Destabilizing speculation

US security guarantees to Finland and Sweden set perilous precedent

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left), greets Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, during the North Atlantic Council roundtable during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, April 7, 2022. /CFP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left), greets Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, during the North Atlantic Council roundtable during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, April 7, 2022. /CFP

Editor’s note: Andrew Korybko is an American political analyst based in Moscow. The article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of CGTN.

On May 4, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said the United States was ready to provide security guarantees to her country and neighboring Finland ahead of their planned NATO membership after their formal application and before joining. to be approved by the 30 parliaments.

Although not the same as security assurances, Linde clarified that “they would mean that Russia can be clear that if it directs any type of negative activity against Sweden, that she threatened, it wouldn’t be something the US would just allow to happen…unanswered.”

This is very worrying for several reasons. First, America promises ambiguous security guarantees to countries with which it has no such formal agreements. Second, it could induce Russia to react asymmetrically in one way or another, to defend its national security red lines related to the planned membership of these countries in NATO. And third, it sets a dangerous precedent that could be replicated in the Asia-Pacific region.

These three results are problematic. Regarding the former, the American people deserve to know exactly what their government has assured Finland and Sweden of on their behalf and whether that might involve sending their soldiers to fight and die for them. Secondly, it will aggravate distrust of Russia and perhaps incite it to act preemptively in defense of its national security, whereas, concerning the third, it deserves to be developed in much more detail because the consequences are very important.

The United States is assembling a so-called “Asian NATO” through AUKUS, its new military alliance with treaty allies Australia and the United Kingdom, which has suddenly debuted last September. This includes cooperation between nuclear submarines and hypersonic missiles, both of which are based on the unstated but very obvious common goal of “containing” China. Other countries would be interested in joining this structure, such as Japan, although this country and the United States denied these speculations last month.

Either way, there is no doubt that Japan will likely work closely with AUKUS since it includes the US and Australian QUAD members minus India. In addition, the United States has already legally enshrined mutual security obligations to this island nation. It would be best for Japan to stay as far away from AUKUS as possible so as not to aggravate regional instability, but that cannot be taken for granted.

After all, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party recently shared his national security proposals that call for increasing defense spending to 2% of GDP (not coincidentally what NATO members are required to do) and develop military capabilities that could allow it to strike foreign command, control, and missile sites. This second plan risks violating Japan’s constitutional pacifism, even if its leaders dishonestly claim that it is only being put forward for so-called “self-defense” purposes.

People wear face masks on a street in Taipei in the Taiwan region of China on July 12, 2021. /CFP

People wear face masks on a street in Taipei in the Taiwan region of China on July 12, 2021. /CFP

Worse still, both AUKUS and Japan have a vested interest in emboldening separatism in China’s Taiwan region. While the motives of the United States are well known, those of Japan are less so. Its annual defense white paper last summer described the Chinese island as important to Tokyo’s security for the first time, implying that Tokyo may intend to meddle there militarily in the near future. It could even be done under the false veneer of “preventive self-defense”.

As AUKUS-Japanese interests increasingly converge on the Taiwan region, one cannot discount the fact that America could extend such vague security guarantees to the island, in the sense of what it comes to offer to Finland and Sweden before they join NATO. Taiwan cannot join AUKUS because it is an indispensable part of China and not recognized as independent by the United States, but the “Taiwan Relations Act” requires the United States to provide it with military equipment.

This would be the worst-case scenario, as it could easily and quite understandably be interpreted by China as the US extending some form of mutual security guarantees to its province. Going back to the Finnish-Swedish precedent, the problem is that the American people would not know what their government would promise Taipei and if their soldiers could be sent to fight and die in support. China is a major military and nuclear power, so this scenario should not be taken lightly.

Moreover, it could encourage China to preemptively defend the integrity of its national security red lines if the United States suggests that more substance needs to be added to vague commitments related to the “Taiwan Relations Act”, which which could lead to a possible clash between the two countries. Add Japan to the possible mix, which could follow the lead of its main US partner in extending its own insurance to Taiwan, and the recipe for disaster becomes obvious.

This sequence of events might not unfold, but it also cannot be ignored due to the possibility that the Finnish-Swedish precedent could be replicated in Asia-Pacific in the near future. To avoid any misperceptions, the US should make it very clear that it will never endorse such a scenario and ensure that its Japanese partner never does either. If it refuses to rule out this possibility, then the United States will be responsible for further destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region.

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