By Greg R. Lawson
There is a constant drumbeat on both sides of the Atlantic that we must enhance NATO and make sure its up to the multifarious challenges of a globalized world. This is a questionable assertion by its advocates. By contrast, it seems increasingly likely that the new global security infrastructure should be built on a foundation of regionalism.
As I have previously argued, the US, for as long as it remains the single most powerful nation in the world, should play a pivotal role in each of several key security institutions. Yet these institutions should remain regional, focusing on their own neighborhoods so that they can be more effective, rather than morphing into grandiose institutions with ambitions far exceeding their capabilities.
For the trans-Atlantic world, NATO is, unfortunately, becoming a prime example of an institution that is flailing about in the globalized post- Cold War world. Its most recent attempt to maintain relevance above and beyond what it should be is its relatively ill-fated Libya intervention.
This sideshow theater has done much to advertise both Europe’s incapacity and America’s unwillingness to do what is necessary to win in a small-scale conflict. Additionally, there are serious questions why this was ever done in the first place. If it was really engaged in due to the hazy concept of “Right to Protect”, then it is really quite embarrassing to see what is happening simultaneously in Syria.
Indeed, one can make a cogent argument that the Assad regime crackdown in Syria is of far more strategic importance to the region than whatever Colonel Qadaffi has been doing. However, the point is, if one is to engage, they must engage fully. This, NATO has emphatically not done and it is visible to other nations and growing power centers in the world.
The take away from this sorry state of affairs is that NATO should remain focused on European stability, not out of theater operations. Efforts, like Libya, to use NATO outside of Europe leave much to be desired. Fundamentally, it is making the Atlantic Alliance look weaker not stronger.
Meanwhile, though it is true that threats in the new, globalized world are vastly different than those previously confronted in the pre and post World War II eras, their amorphous nature does not lend itself to having to create institutions that are all things to all people. It makes little sense why NATO should be involved in Asian security competition for the long run. By contrast, something akin to the old SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization), would make perfect sense in the region.
Yes, the old SEATO disbanded due to the fractiousness of its members. However, with the rise of China and threats like terrorism, piracy off the Somali coast, Indo-Pakistani tensions and a nuclearized North Korea, there could be renewed interest in a security system for the region. Overlapping membership with the ASEAN and APEC would be guaranteed.
It could also serve as a useful balancer to the Shaghai Cooperation Organization, but not necessarily make membership contingent upon the domestic political structure of various interested states. Though it would probably need to exclude China as a direct member, it should certainly look for something akin to the NATO-Russia council to assuage legitimate Chinese concerns.
Also, given the importance of East Asia to the future economic order of the world, a “Quadrilateral Commission” comprised of the U.S. China, India and, possibly Japan should also be sought out for both additional economic discussions and, peer-to-peer military exercises.
Meanwhile, the U.S. should pursue more robust engagement with Brazil in South America and seek a “South Atlantic Treaty Organization” that might deal not only with Marxist revisionists like Hugo Chavez, but also drug cartels.
Certainly, this is all very rough in conception, but the point is, there is an increasing need to become focused on regions. By making security architectures appropriately focused, they can avoid becoming empty hulks that do little more than offer superficial comfort.
Greg R. Lawson is a long time oberserver of politics and foreign policy. Mr. Lawson resides in Columbus, Ohio where he is a policy analyst with the Buckeye Institute. He alslo runs a personal blog, www.gregrlawson.com, focusing on foreign policy, politics, and philosophy.