European War Machine Comes To Pacific

- Murray Horton

NATO Wars In Libya, Afghanistan & Ukraine

The world watched on in horror in September 2023 at the devastation wrought in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, caused by the collapse of not one but two dams during a major storm. Thousands of people were killed, thousands more are missing, either under the rubble or swept out into the Mediterranean Sea, along with whole blocks of the city. Blame was swiftly ascribed to any number of causes: lack of maintenance of those dams; lack of maintenance in general, along with endemic corruption; a decade of civil war; and the sad fact that Libya is a failed state (well, two failed states actually, as it has two rival governments, in the east and west of the country).

One name was missing from the Western media's coverage of who is to blame for this disaster - NATO. A little background is necessary to refresh our memories. In 2011, during the abortive Arab Spring, the Libyan people rose up against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, who had been in power since 1969. Civil war broke out and the West seized the opportunity to get rid of the Arab leader who had been a thorn in its side for all of those decades (the US had tried, and failed, to kill Gaddafi in 1986 by sending planes to bomb several Libyan targets, including his home).

A NATO-led coalition joined the civil war on the side of the anti-Gaddafi forces, providing crucial air cover. The opposition forces won, Gaddafi was captured, tortured and summarily murdered. And Libya has been a failed state (or states) ever since, which has caused immense suffering for its people. Having broken it, NATO was nowhere to be seen when any question of fixing it was raised. NATO had achieved its goals, of having a key enemy murdered and of bringing about the destruction of a political system that presented an idiosyncratic ideological model perceived to be a threat to Western interests. NATO had got what it wanted, and the people of Libya were of no further interest to it.

In the 21st Century NATO has got heavily involved in other people's wars a long way from the North Atlantic area that is the reason for its existence. Not only the short, sharp campaign in Libya, but grinding years of war in Afghanistan, alongside the US and numerous other countries (including NZ). That all spectacularly ended in total failure in 2021 (see my article "Afghanistan, The Longest War. And Nothing To Show For It", in Peace Researcher 62, November 2021).

Undaunted by this major defeat in 2021, NATO went straight into a boots and all involvement in the Ukraine War in 2022, one which continues with no end in sight. It is closer to home than Afghanistan - although nowhere near the North Atlantic - and is still outside its treaty area. Ukraine is not a NATO member.

Now, this is all very interesting but what has it got to do with us? In fact, that is the central question - what does NATO have to do with NZ and vice versa? The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is what it says on the tin, and NZ is about as far away from the North Atlantic as it's possible to be. NATO was set up as a united European and North American military counter to the former Soviet Union during the Cold War of the mid to late 20th Century.

The Soviet Union collapsed and dissolved into its constituent parts; its Eastern European satellites enthusiastically signed up with the ideological victors; and its military bloc, the Warsaw Pact (remember that?), which confronted NATO, ceased to exist. But NATO didn't, and it set about finding itself reasons to continue to exist.

Not merely exist, but expand, right up to Russia's borders, as part of its policy to confront and contain Russia. NATO currently has the most member states (31) in its history. Not content with its European role, with side forays into countries such as Libya and Afghanistan, it is aggressively engaged in carving out a global role for itself. It is assuming some of the role of the US as the world's policeman.

IP4: That's Where NZ Comes Into The Picture

"Geographically, New Zealand cannot be a full member of NATO. But New Zealand has become a 'partner', making up an Indo-Pacific cohort that includes Australia, Japan and the Republic of (South) Korea - known as IP4.The communiqué from the (2023 NATO) summit emphasised the region's impact on Euro-Atlantic security and our shared commitment to upholding international law and the rules-based international order".

"It is important to note the IP4 shared security obligations stem from bilateral treaties and not any one collective agreement. Bilateral relations tie the United States to Japan, South Korea and Australia. For New Zealand, we are tied to this alliance via our neighbours across the Tasman. An additional thread being woven through the group is the AUKUS* alliance, which could ultimately include partnerships with Japan and South Korea". (* My article "AUKUS: A Major Lurch Towards War With China", is in Watchdog 163, August 2023)

"While full membership of AUKUS is ruled out by our long-standing nuclear-free policy, New Zealand has expressed interest in joining the second tier of the alliance, which would give us access to a new generation of weaponry" (RNZ, 12/7/23, Alexander Gillespie). Originally published by the Conversation.

The NATO Website says: "NATO and New Zealand have been engaged in dialogue and cooperation since 2001. Since 2012, work has been taken forward through an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme". New Zealand's role as a NATO partner has ratcheted up in the last couple of years.

In 2022 Jacinda Ardern became the first NZ Prime Minister to attend and address a NATO Summit; her successor, Chris Hipkins, did the same in 2023. The Ukraine War has led to NZ, once again, getting involved in a European war, providing money, military equipment and training. But the burgeoning NZ-NATO relationship not only involves NZ going to NATO, but also NATO coming to our part of the world.

