The Platform

USS Denver participates in drills in the South China Sea on Feb. 10, 2011. (Paul Kelly/U.S. Navy)

The Pacific lacks a singular security organization similar to NATO.

After the Second World War, Europe was split along the lines of communism and capitalism, East and West. In the years after the war, governments across the Western Bloc recognized that the Soviet Union posed a significant threat to both the citizens whom they were entrusted to protect and the ideals on which their governments were founded. As a result, they created NATO.

Such an alliance, which provides for common defense and security through political and military means, does not exist in Asia despite the presence of another imposing threat that threatens the citizens and ideals in the region. What does exist, however, is a loose agreement between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India called the Quad. While this group does seek to ensure common security and interests in the Indo-Pacific, it does not provide a concrete foundation for further action regarding the ever-growing threat that is China. Given the rise of an increasingly aggressive authoritarian Chinese state, the Quad must be transformed into an alliance along the lines of NATO to counter the threats of the day.

Now, to say this situation perfectly mirrors that of 1949 and the founding of NATO is simply wrong. The situation is geographically different, relations between each side are far more intertwined, the players in this game are a little less black and white, and we aren’t coming hot off of a conflict with boundless uncertainty about the future. That being said, regardless of the change in circumstances, there is still a need for an alliance of this nature, albeit with a few differences that would distinguish it from NATO. A reformed Quad would need to have a focus not just on the security and protection of its own members, but also on the security and protection of those outside of the alliance, namely Taiwan.

As much as formally announcing the protection of Taiwan, recognizing it as an independent state, and building military bases in Taiwan to protect Taiwan might be considered morally right or align ideologically with the United States, it’s simply not feasible. The prevailing strategy to maintain strategic ambiguity regarding Taiwan is still the only option given the possibility of destabilizing the region, severe economic fallout between the United States and China, and a Chinese invasion of Taiwan before enough fortifications in Taiwan are established to protect the island. Just as the United States maintains strategic ambiguity in regard to Taiwan, a reformed Quad would have to do the same, being prepared to cooperate in the defense of Taiwan while not officially announcing a position. With such a position, the members of the alliance in the surrounding region would be able to defend Taiwan to the best of their ability as they hold their position in anticipation of the arrival of American forces.

U.S. and Japanese Navies conducting drills
(Dominique Pineiro/U.S. Navy)

While the United States might have enough firepower to ward off a potential invasion of Taiwan, the great distance between the bulk of the United States forces and Taiwan would be too great; close coordination with nearby allies like Japan or South Korea to protect the island is essential. Now, some suggest the U.S. would be able to defend the island on its own and the involvement of other countries wouldn’t be necessary, and they very well could be right. So if they are right, why would a formal alliance in a similar vein to NATO be necessary for the Pacific? Well, there’s more than one threat in the world.

In addition to China, Russia also poses a sizable threat. Especially considering recent developments on the Russia-Ukraine border in which Russia is amassing around 175,000 troops in what looks like a potential invasion, Russia poses a significant possibility of initiating conflict. While Ukraine is not a member of NATO, intervention in a Russian-Ukrainian conflict by either NATO or the United States is almost certain. But if the United States were to put the majority of its war resources into protecting Ukraine, that would leave Taiwan open to invasion by China. In this case, where Russia invades Ukraine and China invades Taiwan, it would be incredibly difficult if not impossible for the U.S. to project sufficient force in two separate continents on opposite sides of the world. As a result, to protect both Taiwan and Ukraine in the event of a dual invasion, a formal alliance in the Pacific is necessary to ensure commitment to protecting both Ukraine and Taiwan in each respective region and proper coordination in each respective defense.

How could an alliance of this sort take form? Aside from the existing members of the Quad which are the United States, India, Japan, and Australia, initial members of the alliance would likely be New Zealand, South Korea, Canada, the Philippines, and Indonesia. However, in the formation of this larger alliance, one question might arise: Why not simply enlarge NATO and make it a global alliance which protects both Europe and the Indo-Pacific if a proposed reformed Quad would simply be based on NATO? After all, it would be simpler and some existing members of NATO other than the U.S. or Canada like the United Kingdom or France might find it in their best interest to be a part of this Pacific alliance.

To put it simply, these regions have different needs and interests. While both would align politically and would be similar in structure, a single alliance in peacetime just wouldn’t make sense. For example, protecting smaller countries in the region like Taiwan would need to be even more of a core tenant of an alliance in the Pacific than it would be in Europe. Additionally, going back to ideas of different strategic interests, many countries in these two different regions would have no vested interest in protecting the other.

Take a country like Poland for example. Poland has borders with Belarus and Russia and would be one of the first countries hit by an advancing Russian army. Why would Poland spend resources protecting a country on the other side of the globe when, in the event of a likely dual invasion, they would need to spend everything they have on protecting themselves? Even further within the idea of strategic interests, while some NATO members like France have their interests in the Pacific like in New Caledonia and distrust China, other members simply don’t harbor many negative feelings towards China. Greece for example is strengthening its ties with China and will likely continue doing so; so why would it be interested in opposing the very country it is strengthening ties with? It would just make more sense to keep these individual groups separate and united than in one large body that finds itself with conflicting interests.

While the Quad remains a loosely organized group without a significant course of action, it does look like it could be changing in the future. The group looks as though it is slowly becoming more coherent with recent naval exercises and summits which will hopefully provide the groundwork for closer cooperation in the future. Hopefully, should war eventually come, a reformed and more coherent quad alliance with perhaps some additional members would be a great asset in the shared defense of the Indo-Pacific.

Justin Huff is currently a high school junior in Orange County, California. He is a writer with Foreign Policy Youth Collaborative. His work as of now mainly focuses on the role that the United States plays or should play and the ramifications of its actions or inactions.