Lee: Nato-type body not suitable

IT is better that Asia’s security arrangements remain in their current configuration, rather than having countries divided into blocs, or forming an Asian equivalent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (pic) said.

He was speaking with Japanese media group Nikkei on Friday, ahead of its International Conference on the Future of Asia, which he is due to attend this week in Tokyo.

In an interview published by Nikkei yesterday, Lee had been asked about the military balance in Asia, and whether a collective security framework in the region, similar to Nato, is necessary.

In response, he said that Europe – where a majority of Nato’s member states are from – has a different history from Asia.

In Europe, Nato brought together the Western countries against the members of the Warsaw Pact, also known as the Soviet bloc.

PM Lee noted that after the Soviet bloc collapsed and the Soviet Union broke up, Nato continued to exist and is now dealing with a perceived threat from Russia, which is a similar situation as during the Cold War, but not quite the same.

He added that in Asia, there was never a grouping which was the equivalent of Nato.

Instead, many countries in the region enjoy good ties with China as well as with the United States and its treaty allies.

Some, like Japan, South Korea and Australia, are US treaty allies themselves, and many more are not, but are friends of the US, like Singapore, which is a major security cooperation partner, said PM Lee.

He added: “But even many of the allies maintain important relations with China. So I think that is a better configuration than one where countries are divided along a line and one bloc confronts another.

“That is the history in Europe, but it has not been the history in Asia. And I think it is better that it remains not.”

Asked what must be done to maintain a rules-based order, given the current global situation, PM Lee said it is a good sign that the United Nations (UN) General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.

But it is also important for countries to uphold existing international frameworks, such as the UN, as well as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.

“These are frameworks which enable all countries to work together even if we have differences and disagreements and even conflicts with one another.

“If you remove that, or undermine that, then you are back to the law of the jungle.

“In the law of the jungle, it is not only the weak who will suffer. Even the strong will have a rough time, because you will be spending all your time fighting one another and dissipating valuable energies,” cautioned PM Lee.

He added that countries also have to abide by the international rule of law – for instance, the UN Charter, and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“I know that big countries prefer to have freedom of action and are very reluctant to bind themselves.

“The Russians violated the rules by attacking Ukraine, but other big powers too are often reluctant to allow these supranational bodies to have authority over them. I can understand that, but it is regrettable,” he said.

There is also a need to recognise that the real world is not one where countries all bow to superior virtue, said PM Lee.

So nations must depend not just on rules but also a balance of power of different forces, which will cooperate in some areas but balance each other off in other areas.

“Within that balance, it is possible for many other countries to find a perch, and to work with multiple parties,” he added.

Asked about talk of a third world war, PM Lee highlighted that unlike in the 1930s, which preceded World War II, there are now nuclear powers in the world.

“So it is not the same. If you reached such a position (of a world war), you will be in completely uncharted waters.

“I think everybody is very conscious of the dangers. It will take a lot of wisdom and a lot of restraint and ability to overcome political pressures, to look beyond the immediate in order to head off long-term dangers,” he said.

PM Lee was also asked if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would have an impact on China’s actions in the Asia-Pacific region, including the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

He acknowledged that there would be an impact on the region, as countries will now be making their own assessments of their defence posture, spending and strategy, and also the path forward for the region collectively, to avoid the missteps which led to war in Ukraine.

“That is a question which needs to be examined not just by small countries, but also by the big countries,” he added.

But PM Lee said he did not think there would be a considerable impact on the South China Sea situation, as there is currently a process going on to discuss a code of conduct between Asean and China. — The Straits Times/ANN

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