The U.S.’s Strategic Realities Require A New Alliance—The Indo-Pacific Treaty Organization

One of the principal duties of statesmen is to match their national security requirements to the strategic realities their country faces. The strategic realities of the 21st century are stark for the U.S. Its major enemy, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is a potent military power that threatens U.S. national security interests globally. Beijing’s support for Moscow contributed to Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. Its support for Iran fuels Tehran’s attacks against Israel, carried out by proxies like the Houthis in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In the Indo-Pacific, the PRC immediately and directly threatens U.S. national security interests due to Beijing’s hyper-aggression against Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and other ASEAN states. Other U.S. allies, Australia, South Korea, and Thailand, are threatened, as is a key partner, India.

To deter that aggression, U.S. conventional and nuclear military capabilities must be able to provide a credible response. In addition to the key role of military power, U.S. alliances are a necessary and important contributions as well. Allies are critical because their military, political, economic support, and geostrategic locations augment U.S. power. As the threat from the PRC has grown, so has the threat to our allies and the disruption of the peace and stability that the Indo-Pacific has benefited from U.S. leadership and presence since WWII. Thus, the time is propitious for the U.S. to tighten its alliances and relationships with partners to reflect the reality of the PRC threat.

To strengthen those alliances, the U.S. should reflect upon the success of the NATO alliance during the Cold War. Unlike NATO today, during the Cold War, that alliance had great conventional military capability apart from U.S. forces that strengthened the conventional deterrent to Soviet aggression. The “layered cake” defense of the central front on the inter-German and Czech-West German borders ensured that Warsaw Pact forces would face a response from the alliance. Moreover, the nuclear forces of Great Britain and France complicated Soviet strategy. The political support it offered in Cold War crises, such as over Berlin in 1958 and 1961, was needed and helped U.S. diplomacy. There were headaches, to be sure. Charles de Gaulle’s doubts about the credibility of the U.S. commitment to France’s security in the 1960s led to the French withdrawal from the military dimension of the alliance. The debate over détente and modernizing intermediate-range nuclear forces in the 1970s and 1980s was notable. But the NATO alliance worked its way through its difficulties and augmented U.S. capabilities. It contributed to the defeat of the Soviet Union.

Today, given the threat of the PRC, the U.S. needs a NATO in the Indo-Pacific that would provide strength and credible deterrence, as did NATO in the Cold War. The strategic realities of the 21st century—that the PRC is an aggressive and formidable military power in quasi-alliance with Russia, a nuclear superpower—demand a similar unity of effort and command of military forces.

These strategic realities require the creation of an Indo-Pacific Treaty Organization (IPTO) that would first balance the PRC’s expansionist policies and roll back its territorial acquisitions in the South China Sea. Reversing the PRC’s expansionism will require a strong alliance to stand with the U.S. and guarantee that the PRC would be fighting not just the U.S. but also its allies. To check the PRC’s power, this newly formed IPTO should include all the states of the region threatened by the PRC. This would include Australia, Canada, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the U.S. Additional states, such as Mongolia, the states of the Southwest Pacific and South Pacific, and Vietnam, would be candidates as well.

Second, this IPTO would provide a robust deterrent to the allies of the U.S. As such, this will necessitate a changed relationship with Taiwan. Taiwan must become a formal ally of the U.S. as it was before 1979 and a member of the IPTO. This will ensure an immediate and strong deterrent, including the deployment of B-61 tactical nuclear weapons in Taiwan and in the region.

Third, the IPTO will provide support for a coordinated political warfare campaign against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its dictator, Xi Jinping. The eviction of the CCP from power should be the aim of the U.S. and its allies. This new treaty alliance will serve as a unified front to call attention to the gross human rights abuses of the CCP against the Chinese people, which alone makes it illegitimate and thus beyond the bounds of international society. 

Every robust alliance needs a manager, and this would have to be the U.S., as it was in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The manager would have the responsibility to police it to ensure that allies do not “free ride,” as many members of NATO do presently, but sustain their obligations and requirements of the alliance.

U.S. military power wedded to a tight and disciplined IPTO structure would provide the U.S. and its allies with a greater ability to deter the PRC’s aggression and rollback the fruits of that aggression in the South China Sea, while targeting the CCP as the source of this aggression, a cancer that the world should extirpate.

Unfortunately, successive U.S. administrations led by pro-CCP Engagement elites have told our allies that a NATO-like alliance structure would not work in the Indo-Pacific. For too long, U.S. foreign policy was dominated by Engagement thinking, which even “China Hawks” found themselves parroting. The time has come to throw out this appeasement mentality and to recognize the strategic realities right here and right now. In order to deter, and if required, defeat, the PRC, the U.S. must lead an alliance of like-minded nations that will join together in their own self-interest to defend against the predatory threats from Communist China.

James E. Fanell and Bradley A. Thayer are authors of Embracing Communist China:  America’s Greatest Strategic Failure.

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About James E. Fanell and Bradley A. Thayer

James Fanell is a government fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy and a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Bradley A. Thayer is a Founding Member of the Committee on Present Danger China and the coauthor with Lianchao Han of Understanding the China Threat.

Photo: USA China Japan India and Australia flag print screen on wooden block cube for QUAD or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue concept.