist.
A similar point is
made by Leon T Hadar in the Cato Handbook for the (US)
Congress. The Cato Institute is an independent,
libertarian think-tank in Washington.
section titled "Policy Towards India and Pakistan",
Hadar states, "The United States has a clear interest in
establishing strong ties with India, one of the rising
political, economic and military powers in Asia and a
potential strategic counterbalance to an increasingly
assertive and difficult China. India is also the world's
largest democracy as well as an important emerging
economy and an expanding market for US goods and
Interesting concept, but
premature Brigadier Sahgal, the defense analyst
in New Delhi, has other objections: "The NAATO concept
has manifest security connotations. In this case,
security against whom is the question. This is
particularly so against the backdrop of improving
Sino-Indian relations, the six-nation Chinese initiative
to resolve the North Korean crisis, the new feel-good
factor [in talks] between India and Pakistan and also
imperial over-reach of the Americans - three wars and
counting: Iraq, Afghanistan, and international
Sahgal also points out the dangers
of India committing itself to such an alliance when the
country is in the very early stages of economic recovery
and can ill-afford any formulations that could curb its
geo-economic flexibility. He alludes to the statement by
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at the
military Combined Commanders Conference last October and
states, "India has adopted a much wiser course of
building strategic partnerships with important regional
and extra-regional players."
A N Ram, former
secretary in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs,
says he would personally not favor a military alliance
for Asia, particularly one that involves powers outside
this region. "It is neither workable nor desirable," he
said, pointing out that such arrangements have not
worked in the Asian context in the past. He said Asian
prosperity is the biggest insurance for peace and it is
better not to overstate the dangers of military
conflicts in Asia.
"In the post-Cold War era,
even NATO is undergoing changes and its relevance is
questionable. The security requirements in today's
context are far broader than mere military threats." The
need of the hour, he says, is regional conflict
prevention and management mechanisms and genuine
Iyengar is a senior business journalist from India
who writes on a range of subjects for several
publications in Asia, the United Kingdom and the United
States. She may be contacted email@example.com.
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