Will Obsolete NATO be able to Assuage India’s Security Concerns?

On April 4, 1949, twelve countries, with the United States in the van, created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It was the victorious alliance in Europe of the Second World War transformed to resist the military threat posed by one of its erstwhile members, the Soviet Union. Flush with its success on the battlefield, Moscow had carved out its own exclusive sphere of influence in the Baltic states and central and eastern Europe captured by the Red Army and conceded as spoils of war by the US and UK. In response to NATO, Russians in 1955 set up a matching bloc — the ‘Warsaw Pact’.

Sixty-seven years later, with the Cold War long since won, NATO is floundering, consumed by differences over handling a freshly assertive Russia under President Vladimir Putin in a reshaped Europe, an America strained by involvement in too many conflicts and by the effort to contain China, and by squabbles relating to the equitable sharing of alliance costs and military effort.

How NATO comports itself in Europe is of secondary concern to India. But should the US and NATO over-balance toward European contingencies, the prospect for Asian states feeling menaced by a belligerent and expansively oriented China becomes commensurately bleak, more difficult, and will impact India’s security interest.

The trouble for NATO began with Washington’s hubris-laced interventions in the new Century to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Moamar Gaddafi in Libya, and to destabilize the Bashir al-Assad regime in Syria. It led to the prevailing awful mess in the Islamic arc stretching from the Tigris to Tunis, which fraught situation was compounded by the simultaneous US military foray to eliminate the Taliban in Afghanistan. These various adventures have facilitated the rise of the brutal Islamic State, which in confluence with sections of the Afghan Taliban, constitute the adversary in America’s Global War on Terrorism.

NATO’s dilemma is plain enough. The maelstrom churned in the Maghreb, Middle East, and Southwest Asia is draining the US of its wealth and political will, and exhausting its military. With Washington footing over 75% of NATO’s bill and only the US, UK, Greece, and Estonia meeting the minimum standard of defence expenditure of 2% of GDP agreed upon in 2006, the American Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, in 2011 foresaw “a dim, if not dismal future”. “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S”, he had warned, “to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”

The situation will deteriorate sharply for NATO if Donald Trump is elected US president. He will up stake and leave unless the European (and Asian) partners pay the full cost of US force deployment. This is at a time when Putin is strengthening Russia’s military clout, and used Article 10 in the treaty that permitted NATO’s expansion to 28 states, with the newcomers being mostly members of the defunct Warsaw Pact, as threat and justification for detaching Crimea from the Ukraine in 2014.

Washington is up a creek. Attending to NATO needs will necessarily denude the Indo-Pacific of US military presence. This is reason for serious worry, especially in light of the 2014 declaration by US Assistant Secretary of Defense Katrina McFarland that owing to budgetary cuts “the [Asia] pivot … can’t happen.” Meaning Pentagon’s 2012 promise of, for instance, redeploying naval assets from a 50/50 split between the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic to a 60/40 split favouring the former, is voided. This is in part because as the US naval chief Admiral Jonathan Greenert revealed, the navy has only 289 ships when a 450-ship fleet is required to meet world-wide commitments.

With the US security attention thus divided between Russia and China at the two ends of Eurasia, New Delhi is confronted by a stark fact: India cannot anymore free-ride on security afforded as public good by Washington (and earlier by Moscow). It will have to protect itself with its own resources the best it can. Tragically, the Indian government and military are not strategically geared, materially or policy-wise, to do so.

Published in The Quint April 4, 2016, at http://www.thequint.com/opinion/2016/04/04/will-obsolete-nato-be-able-to-assuage-indias-security-concerns

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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8 Responses to Will Obsolete NATO be able to Assuage India’s Security Concerns?

  1. MS says:

    Your last few lines mirror every proud Indian’s thoughts. Very well outlined and explained your moot points in terms of the other scenario that may unfold.

    To me it appears that we have a great opportunity now to quickly ramp up and come somewhere at par in military terms with China by buying technology, innovating it further and using it to produce weapons involving private sector.

    This is also the best time to quickly gain the tech edge in other spheres and give a boost to our economy and impart a big momentum.

    BUT, I think the window is small-if we miss it now then we will remain an average nation. Because the world may lap up our economy now considering a little doom here and a little doom there. On top of that, this what you just mentioned.

    • Singh says:

      China economy was same size our’s is today, in 2007.

      We’re not that far behind & by setting up a strong aerospace sector, we’re making a push for the future.

      Agni-V induction will provide 3-5 year window to get r&d up to track & woo back foreign transfer students.

      China also knows, as do we that any Himalayan offensive can be halted by causing landslides.

      Real issue is the demographic & conversion one, along with various other internal Jaichand forces.

      We deal with those, we can realistically have a Sikh rule stretching from Peshawar to Lahore in 30 years.

      Jai Bharat

    • The trouble is in the “buying” aspect. It’ll only reinforce our habit of importing some more in an endless dependency cycle.

  2. I loved the analysis and the conclusion however I think India is more constrained by will rather than means. India has untapped potential but the “import lobby” and the “appeasement” group tend to stymie efforts. Modi’s government for no conceivable reason has fallen into the same trap. India has received nothing from the US that it would not have obtained with normal commercial relations. To debase one’s country and interests before Obama is getting a bit much.

  3. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    NATO or LSA etc. are only the fag end of the colonial mindset of the westerners. Not much there for either India or Japan or anybody else.

    The reason US is exhorting everybody in Asia to fight their war is because they do not matter as much now as they used to. Technological advances have ensured that the west is forced to get excited about ever lesser tech achievements even when the laggard Asia is consolidating its own tech advantages. Economically the world would be better off without the fiat USD.

    India off course needs to keep itself out of LSAs, CISMOAs but having said that India also needs to make greater efforts to strike an understanding with Japan.

    Japan needs to be convinced to start investing FDI in India, for mutual benefits, at the scale that the West did in China. Unfortunately they are still hanging onto the rapidly retreating Americans, still trying to force India to fit into their American derived world view. Only real counter to the ‘string of pearls’ is a ‘chain of challenges’. Japan needs to get convinced that they need to re-militarize themselves. They form perhaps the first challenge. South Korea being second, India being third, Vietnam being fourth. Unless these countries begin to become independent and strong in their outlook and strength, the Chinese will be handed over an Asian hegemony of the kind the Europeans handed over to the Americans. Today Europeans are little better than peons for US (with the NATO quiet on the massive refugee influx and forcing completely avoidable warfaring and Europeans suffering terrorist attacks as frequent as the ones we suffer).

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