Everyone knows that the NATO was founded upon three pillars: “Germany down, the Soviets out and the United States in.” After the demise of the Soviet Union, the last pillar alone remains valid, while for some new members of the NATO “Russians out” may still sound real.

When troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, the European members of the NATO will want to take a rest before any new undertaking abroad. And Obama’s United States will not easily start a new military intervention abroad. However, the NATO will not slumber to death (although there might be a jinx connected with the construction of a new headquarter-building, which the NATO is now doing and which often heralds misfortune), because as long as the EU keeps enlarging, the NATO should also expand.

Sure, the EU security arrangement, European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) for example, might be able to replace the NATO, but Europe does not want to solely bear expenses for its own security, and the U.S. wants to keep its presence in Europe. And NATO’s survival will not be a bad deal for Russia, either, because the NATO is the raison d'être for at least half of the Russian army.

Today the NATO has a bearing on Russo-Chinese relations as well. China used to be afraid of any “gang-up” between Russia and the NATO. But things are different today. China is making a wanton (not wonton) foray into European countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, where Russia’s influence has traditionally been strong, and West European leaders are paying business promotion visit to Beijing one after another. If things proceed in this way, Russia may face a danger of becoming a “super Finland,” neutralized and marginalized between the NATO and China.

But like in chess game there is a way to avoid this “check” situation. Firstly, Russia can further promote cooperation with the NATO. Anyway, Russia has already been collaborating with the NATO in activities related to Afghanistan.

Secondly, Russia can strengthen its ties with the East-Asian countries: Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Vietnam, and the rest of the ASEAN countries. These countries together yield a larger wealth than China does, and jointly maintain a balance of power with China. They do not antagonize China, keep close economic relations with it, but some of them have separate security arrangements with the United States, and the aggregate of these bilateral alliances constitutes a virtual “NATO in the East.”

For Russia this “NATO in the East” is a suitable partner to avoid a “Finlandization” between the (“Western”) NATO and China; the “NATO in the East” does not antagonize Russia, it will work for Russia as a balancing factor vis-à-vis China (the Okhotsk Sea, bulwark for Russia’s strategic submarines against the United States, remains as a thorn, though). So, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the State Security Council and Vladimir Putin’s right-hand man, made a reconnaissance trip to Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam in late 2012. His trip has born interim fruits: the launching of the new “2+2” format (joint meeting of ministers of foreign affairs and defense from both sides) with Japan in November, and many agreements signed by Putin on his official trip to South Korea and Vietnam in late 2013.

Indeed, political and military capacity of these countries is limited just like Russia’s own power in the East, but they can serve each other as an auxiliary balance factor with regard to China. The only snag for Russia is the sheer geographical distance and the lack of refined knowledge about the countries in the region.

  • Akio Kawato