Many Asian security analysts and policymakers will have breathed a deep sigh of relief over the weekend.
Heading into the NATO heads of state summit held this weekend in Lisbon, it had looked possible that the alliance would try to build on its Afghan precedent by pushing for a global security role that would have extended military activities into Asia and other areas outside the North Atlantic region.
The push to do so had been coming from the very top of the organization, with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pressing Alliance leaders to expand their horizons beyond NATO’s traditional focus on the North Atlantic area. Since he took up the role last August, Rasmussen has frequently argued that NATO’s main security threats now emanate from global challenges—failed states, threats to international cyber networks, terrorists with global reach and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
And the Obama administration and other NATO governments were, for their part, open to this line of thinking. The US Ambassador to NATO Iva Daalder, for example, co-authored a prominent article in 2006 advocating that any democratic state, regardless of location, should be allowed to join NATO if it wanted to do so. Meanwhile, those responsible for updating NATO’s Strategic Concept—which defines the alliance’s purpose, nature and fundamental security tasks—also adopted this expanded approach. Indeed, the committee responsible for providing guidance for the new draft this weekend had already stressed the need for Allied leaders to take a global perspective regarding NATO’s security interests. Their May 2010 report, ‘NATO 2020: Assured Security; Dynamic Engagement,’ called on the Alliance to become more versatile to counter novel dangers ‘from sources that are geographically and technologically diverse.’
Such talk has unsettled leaders of several Asian countries, especially Russia and China, who have expressed unease about NATO’s efforts to establish a major presence in their backyard. The Russian Ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, captured the concerns of many when he warned that ‘Russia can’t be happy with NATO's transformation into a world policeman’ or ‘something like Orwell's Big Brother.’
Political commentator Andrei Fedyashin chimed in that while the Alliance is seeking global partners to address common threats, ‘any potential partnership will clearly be tilted toward NATO leadership.’ He argued that talk of the Alliance asserting a global role was an attempt to keep NATO relevant despite the transformation of the European security environment since the end of the Cold War. Fedyashin also complained that the new non-traditional challenges NATO leaders were identifying as within their remit—ensuring energy security, preventing global warming and protecting natural resources—didn’t ‘sound like the objectives of a military alliance.’