US NATO Ambassador Julianne Smith, while speaking on NATO and strengthening relationships with South Asia and the Indo-Pacific, virtually said the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is ready to engage more with India if it is interested. The Ambassador though stressed that currently there are no plans by the alliance to expand this to a broader global military alliance.
"The NATO alliance is open to more engagement should India seek that. NATO currently has 40 different partners around the World and each individual partnership is different. Various countries come to the door seeking different levels of political engagement, sometimes countries are much more interested in working on inter-operability, and standardization questions. So, they vary. But, the message that has already been sent back to India is that NATO alliance is certainly open to more engagement with India, should that country take interest in pursuing that", said Julianne Smith in a virtual press briefing.
"Membership is not something that we have really considered with anyone in the Indo-Pacific or Asia-Pacific. The alliance remains the Euro-Atlantic military alliance. Its door is open to the region. But there are no plans by the alliance to expand this to a broader global military alliance," she added.
Further, speaking on the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs, which will take place on April 4-5, 2023 at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, the ambassador said "at this stage, we would not want to invite them (India) to NATO ministerial until we knew more about their interest in engaging the alliance more broadly".
"Regarding the Ministerial next week, 4 countries that I mentioned (Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and Japan), are four countries that have already established formal partnerships with the alliance over many years. They worked closely with the NATO alliance on security challenges. These relationships have been ongoing. We have been working to strengthen these relationships. These are four countries that joined us at the summit last year in Madrid," said Smith.
Appreciating India's role in the Russia-Ukraine war, the envoy said she is grateful for the humanitarian assistance that India has been able to provide to the country and that she appreciates India's call for an immediate end to the war in Ukraine.
"We both at NATO and United States, welcome what India has been able to do for the people of Ukraine. We are very grateful for the humanitarian assistance that India has been able to provide which is critical right now and those needs are only growing. Certainly, appreciate calls coming from India for some sort of immediate end to the war in Ukraine. That's important. And we have been in constant communication with India about what more we can do together to hold Russia accountable and we have done that and worked with India, spoken with India several times since Russia started this war inside Ukraine," said Smith.
"The United States and India do not always share exactly the same policy approaches, but we do share a commitment to upholding the rules-based order and ensuring that the key principles particularly as they relate to sovereignty and territorial integrity, those principles are respected. I think that's the most important part of our relationship," she added.
Speaking about the NATO shift, the envoy highlighted how the alliance has started to mention the Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific in some of its strategic documents.
"NATO has really shifted in a pretty noticeable way in terms of how it conducts outreach and engages with its partners in Indo- pacific. If you go back 5-6 or 7 years, you would find an alliance that didn't necessarily have rich agenda with the countries in the Indo-Pacific. Still, in recent years, what NATO has started to do is to include, mention of the Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific first and foremost in some of its strategic documents," she said.
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"This is the first time that the alliance acknowledges the importance of focusing on the PRC as a challenge for the alliance and why it's important for NATO allies to enhance and deepen its relationship across with partners in the region and NATO has just done that. We are bringing our friends from the Indo- Pacific in the NATO HQ into ministerial, what we call North Atlantic Council in summits so that we can learn from our partners in terms of what their experiences, challenges to the security," she added.