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Editorial of the Day: India should refuse America’s ‘NATO Plus’ Bait (The Hindu)

Context: The article discusses the discussions and debates surrounding India’s potential involvement in the NATO-Plus framework. It highlights the United States Permanent Representative to NATO’s statement that NATO is open to further engagement if India expresses interest. Additionally, the U.S. House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party recommended including India in the NATO-Plus framework, which aims to strengthen cooperation in countering China’s influence. However, India’s Ministry of External Affairs, rejected the idea by stating that the NATO template does not apply to India. This likely means that India has its own unique strategic interests and approaches that may not align with the NATO framework. The article suggests that the focus of the NATO-Plus framework is to contain China, but India joining such an arrangement may undermine its autonomy. It implies that becoming part of NATO-Plus could potentially impact India’s independent decision-making and strategic autonomy in dealing with China and other regional issues.

Background

About the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

  • Establishment: NATO was formed in 1949 with the aim of acting as a deterrent to the threat of Soviet expansion in Europe after World War II.
    • The Washington Treaty – or North Atlantic Treaty – forms the basis of the NATO.
  • Purpose: The organization acts as a collective security alliance with the aim of providing mutual defense through military and political means if a member state is threatened by an external country. (Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty).
  • Founders: Its 12 founding members are the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal.
  • Story of NATO Expansion:
    • The Soviet Union responded to NATO by creating its own military alliance with seven other Eastern European communist states in 1955, dubbed the Warsaw Pact.
    • But after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a number of former Warsaw Pact countries became NATO members. This includes Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia among others.
    • The most recent additions were North Macedonia in 2020 and Finland in 2023, bringing the total number of NATO member states to 31.
  • NATO’s Open-door policy (Article 10 of the treaty): It enables any European country that can enhance and contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to join the alliance.
  • Major Non-NATO Ally Status: It is a designation given by the US government to close allies that have strategic working relationships with the US Armed Forces but are not members of the NATO.
    • The US has designated 30 other countries including Japan, South Korea, Japan, Israel etc. as major non-NATO allies.
    • The status confers a variety of military and financial advantages such as participation in defence research projects and counter-terrorism initiatives, buy depleted uranium ammunition etc. that otherwise are not obtainable by non-NATO countries.

About NATO Membership

  • Minimum requirements for acquiring NATO membership: Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty prescribes the following as requirements for joining NATO as a member:
    • New members must uphold democracy, including tolerating diversity.
    • New members must be making progress toward a market economy.
    • Their military forces must be under firm civilian control. 
    • They must be good neighbors and respect sovereignty outside their borders.
    • They must be working toward compatibility with NATO forces.
  • Procedure for acquiring membership: NATO membership normally involves a long process, and it requires unanimous approval, which equals the approval of all 31 existing allied countries.
  • Benefits of acquiring NATO membership for a country:
    • Security: NATO provides a collective defense system that can deter potential threats and protect member countries from aggression.
    • Enhanced military capabilities: NATO membership offers access to advanced military technology, training, and joint exercises with other member countries, which enhances a country’s military capabilities and readiness.
    • Political influence: Being a NATO member can provide a country with a stronger voice on the international stage and a greater say in global security and defense matters.

Decoding the Editorial

The article discusses India’s potential involvement in the NATO-Plus framework.

NATO & NATO Plus:

NATO:

  • NATO is a transatlantic military alliance of 31 countries, with the majority of members from Europe.
  • After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, many thought that NATO would lose its relevance.
  • On the contrary, NATO has not only survived but also expanded, with Finland joining as its 31st member (April 2023), and Sweden potentially considering membership.
  • This expansion is seen as a response to Russia’s actions and is interpreted by some analysts as the beginning of a new Cold War, often referred to as “Cold War 2.0.”
  • NATO is experiencing a renewed sense of purpose and relevance due to Russia’s aggressive actions, specifically wrt  invasion of Ukraine.

NATO Plus:

  • “NATO plus” refers to a security arrangement of NATO and the five treaty allies of the U.S. — Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, and South Korea as members — to enhance “global defence cooperation” and win the “strategic competition with the Chinese Communist Party”.
  • Interestingly, the term ‘NATO Plus’ is not an officially recognised or established concept within NATO itself, but has been used in discussions and debates regarding the potential expansion of the alliance.
  • The inclusion of these countries as members would require a complex process of negotiation and assessment of their compatibility with NATO’s principles, obligations, and defence commitments.