Helping NATO To Confront & Contain China

"With NATO so heavily focused on Ukraine at the moment, its interest in a region half-way around the world does raise some questions. Why are these four leaders (i.e., Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand) becoming regular features at a summit for European and North American countries? First, these countries have been among the most prominent members of the international coalition supporting Ukraine and sanctioning Russia. So, their presence at a security conference where Ukraine will be discussed makes sense".

"More importantly, though, the Indo-Pacific region featured prominently in NATO's 2022 Strategic Concept, a key document that outlines the alliance's values, purpose and role. For the first time in 2022, the document referred to China's ambitions and policies as a major challenge to NATO's security, interests and values. It also specifically addressed the growing cooperation between China and Russia, which NATO sees as a threat to the established rules-based international order".

"As such, the Strategic Concept called the Indo-Pacific 'important for NATO', given that developments in 'that region can directly affect Euro-Atlantic security'. This makes the case quite clear for NATO to strengthen its existing partnerships in the region and develop new ones.... Indeed, if the (2022) Madrid summit served as an opportunity for the four Indo-Pacific partners to showcase their support for Ukraine and pledge stronger commitment to future collaboration with NATO, the (2023) Vilnius summit will serve as a benchmark to assess the progress that's been made".

"This is why, in the lead-up to the summit, NATO has been working to formalise its partnerships with the four countries. Japan and Australia have been at the front of these efforts. Japanese media reported last week that Tokyo and Canberra have wrapped up negotiations with NATO on a new agreement called the Individually Tailored Partnership Program. This programme specifies the key areas of cooperation between each country and the NATO bloc. New Zealand and South Korea are working to finalise their individual agreements with the alliance, too".

Interoperability: The New Buzzword

"The partnerships will largely focus on areas of global concern, such as maritime security, cybersecurity, climate change, outer space, and emerging and disruptive technologies (including artificial intelligence). And from a defence standpoint, NATO and the four partners will aim to improve the 'interoperability' of their militaries - the ability of different military forces and defence systems to effectively work together and coordinate their actions".

"This might entail deepening the knowledge of each other's military assets, improving the relationships between their soldiers and other military personnel, and expanding joint drills. The intensifying and deepening relations between NATO and its Indo-Pacific partners can be interpreted in two ways. First, these partnerships form another important link in the expanding network of diplomatic and security ties between the US, its Western allies and the Indo-Pacific region. They complement partnerships like AUKUS and the Quad" (the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly known as the Quad, is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the US. Wikipedia).

"Beyond this, we can also view these agreements in the context of NATO's evolving outreach with the rest of the world over the past couple of decades. Previously, NATO's collaborations with Indo-Pacific countries involved pooling resources for security operations in non-NATO members, such as in the Balkans in the 1990s and Afghanistan in the 2000s".

"Nowadays, strengthening these partnerships is seen as a vital part of responding to the new challenges and threats posed by Russia and China. Of course, this does not mean we will see NATO military equipment or troops permanently stationed in the Indo-Pacific. Nor would it be realistic to expect the Indo-Pacific countries' military contributions to Ukraine to lead to a more permanent set-up in Europe. Similarly, while all of this is aimed at intensifying security cooperation among US allies in the Indo-Pacific, this is in no way a prelude to the creation of a NATO-like collective defence pact in the region".

"However, given the complexities of the current tensions with Russia and China, there is a clear need for greater coordination and cooperation among a larger group of countries. These new partnerships can be effective in addressing everything from disinformation and maritime security to cyber defence and competition in space. However, all four Indo-Pacific countries can agree on one fundamental fact - they expect to see more competition with both China and Russia in the future, not less" (Stuff, 11/7/23,Gorana Grgić, University of Sydney) Originally published in the Conversation.

So, NATO has added confronting and containing China to its agenda of containing and confronting Russia - presumably on the basis that "my enemy's friend is, therefore, also my enemy". Of its relations with the IP4 countries, those with Japan are closest and most advanced. "Not only has Japan been a huge donor to Ukraine since the war began. It is also central to NATO's strategic confrontation with China".

"(In June 2023) NATO announced plans to open a 'liaison' office in Tokyo, and has dialled up its areas of cooperation with Japan via the so-called Individually Tailored Partnership Program.... Who knew that in 2021, Japan and NATO held the world's largest cyber defence war game?" (Scoop, 12/7/23, Gordon Campbell)

NATO Insists Its Members & Partners Increase Military Spending

"The other thread that ties NATO and the partner countries together is military spending. The original goal was that each NATO country spend 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on the military. At (the 2023 summit) in Lithuania, NATO emphasised the need for partners to invest 'at least 2% of GDP (gross domestic product) on defence' and 'that in many cases, expenditure beyond 2% of GDP will be needed in order to remedy existing shortfalls and meet the requirements across all domains arising from a more contested security order'. This will be a challenge for New Zealand. Military spending makes up just 1.5% of our GDP. The other IP4 partners have all crossed this 2% threshold, or shall do soon" (Stuff, 11/7/23, Gorana Grgić, ibid.). Not coincidentally, in 2023 the NZ government announced a significant increase in military spending.

