Last month, Jens Stoltenberg, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) secretary general, toured South Korea and Japan to drum up support for Ukraine’s effort to stop the Russian offensive.

Stoltenberg’s short trip to the Northeast Asian states highlighted NATO’s aim to strengthen ties with two of the United States closest allies in the Indo-Pacific region in the face of escalating conflict in Eastern Europe as well as rising competition with China.

He said the war in Ukraine had serious ramifications for Asia, pointing to North Korea’s military support to Russia. Russia and North Korea have denied NATO’s accusations that Pyongyang had been supplying weapons for the war in Ukraine.

He also expressed concern over North Korea’s missile tests and nuclear weapons development program as NATO began to show interest in the Indo-Pacific region.

Some NATO members, like the United Kingdom, France and Germany have started patrolling the disputed South China Sea. France has unveiled its Indo-Pacific strategy while the United Kingdom and Germany committed to send frigates to help patrol the disputed waterway, which is vital to global trade.

With an estimated $3 trillion worth of seaborne goods passing every year in the South China Sea, Stoltenberg’s trip to South Korea and Japan showed NATO’s growing security and political interests in the region.

NATO is no longer confined to Europe and North America but has expanded to the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in the Korean peninsula, Taiwan Straits, and the South China Sea.

Last year, Japan and South Korea even sat as observers in the NATO summit, an indication of wider cooperation between the two regions – Europe and Indo-Pacific.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) could not be far behind as two of its members are considered by the United States as major non-NATO allies – the Philippines and Thailand.

Washington also has close working relationships with other countries, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Like the US, NATO also wanted to stress that it shares the values of freedom, democracy, and rule of law with most countries in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly with Asean, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India.

However, NATO’s moves to increase its presence in the Indo-Pacific region as well as play a bigger political role in the Asean Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) and advance its military agenda through exercises and opening offices in key cities in the region could escalate tension in the region.

In a way, NATO is trying to transform a military alliance designed to counter threats from Russia during the Cold War into a globalized alliance, including the QUAD security dialogue in the Indo-Pacific region.

NATO is also helping the United States build a global coalition against Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

The US and NATO have been using regional security cooperation to form a bloc to deter China’s excessive and aggressive behavior and the hostile activities of Russia and North Korea in the region.

There is danger NATO’s further involvement in the region could undermine Asean centrality, particularly the Asean regional forum if the US and its NATO allies succeed in dictating the tempo and agenda of the evolving security architecture in the region.

Asean will likely take the back seat as the more dominant US and NATO states take the driver seat to lead the charge against China, Russia, and North Korea. Once this happens, there is danger of a possible conflict over Taiwan and a more dangerous arms race, which could see the rearming of pacifist Japan.

Asean states, including the Philippines, must resist NATO’s involvement in the region. It already risks escalating the conflict in Ukraine by supplying Kyiv with tanks and missiles. NATO’s effort to support the US and QUAD states in the region will be highly doubtful.

Asean has decided not to take sides between the United States and China, taking the high road to mediate between the two superpowers. Asean could disintegrate if members would be asked to choose to take sides because it is already divided on the support of the US against China.

Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar would never allow the US and its NATO allies to dictate on Asean. NATO should not complicate things.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr should stick to his independent foreign policy of “friends to all and enemies to none” even if the Philippines has a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

Allowing the United States to put up logistics hubs in the country under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) should be enough but the Philippines cannot commit combat troops in case of a conflict.

The entire armed force will be wiped out in less than an hour.