The Transpacific Cold War

BRUSSELS/BERLIN/CANBERRA (Own report) - NATO continues to intensify its cooperation with Australia. This is the result of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's talks in the Australian capital in the middle of last week. According to Stoltenberg, the cooperation is aimed particularly at taking a stance in the growing rivalry between the major powers - against Russia, but above all, against China. For several years, Germany has been accompanying NATO's cooperation with Canberra, by enhancing its own bilateral military cooperation, explicitly considering Australia to be a "strategic springboard into the Asian-Pacific region." Currently tensions are threatening to escalate, because Washington would like to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Australia, which could directly hit Chinese territory. Strategists are increasingly pushing NATO to intensify its activities in the Asian-Pacific. These could even develop into the warfare alliance's key task, according to the president of the Federal College for Security Studies in Berlin.

Against Russia

Karl-Heinz Kamp, President of the Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS) recently described the strategic motivations for NATO's plans to systematically extend its activities into the Asian-Pacific region. In a technical paper, Kamp begins by noting that since 2014 the western war alliance has openly opposed Russia, by deploying troops in Poland and the Baltic countries ("Enhanced Forward Presence", EFP), as well as its "Spearhead" ("Very High Readiness Joint Task Force", VJTF), by streamlining NATO's decision-making processes, and by increasing its maneuvers.[1] Kamp also notes that recently, the United States has been considerably increasing its anti-Russian military presence in Eastern Europe. The "European Reassurance Initiative" (ERI), launched by President Barack Obama in 2015 was initially funded with a billion US dollars to finance the enhancement of military installations, troop rotations, and joint war exercises with East and Southeast European armed forces. Under the Trump administration its budget has been steadily increased to reach $6.5 billion this year, and it has been renamed the "European Deterrence Initiative" (EDI).[2]

Descending and Ascending Powers

According to Kamp, NATO's current intense focus on the power struggle with Russia will not be permanent, because of a dual development. On the one hand, he writes, China is continuously ascending and will prospectively be in "a position to act on a par with the United States."[3] On the other, Russia "is predominantly viewed in America and Europe as a descending power," which has "missed decisive steps in its economic, political and social modernization" and will further loose influence. "Moscow will ... be less and less in a position to decisively shape international policy in its interests." However, if, in the long run, Washington no longer views Moscow "as a global strategic threat ... Europe's significance as an 'unsinkable aircraft carrier' will sink altogether." According to Kamp, it is quite likely that the United States will reduce its troops in Europe to a minimum, perhaps "in five or ten years" and shift its overall military activities to the Asia-Pacific region to focus on the power struggle with China.[4]

A New Key Task

In this situation, Kamp assesses that NATO can only maintain its global significance, if it also makes the pivot to the future Asia-Pacific hub of world politics and "make a significant contribution to the containment of Chinese aspirations to power."[5] Several steps are conceivable. Initially the warfare alliance could, for example, simply "show more interest in the region" and possibly "set up ... liaison offices." Furthermore, the European NATO members could relieve Washington and "become more militarily engaged in its neighboring regions - such as the African coast or the Indian Ocean." In the long run, at least "the major European countries," however, "will not be able to get around building up their own capacity for wide-ranging power projection, above all in the maritime sector." The President of the BAKS considers that this holds true, in fact, "not only from the perspective of NATO, but from the EU perspective as well," if the union wants to achieve "global player" status. Kamp admits that "the idea of the future NATO combating threats in the Asian-Pacific Region, as its key task, may still appear unrealistic to many alliance members." "However, one has seen in the past, just how quickly the international situation can change."

NATO in Australia

Such considerations lay the foundation for the recent NATO initiative in Australia, the reliable western ally, with a powerful military, situated in the south of the Asian-Pacific area of conflict. In 2005, the western warfare alliance officially entered a "Dialogue and Cooperation" with Canberra and has been systematically expanding its cooperation ever since. In 2012, both sides consolidated their military contacts in a "Common Political Declaration;" in 2013 an "Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program" followed. This formed the basis for the intensification of their joint activities, with a biennial review and adjustment of priorities, for example, on the occasion of the visit of NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg to the Australian capital in the middle of last week. At times, the discussion in Canberra even turned to Australia becoming a NATO member.[6] The country regularly contributes significant troop contingents to NATO missions. Currently participation in the USA's projected "Operation Sentinel" to control the waterways in the Middle East is being discussed.[7] Canberra's current "Defense White Paper," approved in early 2016, outlines the largest arms buildup measures undertaken by the Australian naval forces since World War Two.

Springboard into the Asian-Pacific Region

A few years ago, Germany had supplemented NATO's cooperation with Australia with its own bilateral military cooperation. January 28, 2013, representatives of the two countries signed a "Berlin Canberra Memorandum of Understanding on a Strategic Partnership," which includes a joint "Strategic Political Dialogue" as well as a closer "Cooperation in the Area of Defense Matters." At the time, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, explained Berlin's motives as Australia being a "strategic springboard into the Asian Pacific Region."[8] Since then, foreign and military policy contacts have intensified. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen visited Canberra last October for comprehensive talks. That was a novelty. None of her predecessors had ever visited Australia.[9] The growing intensity of military cooperation, which includes joint foreign interventions, is accompanied by increasing arms exports. In 2016, Australia was the seventh, in 2017, fifth and in 2018, already Germany's third largest customer for war equipment.

Intermediate-Range Missiles

How rapidly tensions may escalate, can be seen by the US administration's efforts to deploy intermediate-range missiles in the region.[10] Claiming Russia was in violation, Washington recently withdrew from the INF Treaty, to officially pursue the - long since initiated - development of intermediate-range missiles. ( reported.[11]) Early this month, US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper and US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo were in Canberra to launch the missiles' deployment in Australia. Certain models could directly reach Chinese territory from Australia. The Chinese government has, therefore, announced that it will take measures against any state in the Asia-Pacific region that is willing to host US intermediate-range missiles and therefore become a direct threat to China. To avoid Chinese countermeasures, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison brusquely rejected the US demand to deploy the missiles, "I guess I can put an end to the discussion."[12] Hopes were dashed: On Monday, US sources confirmed that Washington continues to insist on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in the region, preferably in Australia.[13] The transatlantic may well be succeeded by a transpacific Cold War.


Please read our Column on the conflict with China.


[1] See also 21st Century Warfare (II) and Osteuropas Manöver-Hochsaison.

[2], [3] Karl-Heinz Kamp: Das strategische Langfrist-Problem der NATO. Sirius 3/2019. S. 129-135.

[4] See also Das pazifische Jahrhundert.

[5] Karl-Heinz Kamp: Das strategische Langfrist-Problem der NATO. Sirius 3/2019. S. 129-135.

[6] Till Fähnders, Michael Stabenow: China rückt näher. 12.08.2019.

[7] Matthew Knott: Australia at "real risk" of recession, and a hot war with Iran, warns Kevin Rudd. 08.08.2019.

[8] See also Springboard into the Pacific Region and Berlins Pazifik-Bündnis.

[9] Ministerin betont enge Kooperation mit australischen Streitkräften. 24.10.2018.

[10] See also "Ein Alptraumszenario für China".

[11] See also Farewell to the INF Treaty (III).

[12] Australien will keine Raketen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 06.08.2019.

[13] US says it's consulting on Asian missile deployment. 13.08.2019.