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NATO, Be Careful What You Wish For

13 July 2023

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By Mr Kavi Chongkittavorn, Senior Communications Advisor: The latest NATO summit in Lithuania seemed to please the Western alliance and Ukraine, its key beneficiary. If nothing else, they have come up with a strong plan to help Ukraine fight Russia. The big defence package includes a new multi-year assistance programme to facilitate the transition of the Ukrainian armed forces from Soviet-era to NATO standards.

They also agreed to establish the new NATO-Ukraine Council, which will strengthen ties between the two parties. NATO reaffirmed that Ukraine will become a member, but without giving a timeframe, which drew harsh criticism from President Volodymyr Zelensky.

For the time being, Ukraine’s membership is a non-starter. Already, the stronger NATO has pushed the current tensions and the conflict to a precipice, with the potential for a nuclear war with Russia. Apart from the fighting on the Ukraine-Russia border, the continental Eastern flank is also very tense. NATO’s power projection is becoming expansive and could go beyond the current geographical scope.

As such, the idea of opening a NATO liaison office in Japan is a bad proposal and one about which the Western alliance needs to think long and hard. Already, French President Emmanuel Macron has said that NATO should concentrate on Europe, in its role as a North Atlantic-based organisation. He also reminded his NATO colleagues that the world’s most powerful military alliance should not give the impression of wanting to extend its geographical remit, according to news outlet Deutsche Welle (DW).

“Whichever way you look at it, geography can be stubborn. The Indo-Pacific is not the North Atlantic. Therefore, we must not give the impression that NATO is somehow looking to build up a legitimacy or geographic presence in other regions,” Macron told a news conference at a NATO summit. Such a plan would drag Japan into the strategic scheme of things in Europe, which can hurt Tokyo’s regional interests. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the plan is still on the table. It would be wise to turn the tables now.

At the ASEAN ministerial conference on Tuesday, the bloc’s leaders made it clear that the geopolitical environment is in turmoil and the bloc must be united and remain a nuclear-free arena. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi reiterated that the world is witnessing a highest risk of tactical nuclear weapons use in history.

Regional countries are concerned that, as NATO is becoming stronger and more united, they will become more assertive. Just look at the way NATO addresses the perceived Russian threats on its Eastern flank. Stoltenberg said he would increase troops, beyond the current 300,000. That could further raise tensions. If Moscow thinks it is cornered on all fronts, apart from the Russia-Ukraine war, it could put into practice its only exit strategy—the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

NATO’s primary focus should be on Europe’s overall security and, therefore, it should rethink its non-European office.

This opinion piece was written by ERIA's Senior Communications Advisor, Mr Kavi Chongkittavorn, and has been published in Thai PBS WorldClick here to subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are purely those of the authors and may not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia.

(Photo credit: Thai PBS World)

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