Is an Asian NATO the Answer to Countering China?
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By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
(Washington D.C.) What if India, Australia, Japan and the United States formed an “Asian NATO” collective security alliance to improve prospects for stability and more effectively deter or counter Chinese operations in the Pacific theater?
It could happen, and is already being explored by Pentagon leaders, diplomats and politicians familiar with the threat conditions in Asia. Certainly the countries are already closely aligned; B-1s are in India, Australia and Japan fly F-35s and both Australia and Japan are acquiring High Altitude Long Endurance drones from the U.S. such as the Global Hawk and Triton, to cite a few among many instances of collaboration. Other longstanding efforts include regular training opportunities, war preparations, joint weapons testing, and interoperability exercises.
When asked about the prospect of an Asian NATO, U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command Commander Gen. Timothy Ray did not say that was in his lane to decide, but he did make a point to articulate the importance of U.S.-allied collaborative security efforts in Asia, with a particular mind to deterring China.
Should these U.S. aligned countries, perhaps with even the addition of Taiwan, draft up an agreement somewhat analogous to NATO’s well known Article 5, an attack against any of the countries would amount to an attack upon all of them, thus the premise of alliance-generated collective security. An alliance of this kind could introduce some interesting strategic dynamics and potentially further fortify Chinese deterrence in Asia.
For instance, would the existence of an Asian NATO diminish the likelihood of provocative Chinese maneuvers in the region? Would there be less intrusive or aggressive fighter-jet operations close to Japanese shores? Fewer amphibious warfare preparation operations in the vicinity of Taiwan? Perhaps of even greater impact, would a more solidified or formalized Japan-Australia-India-US alliance in any way decrease aggressive Chinese maneuvers in the South China Sea? While an Asian NATO might not necessarily mitigate continued Chinese expansionist ambitions, it could inspire a decrease in aggressive maneuvers and therefore potentially decrease the possibility of an unintended clash or exchange of fire.
Most of all, China is listed by GlobalFirepower.com as having more than 2million active duty military personnel, so a combined U.S., Japanese, Australian and Indian military force might certainly help deter China in terms of sheer numbers, not to mention coordinated air and sea operations including weapons platforms, sensor targeting networking and collaborative training exercises
For example, the U.S. and Australia have been testing hypersonic weapons together, and drone surveillance data sharing could greatly help blanket the vast ocean areas of the Pacific, Japan collaborates with the U.S. on several crucial weapons programs to include the SM-3 interceptor, and both Japan and Australia are part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Weapons System group of allies. Radar, surveillance, missile defenses and weapons synergies with all four countries are already underway, a circumstance which has already created a military foundation upon which to build an alliance.
The Chinese threat in the Pacific provides added relevance to the concept of an Asian NATO.
Chinese shipbuilders are adding new carriers, amphibs and destroyers at an alarming pace...Chinese armored vehicle engineers are fast-adding new infantry carriers and mobile artillery platforms … Chinese weapons developers are adding large numbers of new drones and attack robots …. But the largest and potentially most alarming elements of all of this, according to many senior U.S. leaders, is the staggering pace at which China is adding nuclear weapons.
“A troubling revelation has been about the trajectory of the Chinese nuclear program. The Chinese have plans to at least double their arsenal by the end of the decade. They are departing from what has been known as a minimalist theory,” Gen. Timothy Ray, Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command, told reporters at the 2021 Air Force Association Symposium.
Ray’s concern about the fast-growing Chinese nuclear arsenal aligns with and builds upon the Pentagon’s Pentagon’s 2020 China Military Report, which states that the number of warheads arming Beijing’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of threatening America will likely grow to 200 in the next five years. As an element of this expansion, China is increasing its inventory of long-range land-fired DF-26 Anti-Ship missiles able to fire both conventional and nuclear missiles.
Ray cited a hope that China might be willing to consider joining various ongoing arms treaty discussions, but did not appear extremely optimistic about the possibility given China’s approach to nuclear weapons modernization.
“I think the need to have China in a conversation about arms control is important,” Ray says.
“Combined with a near-complete lack of transparency regarding their (China’s) strategic intent and the perceived need for a much larger, more diverse nuclear force, these developments pose a significant concern for the United States,” the 2020 Pentagon report explains.
The reality of the threat circumstance with China seemed to be one of several reasons why Ray stressed the importance of maintaining and adding to the U.S. nuclear triad, particularly in the Asian theater.
There continues to be successful U.S. and allied Bomber Task Force Patrols, to include ongoing work with B-1s in India and integrated flights with nuclear-capable B-2s and B-52s. Ray said the Air Force is working vigorously to expand allied collaboration with Bomber Task Forces beyond its current scope.
“We have the highest bomber aircrew readiness in the history of the command,” he said.
Alongside an effort to emphasize the growing importance of allied operations in the Pacific, Ray stressed a need for the U.S. to maintain its strategic deterrence posture with a modernized nuclear triad.
“There are no allied bombers and no allied ICBMs. These two components are the cornerstone of the security structure of a free world,” Ray said.
What much of this contributes to, Ray explained, is the importance of continuing the current Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, a now underway effort to build a new arsenal of 400 U.S. ICBMs.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
Kris Osborn Editor-in-Chief Warrior Maven 571.316.9098