While NATO’s earlier target was the Soviet Union and now Russia, the focus of NATO Plus is clearly on containing China. Therefore, considering its disputes with China, India remains a missing link in the framework.

Implications for India in joining NATO:

India’s potential implications in joining the NATO framework, are as follows:

  • Impact on Russia and China:
    • Joining any NATO framework would likely strain India’s relationships with Russia and China.
    • India has a robust strategic partnership with Russia, which has been valuable in dealing with regional security challenges and influencing China’s stance.
    • Aligning with NATO could jeopardise this partnership and potentially lead to geopolitical consequences for India.
  • Limitations on freedom of action:
    • Aligning with the U.S.-led alliance system, such as NATO, may limit India’s freedom of action and hinder its ability to pursue an independent policy towards China.
    • India may find it challenging to maintain its own bilateral approach and strategy for the Indo-Pacific while being part of a military framework that aligns with U.S. objectives.
  • Complications in regional security:
    • Joining NATO Plus, especially considering the U.S. emphasis on Taiwan, could complicate India’s security situation.
    • It may lead to increased tensions with China and the possibility of further military build-up along the India-China border, as well as frequent intrusions.
  • Strain on strategic autonomy:
    • India has traditionally valued its policy of strategic autonomy, allowing it to engage with various nations and blocs based on its own interests.
    • Joining NATO would require aligning India’s defence and security policies with the alliance’s objectives and strategies, potentially undermining India’s autonomy and limiting its flexibility in engaging with other regional powers.

India’s Priorities:

India’s priorities, primarily revolve around addressing its own regional dynamics and security challenges. These priorities include:

  • Border disputes: India faces ongoing border disputes with neighbouring countries, particularly with China and Pakistan. Resolving and managing these border issues is a key priority for India’s national security.
  • Terrorism: India has been a victim of terrorism, both domestically and from cross-border sources. Combating terrorism and ensuring the safety and security of its citizens is a significant priority for India.
  • Regional conflicts: India is situated in a region with multiple conflicts, such as the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and instability in some neighbouring countries. Managing and mitigating regional conflicts is important for India’s stability and security.
  • Quad cooperation: The excerpt mentions India’s posturing through the Quad, which refers to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between India, Japan, Australia, and the United States. India sees the Quad as a promising platform for addressing regional security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, including concerns related to China’s assertiveness.

Beyond the Editorial

India’s Engagement with NATO

  • Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD): In September 2011, NATO invited India to be a partner in its BMD system. This was the first time that India was invited to participate in a NATO initiative.
    • However, India did not accept the invitation and expressed concerns over its impact on India’s strategic autonomy and its relations with other countries, particularly Russia.
  • First political dialogue: New Delhi held its first political dialogue with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in Brussels on December 12, 2019. Significance of this dialogue includes:
    • Strengthening diplomatic ties: The talks signify India’s efforts to strengthen its diplomatic ties with NATO, which is a crucial security alliance in the Euro-Atlantic region.
    • Countering China and Pakistan: The talks hold significance given that NATO has been engaging both China and Pakistan in bilateral dialogue. India’s engagement with NATO can help counterbalance China and Pakistan’s influence in the alliance.
    • Balance in NATO’s perception: Engaging NATO in a political dialogue would provide India with an opportunity to bring about a balance in NATO’s perceptions about the situation in regions and issues of concern to India.

Perspective on Extending NATO’s Membership to India

Arguments favouring India-NATO alliance Arguments against India-NATO alliance
  • Convergence on many issues: There was a convergence in the perspectives of both India and NATO on China, terrorism, and Afghanistan, including Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.
  • Newer perspective of Non-Alignment: India’s refusal to join any military bloc at the time of freedom was based on non-alignment, but after the end of the cold war during 1989-91 the situation changed. NATO has also built partnerships with many neutral and non-aligned.
  • Creation of Deterrence: NATO’s collective defence mechanism would create deterrence for China and Pakistan to attack India.
  • Military-Strategic Benefits: India would derive military-strategic benefits from a partnership with the world’s most powerful alliance.
  • Divergence on issues: India does not share a common ground with NATO on Russia and the Taliban. Also, NATO’s views on China are mixed.
  • Endangering Relations with Russia: By becoming a NATO member, India’s long-standing and strong ties with Russia may get deteriorated.
  • Threat to Sovereignty: An alliance with NATO might ask for the establishment of NATO bases on India’s territory and it may even be considered an infringement of our sovereignty.
  • Conflict within NATO: NATO members have often found divided on how to share the military burden. Further, NATO members have also been found to disagree on policies related to Russia, the Middle East, and China.

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