Picture: Virginia Mayo – Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at Nato headquarters in Brussels. Close to absorbing most of Europe as a security sphere under its surveillance, Nato is going after Asia, goading China as ‘the hostile threat’, as with Russia in Europe, the writer says.
By David Monyae
Over the past few years, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), the world’s largest military alliance comprising 31 countries in Europe and North America, has been in an expansionary mode, which has seen it absorb most of Europe. Just in April this year, Nato welcomed Finland as its 31st member while Sweden’s accession as a member is at an advanced stage.
It seems Nato is hellbent on turning the whole of Europe into a security sphere under its surveillance. Its attempts to expand to Ukraine precipitated a devastating and ongoing military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which began in February 2022. Russia protested Nato’s expansion ambitions in Ukraine arguing that the alliance’s presence in the country would constitute an existential threat for Russia.
Since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s Nato has moved quickly to embrace countries within Russia’s vicinity despite its founders having given Moscow their word that the organisation wasn’t going to expand an inch eastward.
However, Nato’s expansion ambitions are not confined to Europe as they seem to be assuming a global dimension of late with Asia as the focal point. This follows the emergence of the ‘China Threat’ theory which has been embraced by all of Nato’s member states. The China Threat theory assumes that China’s growing global influence on the back of its economic miracle is inherently anti-West and therefore must be contained and undermined.
The Nato leaders have interpreted China’s activities in the South China Sea and the broader third world as a threat to western interests. In the Communique issued at the end of its July 11-12 Summit, the Nato leaders argued that “The PRC employs a broad range of political, economic, and military tools to increase its global footprint and project power, while remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions, and military build-up … The PRC’s malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target Allies and harm Alliance security”.
As part of its strategy to contain China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific Nato is actively courting China’s neighbours including Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, India, and Australia. Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia attended the Summit. They also attended the 2022 Nato Summit in Madrid. These four countries have sided with Nato on the Russia-Ukraine war through imposing sanctions on Russia and supplying military aid to Ukraine. Thus, even though they are not official members of Nato, they seem to be firmly within the Nato fold.
Japan, Australia, India and the United States formed the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as the Quad) in 2017 to act as a counterweight to China’s increasing power in the Indo-Pacific. The group engages in naval military exercises and shares intelligence. Although the group does not have commitments towards mutual defence, China labelled it the ‘Asia Nato’. It would be easy for Nato to piggy-back on the Quad if it were to officially expand into Asia.
The Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has stressed that his country has no plans to join Nato, his government was in talks with the organisation to explore the possibility of setting up a liaison office in Tokyo to co-ordinate its activities in the Asia-Pacific region. These are sure signs of Nato’s willingness and desire to expand its footprint to the Asia-Pacific region. China has vehemently rejected Nato’s attempt to expand into the region arguing that its presence will destabilise the regional security framework and exacerbate conflict with its neighbours.
Already, the security situation in the Asia-Pacific is tense. Nato coming into the picture will further complicate an already complex situation by upsetting the existing balance of power thus increasing the possibility of war. China is right to reject Nato’s overtures in the Asia-Pacific. Africa should also be careful of Nato’s expansionist policy having already seen how the alliance destroyed Libya in 2011.
Its bombing of Libya in 2011, which happened despite the objection of the African Union (AU), paved the way for terrorist groups and warlords who continue to run riot in North Africa today. Nato has a liaison office in the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It has supplied military equipment to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Mission in Sudan. Nato and the AU also engage in military-to-military co-operation, education and training programmes and technical support.
With Africa’s geostrategic value becoming more and more apparent, Nato will only seek to expand its footprint on the Continent. However, African leaders and leaders of other developing regions must know that Nato is an instrument the West uses to create a world after its own image. It is a destruction machine and history is replete with Nato’s destructive activities across the world. Therefore, its expansion must be rejected by all who desire a stable and peaceful world.
David Monyae is an Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science and Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.