Visit of senior think tankers and policy makers from the Asia-Pacific region

A group of senior security experts, think tankers and policy makers from the Asia-Pacific region took part in a four-day study tour from 4 to 7 March 2013, aimed at promoting dialogue and exploring opportunities for further cooperation with NATO.


The visit was organised by NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division within the framework of the deepening of Alliance relations with partners across the globe and its intensifying dialogue with other Asian nations.


On the first day of their visit, the group met NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, who highlighted the importance to NATO of further developing relations with countries in the region: “With the spread of the economic development and wealth, the political power also spreads in the Asia-Pacific region, which means changes in the global security environment too. Therefore it is important to better understand each other and to think together on cooperation opportunities.”


The visit started with roundtable discussions on topics such the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, NATO-Russia relations and the impact of the financial crisis on defence capabilities. On proliferation, most speakers agreed that North Korea’s nuclear programme is solely a safety assurance, though some cautioned about the risk of technology transfer to non-state actors, such as Al Qaida. Professor Dingli Shen from China emphasised the need for NATO to open towards North Korea, as the country “really wants to improve its relationship with the US”. Most also agreed that there is a huge trust deficit in NATO-Russia relations —a legacy of the Cold War.


The study group participants then took part in a conference on “Afghanistan after 2014: Regional Perspective” organised by Carnegie Europe. They discussed various scenarios that may follow the completion of NATO’s operation, and their implications for Afghanistan and the region.


Fostering dialogue


The visit ended with the 3rd NATO-Asia Dialogue Conference, co-organised with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. Topics discussed included defence budget developments and their impact on global peace and security; human security in Afghanistan and the region; and maritime security.


Dr Christopher Roberts from Australia talked about NATO’s limitations, questioning whether NATO is capable of collectively addressing new emerging security threats. In the meantime, he pointed out that while Allied defence spending is under pressure, while Asia is becoming more and more militarised with defence spending increasing in nearly all of the region’s countries.


Adrian Kendry, NATO’s Senior Defence Economist, proposed that future dialogue between NATO and the Asia Pacific should be focused on disaster relief, humanitarian aid and maritime and cyber security.


The role for non-traditional “track two” diplomacy was also discussed at the conference, drawing on past experiences of think tanks, non-governmental organisations and academics. “The main focus of our efforts in the future will be to build on the lessons learned and move from dialogue to cooperation,” said Ted Whiteside, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy.