MANIPUR, India, April 26 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other war planners in the Pentagon may bridle at the comparison, but the reality is that the U.S. military establishment follows the example set by the State Department in at least one crucially wrong assumption: the belief that European traditions and analytical models can suffice to analyze Asia.
After all, since Asia was carved up among different European countries until a few decades back, clearly that meant the Europeans knew their way around.
However, times have changed, and today's Asia is a fusion of local with Western mindstreams that paradoxically make the peoples of the world's biggest continent more difficult to understand by Western scholarship.
An example is Iraq. Several Asian scholars -- including the writer, in these columns -- had warned that the absence of involvement of local anti-Saddam Hussein militias and the prominence given to the British -- the former colonizers of Iraq and therefore a people the locals are understandably sensitive about -- by U.S. war planners was likely to lead to a bulge in support for the Saddam regime, fighting what is perceived as a new Western war of conquest.
Had the Kurds, the non-Saddam Sunnis and the Shiiites been given just six months in advance of the March attack to form units that could have marched alongside U.S. formations and helped interdict Saddamite unconventional attacks on logistical chains, with the British confining their operations to air and sea rather than the much more visible land theater, the reception Rumsfeld's boys are getting in Iraq would have been different.
In Afghanistan, after all, it was hardly coalition troops that secured crucial territory in the drive that toppled the Taliban regime. It was the ragged formations of the Northern Alliance.
Had the al-Jazeera television network beamed images with a heavy infusion of Arab manpower alongside the Americans, there would likely have been the Saddamite defections that were expected but instead never materialized.
Those outside former European colonies in Asia find it hard to understand or even recognize the visceral feelings held in these territories about their former masters. As we all know, today the British are less a rampaging neo-imperialist herd than a quaint and lovable bunch of people talking in a funny accent.
Unfortunately, that is not the view of the "street," whether in Baghdad or in New Delhi, nor even in Kuala Lumpur.
For them, Empire was just yesterday and could be revived any time. This is why public opinion in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia has been so negative about the Australians who are seen, unfairly to both, as cousins of the British leading the "liberation" charge in East Timor. A force under local leadership could have avoided this negative reaction.
Hopefully, developments in Iraq will lead to a reality check among strategic planners in the United States, a country that ordinarily is not regarded as colonialist by Asians.
In terms of vital interests, Washington has an equal interest in Asia as in Europe. Indeed, given current economic and demographic trends, it is very probable that in the next decade and a half Asia will overtake Europe in strategic importance to the United States, even by conservative yardsticks.
This mandates a policy for Asia and Asia-related security issues that is insulated from Europe, given the tension that exists in the Asian mind about the European colonial experience. Just as the United States does not insert Asia or Asian countries into Europe or into discussions concerning European security, it needs to give up the practice of allowing one or the other European power to piggyback on the United States in any security plan related to Asia.
In Iraq, a war against an Asian regime, the info-warriors in Washington have set up a coalition tailor-made for Osama bin Laden's propaganda, and made this, in the perception of Asians, yet another White Man's War against them.
Given not just the history but the present capabilities of the countries in Asia that are potential allies of the United States, it would be a grave mistake to bring in NATO in Asia. This would only help those now waging war on the West and, more broadly on democratic and liberal values.
Instead, what is needed is for Washington to take the initiative in creating an Asian NATO -- a North America Asia Treaty Organization, or NAATO -- that would include Canada, the United States, Mexico, India, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Israel is a special case, forming part of the European sphere, and hence a suitable entrant into NATO.
As for others, countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia will hopefully sign up in the course of time, after political and other conditions are met within them.
NAATO would be headquartered in Singapore and, as in NATO, there would be facilities across the region that would be available to all members for training and refitting.
Such an Asian version of NATO would put to rest any suspicions in the Asian mind that Washington has allowed itself to act not as a superpower neutral between the two continents Europe and Asia, but as a genuine friend of Asian countries working to increase their own security in a highly volatile region.
NAATO would exclude countries that have authoritarian structures, such as military or single-party systems, as one of its primary functions would be to protect the values precious in democracies. It would also exclude countries that call themselves religious states, or states in which the laws, customs and institutions give one faith primacy over the rest. The test has to be whether people of all faiths are given equal rights under the law, and whether they enjoy the democratic freedoms NATO is intended to defend.
The induction of Canada and Mexico from North America would introduce views and systems different from that in the United States, and thus provide some of the diversity that is a given in Asia.
Together, the 15 countries listed above would provide an array of capabilities that would equal that of NATO in several respects.
For example, India has excellent urban warfare and counter-terrorist warfare capabilities, thanks to the decades of low-intensity war in Kashmir and other hotspots within the country.
Together, the financial resources of Kuwait, the technological capacity of Japan and the software prowess of India could design and produce weapon systems and aerial platforms that would be able to challenge those produced by the Europeans.
The United States has to come to a decision on whether it will continue to function as the spearhead of the "Western" -- read European-peoples -- alliance in other regions of the world, or it will accept its own diversity of interests by crafting a policy for Asia that takes account of the colonial past of the continent. Just as Asian troops have no place in Europe, European troops have no place in Asia.
If Asia is to be defended, it should be done by Asians themselves, with the help of multicultural powers such as the United States. This will be ensured through the formation of the North America Asia Treaty Organization.
-(M.D. Nalapat is director of the School of Geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India's largest private university.)