"BTW, that word 'interoperability' crops up a lot in the world of military spending. Evidently, it isn't merely about having the same kind of gear that can be easily integrated within joint formations. Being truly interoperable is said to involve sharing a common mindset and being agreed about the command structure as well..."

"Hmm. There's not much room for an independent foreign policy in the modern 'inter-operable' war room, is there? We not only have to think, act and obey orders in unison, but have to be sure we're not bringing a knife to a gun fight. So then... What exactly is in it for New Zealand in all of this - apart from putting our trade access to China in jeopardy? AUKUS and NATO are both holding out to New Zealand the carrot of access to the latest cyber-security technology and know-how".

"Now you'd think that being a paid-up member of Five Eyes would give us automatic access to all that top-shelf cyber stuff. But apparently not. AUKUS advocates have promised New Zealand privileged cyber access of some sort, though it's still very unclear how - or whether - any of this could also be accessed, let alone monetised, by our own private cyber-tech sector" (Scoop, 12/7/23, Gordon Campbell, ibid.).

NATO's Nuclear Umbrella Policy A "Powerful Rebuke" To NZ

"For New Zealand, the hardening of the 'nuclear umbrella' could also be a sticking point. Via the (2023 summit) communiqué, NATO said it was 'ready and able to deter aggression and manage escalation risks in a crisis that has a nuclear dimension'. NATO also announced intentions to strengthen 'training and exercises that simulate conventional and a nuclear dimension of a crisis or conflict'".

"The alliance emphasised the importance of 'the United States' nuclear weapons forward-deployed in Europe' and reaffirmed 'the imperative to ensure the broadest possible participation by allies concerned in NATO's nuclear burden-sharing arrangements to demonstrate alliance unity and resolve'. Although NATO remained committed to allies supporting existing disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation agreements and commitments, the exit of Russia from many agreements, and non-participation of other countries, have forced a rethink".

"'...the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons ... stands in opposition to, and is inconsistent and incompatible with, the alliance's nuclear deterrence policy, is at odds with the existing non-proliferation and disarmament architecture, risks undermining the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), and does not take into account the current security environment'".

"NATO called on its partners and all other countries to '...reflect realistically on the ban treaty's impact on international peace and security ... and join us in working to improve collective security through tangible and verifiable measures that can reduce strategic risks and enable lasting progress on nuclear disarmament'. For a country like New Zealand, which made conclusion of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons a priority, this is a powerful rebuke" (RNZ, 12/7/23, Alexander Gillespie, ibid.).

Criticism Of NATO's "Too Much Ambition"

It's worth noting that NATO's expansion into Asia has not gone uncriticised from its own side of the geopolitical fence. "NATO's rationale for venturing into Asian security affairs is clear enough. The US categorises China as its 'pacing challenge', a country that seeks to displace Washington as the world's leading centre of gravity. There is growing concern in the US and Europe about China's military modernisation and propensity to coerce its neighbours".

"Yet rhetoric aside, NATO would struggle to sustain a regular operational presence in Asia. With the exception of the US, UK, and France, the alliance doesn't have the capacity to project power in Asia even if it wanted to - and NATO is heavily dependent on US military power, intelligence, and reconnaissance capabilities in any event".

"The most that could be done by the defence alliance are a few freedom-of-navigation operations in contested waterways, symbolic deployments that don't do much other than irritate the Chinese. Given these ongoing military deficiencies as well as the current security environment on the European continent, one must ask why the alliance would even consider ratcheting up its ambitions".

"Then there's the question of whether NATO's diagnosis of the China threat is even accurate. In terms of nuclear weapons China possesses less than 8% of Washington's arsenal. China's 'global footprint' consists of one foreign base compared to Washington's expansive network of 750 bases in 80 countries - including a vast network around China".

"While US officials view China as a growing threat to the US-led international order, the gap between Washington's capabilities and Beijing's is regularly understated. In life, there is such a thing as too much ambition. This aptly sums up NATO's Asia-Pacific dreams" (Time, 14/7/23, "Why NATO's Growing Interest In Asia Is A Mistake", Daniel R DePetris and Rajan Menon).

NZ Getting Into Bed With NATO, With No Public Discussion Or Debate

So, to sum up. By getting more and more deeply involved with NATO, NZ gets sucked into a fight with China (our biggest trading partner and a country with whom we have no disputes); we get arm twisted to increase military spending for no reason other than that NATO requires it; and we get told to stop all this nuclear free nonsense and come under NATO's nuclear umbrella.

None of that sounds like a good deal but it is precisely what we are getting signed up to, with no public discussion or debate. What's more, this getting into bed with NATO only accelerated under the 2017-23 Labour government. National, which easily won the 2023 election, has so little reason to disagree with Labour's defence policy that National didn't even bother to publish its own one for the election campaign. Says it all really.


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