Over the past year an Asian version of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been one of the overwhelming topics of interest for both the media and experts in international affairs.
Since the end of the Cold War, various political forces in Asia, facing ever-changing security situations in the region, have come up with different regional security arrangements and frameworks that reflected their security concepts and served their national interests. And the subsequent dialogue and co-operative mechanisms constructed and dominated by them have also embodied both traditional and new security perspectives.
Currently, there are two Asian versions of NATO, with one being implemented by the United States and the other advocated by Madhav Nalapat, an adviser to India's National Security Council and director of the School of Geopolitics at Manipal Academy.
Compared to the former, the latter is still in the talking stages.
In fact, the conception and implementation of the two versions are both the continuation and development of the traditional security concept based upon the mentality of containment and balance of influences formed during the Cold War.
Almost as early as from the end of the Cold War, the United States began to promote a military mechanism in Asia similar to NATO.
The long Cold War stand-off between the United States and former Soviet Union ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the US-dominated NATO, a military organization established by the Western countries to encounter the socialist camp led by the former Soviet Union, has been dramatically enlarged despite the disappearance of its main adversary.
The Cold War-forged military organization has extended its scope and influences to the border of Russia, and is now breeding a further thrust to the Persian Gulf.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the United States, to meet with new security concerns, has maintained and strengthened the arrangements forged during the Cold War period by adjusting trans-Pacific bilateral military alliances.
During the eight years of former US President Bill Clinton's term, the United States confirmed Japan and Australia as its core allies in the Asia-Pacific region and respectively regarded the two countries as the northern and southern anchors of its East Asian security strategy.
Through various military exercises and construction of a missile defence system, Washington subsequently succeeded in networking its bilateral military relations with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore.
Following the Kosovo War, the perception that Europe's security situation had been under control of NATO while Asia-Pacific security was being threatened by more uncertain and unpredictable factors prompted the United States to begin to shift its military strategy eastward.
In 2001, an expert panel under the National Security Commission of the Bush administration published a report on the new US-Asian security strategy, which strongly advised the government to establish a co-ordinated and comprehensive Asian strategy.
The report suggested the United States strengthen bilateral alliances with traditional allies, and especially, develop and strengthen political, economic and military ties with nations posing no threat to US national interests. It also said the United States should adopt the strategy of balancing influences among some emerging influential Asian nations such as China, India and Russia.
The report further reminded the Bush administration of paying attention to the hotspot-filled unstable arc from Northeast Asia to the Malacca Straits, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and Southern Caucasia at the northern corner of the Caspian Sea.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has put its priority on countering terrorism and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Under those two banners, the United States has strengthened its strategic control of the V-shaped belt stretching from Northeast to Central Asia, to which China, Indian, Japan and Russia are closely adjacent.
The US traditional energy transportation passage and nations Bush branded as part of the so-called "axis of evil" also overlap this long arc.
While strengthening its strategic control of the outstretched chain, the United States has also actively worked to extend the network of Asia-Pacific security alliances under its domination to the Indian Ocean and even to the Persian Gulf to join the southward-extending NATO.
To expedite implementation of this strategy, Washington has promoted active participation of its traditional allies in the anti-terror war, and prompted them to co-ordinate its anti-proliferation moves and support its ambitious missile defence system.
To show its intimate ties with the key states and regions in this chain, Washington has also given them non-NATO ally status. Japan, ROK, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Kuwait, Singapore, and Taiwan now enjoy such treatment. US Secretary of State Colin Powell recently claimed India will soon gain similar status.
By pursuing such a strategic and security configuration in Asia the US has essentially created a NATO-like military mechanism.
The Asian version of NATO now being debated should be called the North America and Asian Treaty Organization (NAATO) a try for the US and India-dominated Asian security mechanism, advocated by Nalapat and actively pushed by Indian and US departments.
Compared to the one being implemented by the United States and dominated by that country alone, Nalapat's version is being initiated by both Washington and New Delhi.
According to Nalapat, Japan and Australia, Washington's two staunch allies, would be the second tier in the designed Asian security mechanism. Such a system, in which India would enjoy a parallel say with the United States in Asian affairs, would greatly raise New Delhi's status.
The Nalapat version of Asian NATO is reportedly a security community only composed of the so-called democratic nations. But the security mechanism being constructed by the US for Asia is supposed to open its door to all geopolitically important countries in the US-labelled "unstable arc," and democracy is not the only criterion for membership. Take Pakistan and Kuwait. Washington has recently declared the two countries as its non-NATO allies.
According to Nalapat, the mechanism is aimed at avoiding war. It, the professor said, would collectively intervene in any conflict on the Korean Peninsula or across the Taiwan Straits to thwart possible action by the Chinese mainland against Taiwan's independence. But he did not touch upon whether the organization would intervene in other regional conflicts, such as India-Pakistan skirmishes.
Nalapat's Asian version of NATO has many similarities to the military alliances the US created during the Cold War in Asia. What is different is India's change of attitude toward the mechanism.
India long adhered to a non-aligned policy during the Cold War, but nowadays some in the country have become so enthusiastic, even more than the US, about forging with the superpower a security mechanism partially targeted against China.
It is the only correct choice that Asian countries should adopt to discard the Cold War-stamped zero-sum game and construct a win-win platform to pursue common security and development.
Liu Xuecheng, a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies