The Editorial: If there’s an Asian NATO, Canada must join

An Asian equivalent of NATO to balance China’s power may be years away, but it’s a possibility Canada cannot afford to ignore



With Crimea long gone and the threat of further Russian intervention hanging over its eastern regions, the integrity of Ukraine lies in doubt. Yet one thing seems certain. Had Ukraine joined NATO in 2008, as was once discussed, the situation would be vastly different.

Whatever designs Russian President Vladimir Putin may have on the remainder of Ukraine, the mutual defence obligations of NATO have stymied any plans he may harbour for reassembling the rest of the Soviet Empire. NATO has significantly enhanced the West’s military presence in member countries Poland, Romania and the Baltic states (including six CF-18s from Canada) and put a hard line around further Russian predations. Given NATO’s effectiveness over the past 65 years in this regard, some politicians in Asia are now calling for a similar organization to contain China’s rising global ambitions as well. An Asian equivalent of NATO may be years away, but it’s a possibility Canada should not ignore.

While China repeatedly argues it has no desire for an empire or the territory of other countries, recent actions renders these declarations doubtful. Tension between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands (known to China as Diaoyu) in the East China Sea has produced the most dramatic confrontations between these two countries since the Second World War, with several tense maritime standoffs. China recently claimed air rights in this area as well. And it asserts ownership over nearly all the South China Sea, despite competing claims from Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines.

To back up its aggressive territorial claims, China boasts a navy that now rivals the U.S. in the number of attack ships and submarines. While it may be a decade or two behind in technology, it’s rapidly catching up; last year it launched its first aircraft carrier. It has also been developing a series of potential naval bases, known as the “String of Pearls,” culminating in a newly built, Chinese-operated port at Gwadar, Pakistan, near the mouth of the Persian Gulf. China could soon project a powerful military presence throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans and as far as the Middle East.

“China’s growing offshore military capabilities could eventually increase the likelihood of serious political-military crises in East Asia . . . and undermine overall regional stability,” a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace strategic net assessment concluded last year.

As a counterweight, Shigeru Ishiba, secretary-general of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said earlier this year, “It will become necessary for us to have an Asian version of NATO. We need a balance here in the region with China.” To this end, Japan’s Shinzo Abe government is trying to lift a constitutional ban that prevents the country’s military from fighting in defence of allies.

An Asian collective defence treaty makes considerable sense over the long term. An informal agreement between India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. already provides some military co-operation in the region. On his recent Asian tour, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a 10-year deal with the Philippines allowing the U.S. Navy to return to its former base in Subic Bay, countering recent Chinese hegemony. However, given the massive changes wrought by China’s ascendancy, a comprehensive treaty of Pacific-based democracies pledged to each other’s mutual defence—including South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore—would provide a much firmer bulwark.

There are significant hurdles to creating an Asian NATO, including a lack of solidarity amongst potential member nations. Japan and South Korea, for example, still mistrust each other almost as much as China. Even more important, there’s the ever-present fear of alienating China and losing out on trade.

Further, a lot of work must be done before an Asian NATO ever becomes a necessity. The true nature of China’s interests in building its navy and exercising control over the South and East China Seas is unknown. And it has yet to act in as deliberately an aggressive manner as Putin’s Russia. There’s still ample room for negotiation, diplomacy and the application of international law in sorting out Asia’s balance of power.

Nonetheless, if it comes to pass, Canada should be a willing and full partner in any Asia-Pacific Treaty Organization, befitting our status as a Pacific Rim nation. With our future economic success increasingly tied to Asian growth, it is in our interest to ensure political and military stability in the region, as well as the flourishing of democracies. Canada is doing its part in Europe right now. We should be ready to do the same in Asia.


The Editorial: If there’s an Asian NATO, Canada must join

  1. If we’d stayed out of the Ukraine situation Russia would have settled for the treaty already in place. But noooo, we wanted to push Ukraine into NATO, and surround and contain Russia.

    We don’t need to hook up with any eastern version of NATO either. If you want to trade with China then joining a military alliance against it isn’t the brightest thing you could do. China hasn’t attacked or invaded anyone in 5000 years. The most they’ve done is recover what was theirs originally. Anyone knowing their history is familiar with ‘100 years of humiliation’.

    NATO is just looking for a job. They have a protocol, equipment and a chain of command. Change it’s name, allow others in, and install it as the UN military. Solves a lot of problems.

    • China hasn’t invaded anyone in 5000 years? You do realize you don’t actually get to write your own history right? I’m pretty sure Tibetans living in exile in India could tell you a few stories about a chimes invasion.

      • Tibet belongs to China….has done since around 1200 or so.

  2. >These various treaties and alliances can easily get out of hand. During the last decade of the Nineteen Century the various alliances in Europe were largely defined as defensive in nature; if a country were attacked its allies would join in the defense. In the first decade of the Twentieth Century, however, the nature of these alliances had changed; if a country decided to attack its neighbour then its allies would join in the attack. The complex of treaties became secretive and complicated. This was the powder keg that had been set ablaze starting the First World War. The whole purpose of the new alliances was to contain Germany. It did not work.
    >With all this talk about the rise of China and the events with Russia our leaders ought to keep in mind the thoughts noted here. Trying to contain Russia, or trying to contain China will not work. The proof is right there in the two world wars. The European nations including Germany finally had had enough of the bloodshed of the previous four centuries and created a union of nations. They diminished the unlimited power of the state in order to create this union.
    >Instead of trying to contain Russia or China an approach focused on trade instead of the military should be the plan. Take any other approach and we are just asking for trouble; we will find it.

  3. Why would we want to be obligated by treaty to fight in Asia? It’s bad enough we stuck around NATO while it expanded. Our only defence treaty should be with the US. We might wish to join in a coalition for a specific time limited purpose but we should not tie ourselves to alliances.

  4. “Yet one thing seems certain. Had Ukraine joined NATO in 2008, as was once discussed, the situation would be vastly different.” I think that if NATO and some Ukrainian “politicians” strongly pushed Ukraine to join at that time, the unrest would start much earlier.
    Valeri Varavva