NATO: The remedy for Asian instability

Nicholas Connor Former Analyst, Heritage Foundation
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For the past 60 years Europe has benefited from the economic prosperity that the security of the NATO alliance has provided. Due to the stability the alliance has engendered in Europe, internal and external investors alike could be assured that despite tough economic times and adversaries’ concerted attempts to bully its member countries, peace and stability would endure.

Europe has a strong alliance that is based on bedrock guarantees. This notion is exemplified in the NATO article five provision that states an attack on one is an attack on all members of NATO. With the certainty that NATO provided to Europe, prosperity followed and then as a result of the prosperity European nation states were able to export wealth to other parts of the world.

This entire virtuous cycle was backed up by the U.S.’s continuous and patient engagement. The U.S. acting as the political heavyweight behind NATO not only meant that members were safe from external aggression, but that many NATO countries that had been at war almost continually for centuries now found themselves co-operating at the deepest levels of intelligence and defense.

Today, Asia is in need of a similar stability. With North Korea’s direction uncertain, a rising China worrying much of Asia and near-constant territorial disputes about marine and land boundaries, the U.S. and its allies would greatly benefit from such security and co-operation.

Whenever North Korea tests a missile, investors take flight, stock markets around the world drop and the world looks to the U.S. for a solution. This type of uncertainty not only destroys economic confidence but badly disrupts foreign direct investment to and from the region; sometimes, for long periods of time, security and stability are held hostage by a country whose intentions are unclear at best.

What stands in the shadows of the regional insecurity is the rise of China and its many growing pains, such as its unsettled border with India, the historical disputes with Japan and the increasing discomfort of its Southeast Asian neighbors. All this instability not only threatens U.S. national security, but it also undermines any U.S. investment that may flow in or out of the region.

The best mechanism to ensure multilateral stability, protect U.S. interests, and combat the pre-eminent emerging threat in theatre is to develop a multi-layered missile defense system. Building on the network of ground-based interceptors in the U.S. with a sea-based layer, anchored by the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), the region would gain a much-needed set of tactical systems.

This makes particular sense given that Japanese self-defense forces already use SM-3s in their navy and are currently helping develop the third evolution of the SM-3 interceptor with the U.S. The South Korean navy has strong operational experience with the missile cruiser that utilizes many systems the SM-3 does, and many other countries are looking for an in-theatre missile defense solution.

Thus, the U.S. has many willing and experienced partners for a tactical intermediate-range missile defense system in Asia and has a robust and experienced infrastructure throughout the Pacific region to carry out such a plan. This system would draw closer countries that are suspicious of one another and force them to co-operate to make such a missile umbrella work, thus creating an effect similar to NATO’s. It will also allow the U.S. to ensure that its interests and allies are not held hostage by an unpredictable event, such as a change in North Korean leadership.

A tremendous opportunity exists for the U.S. to involve friendly nations in the intermediate and tactical missile defense systems. The U.S. can do this by selling strategic missile systems to them, a model that is working well with the SM-3 and Japan.

The U.S. should not go at the North Korean threat alone. As NATO has proven, there is strength and certainty in numbers and guarantees. Stronger alliances are the best way to confront the threats that dog the Pacific region.