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A US-led Indo-Pacific NATO?

Written by: (Contributed) on 18 March 2022


Planning for a US-led Indo-Pacific NATO-type organisation would appear well under-way and nearing the end of the planning stage: a recent development in South Korea can be best viewed in the context of the military plan.

Problems, however, appear to have arisen about implementation of the regional defence and security provision, if recent statements from Canberra are to be taken quite literally.

The planning, furthermore, has to be viewed in the context of the rising US-led wave after wave of militarism sweeping the Indo-Pacific, with Australia being pushed into a front-line position for regional operations.

In early March the Morrison coalition government in Canberra announced the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) biggest expansion in forty years, boosting troop numbers and defence budgets to 2040. (1) It was a direct outcome of US-led regional military planning to contain and encircle China's rising competition, perceived as a threat to traditional hegemonic positions. ADF funding, from defence budgets, is set to grow by thirty per cent, from 2023/4 fiscal year. (2)

The increased military expenditure has followed similar patterns in other US allies across the Indo-Pacific. It is not difficult to link the trend; an endless stream of US-led military exercises have driven allies closer and closer to a master plan hatched in the Pentagon.

A related media release contained a statement from Peter Jennings, the outgoing head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which made reference to 'security architecture in the region … to resemble an Indo-Pacific version of NATO'. (3) The ASPI, furthermore, is a highly influential advisory organisation within the corridors of power in Canberra and elsewhere, with access to leading decision-makers. According to Jennings the matter laid in the hands of China as to whether the military plan was eventually implemented. The planning, nevertheless, would appear nearing completion. Jennings stated that while 'at the moment, that's not a prospect … if China continues to be an aggressor in the region … I think you will see more NATO-like features'. (4)  

References, elsewhere, about the intention of developing the 'Quad' grouping of the US, Australia, Japan and India as the likely basis of an Indo-Pacific NATO-type body have been identified. The official position of Canberra over the Quad, for example, is that it is not an alliance yet, 'but a dialogue process'. (5)  

The recent establishment of the AUKUS trilateral military partnership linking Australia with the US and UK, likewise, is already a regional body linking member countries of the British Commonwealth with the elite Five Eyes intelligence-sharing organisation, which would obviously have considerable input into wider co-ordinated US-led defence and security provision at some future date and time.

Other US-led regional defence and security provision which has already provided extensive intelligence-gathering and organisation for military planning is the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). In recent times it has been developed specifically as the basis for an Indo-Pacific strategy. The GSOMIA now 'involves a framework where the US, Japan, India and Australia form a quad hemming China in from all sides, while South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam and others are included as lower-level partners'. (6)   

Throughout the period of the Moon Jae-in presidency in South Korea, however, the GSOMIA became problematic for the Pentagon, which had to deal with a popular government which questioned much of their Indo-Pacific strategy. The Moon Jae-in administration had also sought more conciliatory diplomatic relations with North Korea, resuming direct telecommunications in October last year in a move designed to begin practical discussions for 'recovering inter-Korean relations'. (7) It was noted that 'the move was an attempt to establish lasting peace on the Korean peninsula'. (8)  

Recent presidential elections in South Korea, however, saw the ruling Democratic Party narrowly losing to the conservative People Power in a bitterly fought election. The US now has a new South Korean government as a closer ally, committed to 'strengthen its alliance with the US and work with partners including Australia … the incoming presidency of Yoon Suk-yeol … would make a deeper alliance with Washington the central axis of Seoul's foreign policy', returning South Korea ' for progress in trilateral South Korea-US-Japan military co-operation that is a key component of the US strategy for containing China's influence'. (9) The Korean peninsula has become, once again, a regional Cold War hotspot.

The official position of China to these developments has been quite clear: a recent statement from Foreign Minister Wang Yi, 'has cast Australia as the US's most loyal accomplice in a sinister strategy to constrain the rising power with an Indo-Pacific version of NATO'. (10) By pushing Cold War diplomatic positions, the US has created tense hostilities which might boil over at any time in several strategic areas of the region.

The wave of US-led militarism has clearly drawn Australia closer to hostile diplomatic positions with China, and increased the very real possibility of a limited war somewhere in the Indo-Pacific region:

                                       We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     Troop surge for twin threats, Australian, 10 March 2022.
2.     See: Defence Forces face uphill battle, The New Daily, 10 March 2022, which has provided specific details of the increased ADF funding.
3.     China accuses Canberra of 'sinister' strategy, Australian, 9 March 2022.
4.     Ibid.
5.     India's hedging on Ukraine casts cloud over Quad spirit, Australian, 11 March 2022.
6.     The reasons behind Washington's push for GSOMIA, Hankyoreh, 12 November 2019.
7.     Koreas restore border hotline, Australian, 5 October 2022.
8.     Ibid.
9.     S Korea elects a China hawk, Australian, 11 March 2022.
10.   Australian, op.cit., 9 March 2022.


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