NATO Expands Focus To Indo-Pacific Amid Geopolitical Shifts And Security Concerns

This article explores the strategic alliance, mutual interests and the collective efforts undertaken by NATO nations and the Indo- Pacific.

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) has been increasing its engagement and cooperation with partners in the Indo-Pacific region. NATO, traditionally focused on the Euro-Atlantic area, has been adapting to a changing geopolitical landscape.

The Indo-Pacific region, encompassing countries such as Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand, has become a focal point for many geopolitical and security discussions. The region is witnessing significant economic growth, military developments, and geopolitical shifts, making it crucial for global security considerations.

The rationale behind NATO’s increased focus on the Indo-Pacific includes:

Global Security Interrelation: Developments in the Indo-Pacific can have direct implications for Euro-Atlantic security. Issues such as territorial disputes, nuclear proliferation, and regional conflicts can potentially impact the broader international security environment.

Shared Values and Interests: NATO and its partners in the Indo-Pacific region often share common values, such as a commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rules-based international order. Strengthening cooperation with like-minded partners allows NATO to promote these values on a global scale.

Addressing Cross-Cutting Security Issues: Collaboration with partners in different regions becomes essential. NATO aims to address cross-cutting security issues, including cyber threats, terrorism, and maritime security, which are relevant to both the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions.

Rules-Based International Order: NATO and its partners in the Indo-Pacific share a common goal of upholding and reinforcing the rules-based international order. This involves promoting adherence to international law, peaceful resolution of disputes, and the protection of the rights and freedoms of nations.

NATO has increased collaboration with its Indo-Pacific partners in recent years, marking a significant milestone with the inaugural participation of Heads of State and Government from these nations in the 2022 Madrid Summit. The momentum continued with their second involvement in the NATO summit held in Vilnius in July 2023.

The continuous nature of discussions between NATO and its partners improves the shared understanding of security dynamics in both the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions. Key focus areas include staying informed about critical events such as Russia’s actions in Ukraine, shifts in global power dynamics, the ascent of China, and the security status of the Korean Peninsula.

Policy Statements

In 2022, NATO and its partners in the Indo-Pacific region reached two significant agreements that marked a milestone in their collaboration. The first was the adoption of the Agenda for Tackling Shared Security Challenges in April 2022. This agreement outlined a framework to deepen cooperation in various critical areas, including cyber defence, new technology, and hybrid threats. The agenda reflected a commitment to addressing contemporary security challenges through joint efforts.

The second landmark document, adopted at the Madrid Summit in June 2022, was the NATO 2022 Strategic Concept. This document serves as the core policy framework for the Alliance, outlining its strategic direction for the upcoming years. Notably, the 2022 Strategic Concept marked a departure by acknowledging the significance of the Indo-Pacific region for the first time. It recognized that developments in the Indo-Pacific have a direct impact on Euro-Atlantic security. The goal is to collaboratively address cross-regional challenges and pursue shared security interests in the dynamic geopolitical landscape. The inclusion of the Indo-Pacific in the Strategic Concept reflects NATO’s acknowledgement of the region’s growing importance in shaping international security dynamics.

China’s Impact

The evolving nature of China’s perspectives on NATO has become a subject of concern. According to a report, China’s recent statements regarding the alliance can be characterized as a ‘rhetorical attack’ on NATO’s legitimacy. This development is seen as having the potential to erode trust among NATO’s Asia-Pacific partners and, more broadly, to diminish confidence in Western notions of collective security.

The leaders’ communiqué has gone beyond the 2022 strategic concept, offering additional details on the “deepening strategic partnership” between China and Russia. The communiqué includes a specific wish list outlining NATO’s expectations from China, particularly concerning its role on the international stage and its response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Key points from the wish list include:

Constructive Role at the UN Security Council: NATO expresses a desire for China, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, to play a constructive role. This suggests an expectation for China to contribute positively to global security and diplomacy within the framework of the UN.

China’s Stance on the Russia-Ukraine War: NATO calls on China to condemn Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. This indicates a desire for China to take a stance against actions that violate international norms and principles. It emphasizes that China should abstain from supporting Russia’s war effort in any way. This includes refraining from providing military or logistical support to Russia in its actions against Ukraine. Further, NATO urges China to cease amplifying Russia’s false narrative that blames Ukraine and NATO for the conflict. This emphasizes the importance of not propagating misleading information that may contribute to misinformation surrounding the war.

Adherence to the UN Charter: China is called upon to adhere to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. This underscores the expectation that China, as a major global actor, should align its actions with international law and norms.

Refraining from Providing Lethal Aid to Russia: NATO specifically calls on China to act responsibly and refrain from providing any lethal aid to Russia. This reflects concerns about the potential escalation of the conflict through external support.

Japan’s Disapproval

The illegal and unprovoked aggression by Russia against Ukraine has had a significant impact on Japan’s perspective on Russia and has influenced Tokyo’s policy towards Moscow. This change in assessment has not only affected bilateral relations between Japan and Russia but has also had broader implications for Japan’s international partnerships.

Interestingly, the evolving situation has brought about a positive change in the relationship between NATO and Japan. While Russia was previously considered a complicating factor in the NATO-Japan relationship, recent events have transformed Russia into a factor that is promoting closer relations between NATO and Japan. The shared concerns and negative assessments of Russia’s actions have created a common ground for NATO and Japan, leading to increased collaboration and engagement. This alignment in views towards Russia has become a catalyst for enhancing cooperation between NATO and Japan on various fronts.

Major Concerns

The concerns surrounding NATO in the Indo-Pacific can be distilled into two primary issues. The first revolves around the unfounded claim that NATO is engaging in military expansion in the region. This apprehension often stems from a perception of NATO solely as a military alliance, overlooking its political dimensions. The idea of NATO expanding into the Indo-Pacific may evoke images of military presence, troops, and equipment. However, it’s crucial to clarify that NATO member states have explicitly stated that there are no plans for military expansion in the region.

The second concern regarding NATO in the Indo-Pacific is more subtle and revolves around the potential complications in an already complex geostrategic landscape. Even without direct military operations, the fear is that an expansion of the U.S.-led NATO presence in the Indo-Pacific could add further intricacies to the region’s geopolitical dynamics. This concern is heightened by a nuanced perception, even among Indo-Pacific countries that strongly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that NATO is geopolitically clumsy and, to some extent, bears responsibility for the conflict.

The Way Forward

The increasing complexity and interconnectedness of global challenges shine a light on the limitations of compartmentalized political discourse. Focusing discussions in one specific region can be shortsighted, potentially hampering awareness and coordinated responses during crises. To foster greater exchange and collaboration, the suggestion is made to establish a NATO Centre of Excellence in the Indo-Pacific, potentially located in Southeast Asia, with joint support from NATO and the host country. Additionally, the proposal encourages Indo-Pacific partners to increase their participation in existing NATO Centers of Excellence.