Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2014

Can NATO Find a Role for Itself vis-à-vis China?

James Boutilier

December 2012

NATO Defense College


NATO is at a crossroads. This is not the first time that Brussels has been faced with critical decisions about the direction, character and raison d'être of this unique and remarkable organization. But this time the stakes are even higher. The major centers of global power are all weak simultaneously for individual and inter-connected reasons. The greatest power on earth and NATO's banker, the United States, is confronting almost insurmountable levels of debt and talk about the end of the American empire has become commonplace. The European community is reeling from the cumulative effect of debt crises. And China, the 21st century's "workshop of the world" (and in the eyes of some a potential savor of ailing economies in Europe) has begun to see its economy slow disturbingly. At the same time, two other phenomena are unfolding; the rapid and profound shift in the global centre of economic gravity from the Euro-Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific region and the winding down of NATO's involvement in Afghanistan. The latter, of course, raises the inevitable question: "What next?" The former raises a related question: "Does NATO's future lie in Asia?"