Should NATO Change Its Name?

August 02, 2022

About the author:

Ding Yifan, Senior Fellow, Taihe Institute; Economist; Former Deputy Director, World Development Institute of Development Research Center of the State Council (2000-2014)


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a product of the Cold War. At that time, the confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact had some symmetry. NATO’s presence in Europe was jokingly called by Europeans: “Keep the Americans in, keep the Russians out, and keep the Germans under.” After the Cold War, with the demise of the Warsaw Pact, the existence of NATO became a problem and the importance of the United States declined. If the sole purpose of NATO remained only to “keep the Germans under,” would Germany agree? Thus, for the United States to maintain its influence in Europe, it needed to find both a purpose and justifications for NATO relevance. 


NATO’s expansion toward the countries of Eastern Europe had been accepted by Russia only reluctantly until Ukraine was lured by the U.S. to join the alliance. Russia had repeatedly warned that, unlike other Eastern European countries, both Ukraine and Georgia were in the bosom of Russia. As such, Russia’s military actions in Ukraine are, to some extent, a retaliation for the tone-deaf U.S.


Russia’s action against Ukraine has provided the pretext, long sought by the United States to reassert its influence in Europe, despite NATO’s status as an obsolete instrument of the Cold War. NATO’s need for an enemy to prove its raison d’etre, was confirmed at NATO’s summit in Madrid when it published a new strategic concept paper, which not only considered Russia as an immediate threat, but also pointedly positioned China as an existential threat for the first time.


NATO’s official paper alleges China’s stated ambitions are matched with coercive policies and pretends that those policies challenged its interests, security, and values. Needless to say, those accusations seem both completely groundless and unclear. NATO member countries claim to be rules-based, however, in any sensible judicial system, any accusation must be based upon facts and not intentions. How can NATO accuse China on the grounds of its so-called intentions? This attitude reminds us of a fable by Aesop: when a wolf comes upon a lamb while both are drinking from a stream, in order to justify taking the lamb’s life, the wolf accuses it of various misdemeanors, all of which the lamb proves to be incapable of.


NATO’s official paper also blames China for seeking to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic material and supply chains. It is common knowledge that NATO’s member countries are also the most developed and industrialized, possessing the most advanced technologies. Who is pursuing the policy of small courtyards and high walls, who is embargoing various technologies to China, and who wants to decouple from China in the field of science and technology? It is wishful thinking to use technological advancement to delay China's development. In fact, China has always been a favored target of technological sanctions by Western countries. One needs to only remember that during the Cold War there was a U.S.-led Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom) created and based at the US embassy in Paris. Today the CoCom has been superseded by the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, which has also targeted China. 


While NATO countries have been imposing a technological blockade on China for years, how can it be said that China is trying to control the technological and industrial sectors? In fact, China has always wanted to cooperate with developed countries such as NATO members, to jointly promote scientific and technological research in order to progress human civilization. China advocates building a community with a shared future for mankind and encourages sharing technology with friendly countries, sharing the fruits of economic development, and working together to tackle global challenges: climate change, carbon neutrality, and so on. However, if those countries do not want to cooperate with China, then China will strive to achieve these technological development goals on its own.


NATO rebukes China for its deepening strategic partnership with Russia and accuses both countries of mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order. NATO has said that Russia and China’s cooperation runs counter to their values and interests. However, it is a sovereign decision to determine state-to-state strategic partnerships. Both China and Russia are exercising their sovereign rights to form a strategic partnership of coordination. While the United States has built a politico-military alliance with some European countries, China has not interfered. Why then, do NATO countries find fault with China's choice? Both China and Russia are permanent members of the UN Security Council. Why should China undermine the rules-based order? Moreover, both China and Russia are the builders of the extant order. Breaking international pledges and commitments has been common practice for the United States. For example, it signed the Paris Agreement and then decided to quit; it concluded the TPP free trade agreement and then decided to quit, and, it also chose to quit permanent international organizations when dissatisfied. It is preposterous for such a country to accuse other countries of disrupting the rule-based order.


While China does not send its navy to police Europe, some European countries have sent warships to the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, in the name of protecting the freedom of navigation. In fact, the security situation in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait is better than that in many areas of the world, and there is no expectation by the peoples of the region for European protection. The expenditure of European taxpayers’ funds to send warships to Asia, in a display of power, is neither feasible nor desirable.


If NATO seeks to expand toward Asia and expand its sphere of influence into both the Indian and Pacific oceans, it ought to change its name first. 


NATO claims to be a defensive alliance that defends democratic values and human rights. But when NATO bombed infrastructures in civilian areas in Belgrade, did NATO think about protecting human rights first? Did Serbia launch an attack on any NATO member country and trigger the activation of the NATO collective defense mechanism? NATO's bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq also lacked conclusive evidence that Afghanistan or Iraq attacked a NATO member. NATO bombing campaigns had inflicted a large number of innocent civilian casualties, which were disingenuously described as “collateral damage.” Have NATO’s unprovoked bombings protected the human rights of dead civilians and homeless refugees? 


NATO behaves much like a mafia organization, which, under the leadership of a rogue boss, persecutes and bombs countries that are powerless to fight back. This explains, in large part, why NATO was so cautious when encountering Russia.


In an attempt to bring NATO into Asia, the undeclared but persevering US objective is a security focus on the Taiwan Strait. While the Taiwan issue is a legacy of China’s history, it remains within China’s sovereign power to decide how and when to solve this problem. All NATO countries have established official diplomatic relations with China, their governments recognized there is only one China, and Taiwan is part of China. By breaking with these solemn undertakings, through meddling in Chinese domestic affairs and/or instigating Taiwan’s separatist movement, NATO members shall be held fully accountable for their actions and assume the severest consequences.  


NATO needs to be reminded that it would be a historic mistake to misinterpret China's patience as cowardice and to forget that China had previously fought U.S.-led coalition forces in Korea before its industrialization and the establishment of a domestic military industry. On the Korean peninsula, China, mainly using borrowed weapons, pushed US troops back to its invasion point, forcing the U.S. to sign an armistice to end a war it could not win. Now that China has the most comprehensive industrial manufacturing capacity in the world, and has built an advanced military-industrial infrastructure, the armies of the NATO alliance need to think twice before testing China’s resolve or they will certainly meet an end much worse than that of the Korean War.


Please note: The above contents only represent the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of Taihe Institute.


This article is from the July issue of TI Observer (TIO), which is a monthly publication devoted to bringing China and the rest of the world closer together by facilitating mutual understanding and promoting exchanges of views. If you are interested in knowing more about the July issue, please click here:




Should you have any questions, please contact us at