Why Asia Needs a NATO of Its Own

Friday, January 30, 1998

Recently, the momentous decision was made to expand NATO. The "Shield of the West" is being burnished with the addition of three former Soviet bloc countries--Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Collective security is seen as the best way to deal with the reluctant Russian bear. But what about Asia?

In the whole Pacific area, the United States has two bilateral treaties, one with South Korea and the other with Japan. Trade, not military or political treaties, has been the new force for guaranteeing peace and prosperity in the region. Yet there are two trouble spots: a divided North and South Korea and a divided China--Taiwan and the mainland--that could turn violent if the feuding protagonists miscalculate.

The U.S. position has been to hope that the protagonists will eventually resolve their differences peacefully. To facilitate that process, the United States has stationed troops in South Korea and has supplied military weapons to Taiwan in order to maintain a balance of power in the region. But the divided Korea and China problems are coming to a boil. The Korean War ground to a halt in July 1953 with an armistice, signed by the Communists and U.N. belligerents but not by South Korea, which wanted to show its displeasure over the unresolved issue of unification.

In Europe, collective security is seen as the best way to deal with the reluctant Russian bear. But what about Asia?

Recent efforts by Washington and South Korea to coax North Korea into "peace talks" have foundered. Famine in North Korea should have made Pyongyang more ready to negotiate. But, as a precondition for peace talks, it has wanted massive food relief. Washington and South Korea have held their ground. Efforts have stalled.

The idea here is to involve the two Koreas, China, and the United States in negotiations aimed at a permanent peace treaty on the peninsula. This might well be followed by recognition of North Korea by the United States and a gradual normalization of Northeast Asia, including Japan's recognition of North Korea. Internationalizing the problem will bring in the concerned parties and assure an equitable solution.

If this approach is successful, should not the same approach be used to defuse the divided China problem regarding the future of Taiwan and mainland China relations?

Washington has advocated that the two Chinese sides settle their differences peacefully, warning that the use of armed force would threaten U.S. interests and elicit an American response. Now that Hong Kong has reverted to being a Special Administrative Region, an example of "two systems, one nation," Beijing is pushing Taiwan for a similar solution to unify China. Taiwan authorities rightly resist this formulation, claiming that they are an "independent Chinese state" that is part of China. They insist that Taiwan can only reunite with China when China has established true democracy and equitable prosperity.

Internationally led reconciliation in Asia would be far better than unilateral American fire brigades ready to rush into harm's way.

These divergent positions have been irreconcilable and foreshadow a likely war. If the Korean peninsula problem can be solved in an international context aimed at "unification," why not an international forum to see what compromises can be made between China and Taiwan that would "unify" China.

The beneficiaries of a "Pacific NATO," with collective security agreements, would be many. Internationally led reconciliation in Asia would be far better than unilateral American fire brigades ready to rush into harm's way. Forging multilateral arrangements in the Pacific would naturally follow in the wake of the NATO pattern.