How Ukraine reconfigured the EU’s Indo-Pacific ambitions


The crisis in Ukraine is already having multiple repercussions around the world beyond its serious humanitarian impact. On the geopolitical level, it has already highlighted the fault lines between allies (for example, India against the other states of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad); highlighted the unintended rapprochement of rivals, namely India and China, albeit through strategic silence; reduced the credibility of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in stopping an unnecessary invasion or de-escalating tensions; and stimulated unprecedented unity in Europe. Furthermore, the recent approval by the European Union (EU) of a strategic compass, before the adoption of the latest NATO strategic concept probably in June (Madrid summit), is a belated but welcome military and strategic change. for European security policy.

Notably, the EU’s strategic compass is broad in scope: it is not limited to EU or NATO members, but has global and transatlantic security ambitions. To what extent will the new enhanced global security outlook from Brussels, in concert with the recently released Global Gateway strategy, targeting China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), impact Indo’s security landscape? – Pacific? Has the Ukraine crisis blunted the urgency of the EU’s goal of strategic autonomy, which had gained new momentum after the AUKUS (Australia-UK-US Security Pact) fiasco? Will EU initiatives thwart the already established NATO mechanism, which sought a similar global sphere of influence?

Ukraine’s impact on the EU’s Indo-Pacific vision

As Vladimir Putin prepared to invade Ukraine, the Council of the European Union (EU) organized a Ministerial Forum for Indo-Pacific Cooperation, bringing together the foreign ministers of EU member states and around 30 from the Indo-Pacific region (minus China and the United States). The forum also included representatives from some regional organizations, a move that highlighted three objectives: the increased importance of the Indo-Pacific; increasing European autonomy; and see China as a challenge, if not a threat. None have been negatively affected by the ongoing war. To some extent, the Ukrainian crisis seems to have diverted the world’s attention from the Indo-Pacific. Yet no major player can afford to ignore the volatility of the Indo-Pacific, especially not the EU at a time when it was gaining credibility.

This is clear from the “justification” for EU engagement in the Indo-Pacific, which has several elements: trade; climate change; geopolitical tensions (mainly the rise of China and the Sino-American rivalry); threat to the universal values ​​of democracy, human rights and the rule of law by authoritarian regimes; and the security interaction between the Indo-Pacific and Europe. The EU and the Indo-Pacific are economically interconnected and interdependent regions. Together they account for around 70% of global trade in goods and services and the Indo-Pacific waterways carry a significant share of its trade: Asia was one of the main destinations for EU exports in 2020 (more 30%). Therefore, securing maritime lines of communication is one of the main objectives of the EU. The EU, well aware of the region’s environmental vulnerability and its impact on global climate change, has also pledged to facilitate climate action, a key objective for the bloc.

Even though the EU continues to have “multifaceted engagement with China”, except in areas of fundamental value-based differences, relations between the two have continued to deteriorate. The EU’s acknowledgment of the challenges posed by China, which it recognizes as authoritarian, has forced it to counter revisionist antics and China’s economic clout, for example in the Western Balkans. Two latest examples of such a move are the launch of its Global Gateway strategy as an alternative to the BRI and the Strategic Compass with its tailored partnerships in the EU Neighborhood. Underlying disagreements erupted, particularly after the release of the “revisionist manifesto” at the China-Russia summit in early February, days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

For the EU, Russia has been a permanent adversary and the Ukraine crisis has only reiterated its threat as a formidable military power, with limited clout but fanciful imperial ambitions. On the other hand, China – which was until recently a harbinger of opportunities and certainly not seen as an adversary or a threat – is the new future rival with its grand hegemonic aspirations and the means to realize them. Moreover, the EU must remain ready to face the double challenge of Russia and China in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Just like its transatlantic alliance partner, the United States, which has declared that the crisis in Ukraine will only strengthen Washington’s Indo-Pacific resolve, the EU must also consider the two regions in tandem.

To mitigate the widespread long-term effects of this latest crisis, Brussels will seek to deepen its strategic engagement with regional partners, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. Its strategic compass launched during the Ukraine crisis is an attempt to solidify its global security reach through partnerships in Eastern and Southern Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a strategic partner of the EU with already strong cooperation initiatives through trade, investment and climate action, is now a important interlocutor in the context of security. The EU intends to work with ASEAN against violent extremism; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats; transnational crime; maritime security; and cybersecurity, as well as the establishment of pan-Asian security arrangements for an enhanced EU presence in the region. In addition to ASEAN, the EU’s bilateral security and defense cooperation partnerships with middle powers in Asia such as India, Japan and South Korea will only grow stronger in the future.

Moreover, the complex and fragile global security landscape would also give the EU the opportunity to go beyond its normative domain: for example, the EU should not consider India’s silence on the Ukraine, which is not a position based on values ​​but stems from its uncertain security needs, through the prism of emotions but as an opportunity to diversify its cooperation not only in commercial terms but also strategically – a “geopolitical partner” reliable.

European collective defense and global cooperative security?

While post-WWII Europe found unity in economic community building as opposed to ideology, in the recent past security and defense against common global threats (especially , authoritarian state actors blatantly breaking international law) have become the unifying characteristics. An excellent example of this new “unity in purposeis the invasion of Ukraine, which is not identified as a European crisis in today’s interdependent worldview, and may have created what the EU Ambassador to India, Ugo Astuto, called it a “risky” precedent for the capricious Indo-Pacific.

Nevertheless, even though the Ukrainian crisis has apparently given meaning to the EU motto ‘United in diversity’ and highlighted ‘unity in purpose’, the sense of abandonment in neglected and relatively poor like the Balkans, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic even after the EU provided a €70 million vaccine purchase fund amid successful vaccine diplomacy by China and Russia, remains a huge concern. The long-awaited accession of North Macedonia and Albania has aggravated the lack of public confidence in the EU. In light of regional and global challenges, the EU is seeking to play a greater role as a stand-alone security provider, even as the Russian invasion has seemingly repaired the rift in transatlantic relations due to the AUKUS snub. The unity of the United States and the EU is reflected in their joint sanctions against Russia and their unprecedented military support for Ukraine without direct intervention; The EU also signed a gas deal to reduce its overreliance on Russia, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said helped fund the “capacity to make the war” of Russia. Moreover, the current war has had an immediate impact on the EU’s growing commitment to strategic autonomy, as evidenced by the Versailles Declaration in early March, which aims to strengthen defense capabilities, reduce energy dependencies and to build a resilient economic model.

Furthermore, the EU’s security outlook has been largely guided by the notion of collective defense which is at the heart of NATO, whose core tasks have also included cooperative security after the adoption of its Strategic Concept (now obsolete) at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010. But as Ukraine pointed out, NATO largely fulfills the role of collective defence, while its cooperative security system remains secondary and limited to restoring and maintaining stability and international standards. At the same time, bodies such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), with a vision of “comprehensive security” including human rights, economic co-operation and “hard” security, are better placed to promote collective security by following an inclusive approach. decision-making model. However, the OSCE plays only a limited role in security due to a lack of legal power and resources.

At a time of aggressive power politics, the EU is therefore stepping up its efforts to build a “geopolitical Europe”. In 2021, it had already taken steps to strengthen the operational engagement of civilian and military missions outside its borders and to strengthen the resilience of its members and partners against hybrid threats, including disinformation. Propaganda tactics have found increased relevance in the ongoing war, and the EU has had to officially ban Kremlin-backed media RT and Sputnik as a countermeasure.


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