Although there is no consensus over the definition of the concept of “Indo-Pacific”, different definitions have been developed by many countries/organizations in Europe.
From these definitions, although the strategy document of France, which is the first and only European Union (EU) member country to publish a strategy document for the region, does not contain a geographical definition as can be seen from the map on the document cover, it is understood that there is a perception of “the region extending from the eastern coast of Africa to the western coast of the United States of America (US)”. In Germany’s Strategy document, the Indo-Pacific is defined as “the entire region characterized as the Indian Ocean and the Pacific” , and in the Netherlands’ strategy document for the region, defined as “the region extending from Pakistan to the Pacific islands.” According to the United Kingdom (UK)-based think tank Policy Exchange, the definition of the Indo-Pacific is “a region extending from the Indian subcontinent to upper Southeast Asia and China, and from there to the Northeast Asian countries of Japan and Korea”. In the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Document dated 16 September 2021, which is composed of the regional strategy documents of Germany, the Netherlands and France, the Indo-Pacific has been defined as “the vast region stretching from the eastern coast of Africa to the Pacific Island states.”
Despite all the different definitions, when 90% of world trade is carried out through the seas, the Indo-Pacific region has the largest market in the world, and has nodes such as the Strait of Malacca, which hosts a significant proportion of 25% in world trade. In addition, the reality that the EU invests $90 billion a year in the region and that the disruption to be experienced due to an interruption in the sea routes passing through the region is a region that has the potential to have severe consequences remain as it is.
The growing interest in the Indo-Pacific region and the beginning to use this term as a geopolitical concept is an indication that the world’s economic and political center of interest is shifting towards this region. Europe’s interest in the region has increased after disruptions in the supply chain, which was also affected by the container crisis experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic. Efforts to reduce dependence on China and develop alternative trade partnerships with the region’s countries, primarily through the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and then countries such as South Korea, New Zealand, India and Australia should also be regarded as a result of this development.
When the documents of the three EU members that have published a strategy document for the region are examined, the common points which is highlighted are; the importance of the region is increasing day by day, the need to develop and diversify relations, especially commercial ones, to cover the entire countries of the region, the importance of cooperation with ASEAN, multilateralism, adherence to the rules of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea, especially Freedom of Navigation, and the willingness to send warships to the region to ensure the security of the Indo-Pacific maritime transport routes.
As the only EU member with territory in the Indo-Pacific (La Réunion and Mayotte Islands, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna Islands, and the French Southern and Antarctic Territories), France has 1.6 million citizens living in the region. For this reason, due to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) formed by the islands under the sovereignty of France, France is the country with the second largest EEZ in the world with 100.2 million km². in addition, France, which has about 8,000 soldiers in the region, has a constant presence in the region with elements of its naval forces. The comprehensive and based on four pillars (security and defence, economy, multilateralism, and commitment to common values) strategy document raised by French President Emmanuel Macron during his trip to the Far East in 2018 may be the subject of a separate review.
The first of the crucial points in Germany’s strategy document published on September 1, 2020 is that “the policy towards the region should be formed in a structure in which no country will have to choose sides, as it was during the Cold War”. Another important matter is that the Strait of Malacca, the world’s heaviest commercial traffic, is also the most affected by piracy in the region. Therefore, it is an emphasis on determining the need for additional protection in the region and being ready for tasks that will be given to control the United Nations (UN) sanctions imposed on North Korea.
The most striking element in the Netherlands’ strategy document published in November 2020, most of which was written in the form of recommendations to the EU and frequently reminded that the EU should pursue its strategic interests, is that “most countries in the region will save the Indo-Pacific region from being a pawn of one of the great powers, or it is the conclusion that these forces are in a quest to prevent them from being harmed by the struggle among themselves.’’ Another noteworthy aspect is the statement that ways to reduce unilateral strategic dependencies should be explored by EU members or other like-minded countries.
Although the UK has left the EU and has a historical interest in the region, does not have a strategy document specifically for the Pacific. In the section of “The Shift to the Indo-Pacific: A Framework’’ of the report which was published on July 2, 2021, named “Global Britain in the Age of Competition: An Integrated Assessment of Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy” , stated that the naval presence, which is managed from the command center in Bahrain with elements of the Royal Navy, has been in the region since 1980 within the scope of Operation Kipion, which is a continuous patrol mission in the Gulf.
As far as it is understood from the lines of all three strategy documents of the three EU member states, the countries in question seem to be aiming to get rid of excessive dependence on the United States and stay away from the economic war between Washington and Beijing. The shrinking economies after the epidemic, the increase in global inflation due to the increased energy prices after the Russian-Ukrainian War, and the concern about the recession in the economies as prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have forced Europe, which has already reached a breaking point with Russia, to look for an alternative to China. Cooperation with the Indo-Pacific countries, which stand out as the fastest growing countries in the world, stands out as an important alternative for Europe after the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian War.
In addition, it should be noted that the competition between global powers in the region, which has intensified in the economic and technological fields, has recently shifted to the security field, and this has become more visible in the East and South China Seas. Although it is distant geography to Europe, conflicts in the region will have negative consequences for Europe’s prosperity and security, and therefore the strategy documents state that Europe and Asia should work together on political and security issues as well as on economic issues.
In the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which was prepared using the strategy documents of Germany, the Netherlands and France, the rationale for strengthening engagement with the Indo-Pacific was explained with economic data, and the importance of cooperation with ASEAN was emphasized in the documents of the countries. In this context, “sustainable and inclusive prosperity, green transformation, ocean governance, digital governance and partnerships, connectivity, security and defense, and human security” have been identified as seven priority areas. In the security and defense part of these areas; the security of maritime transport lines, the naval presence strengthened by capacity building activities in the Indo-Pacific region are mentioned. Regarding the naval presence, it has been stated that the EU Somali Naval Force (EUNAVFOR-Somalia/Operation Atalanta) is carrying out joint activities with Indo-Pacific partners such as Japan, Pakistan, India and Djibouti as part of the fight against maritime piracy and such activities will continue to increase. In addition, according to the evaluation of the “Coordinated Naval Presence Concept” developed within the scope of the fight against maritime banditry in the Gulf of Guinea, its applicability will also be evaluated in the Indo-Pacific.
Besides participating in the RIMPAC exercises, which some EU member states organize every two years in the region other than the Atalanta Operation of the US, the Indo-Pacific region has recently increased the national flag assignments. Moreover, this situation includes the UK leaving the EU.
On a country-by-country basis, the tasks were accomplished by the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, which started in September 2021 and lasted for ten months, by Germany’s frigate Bayern between August 2, 2021 and February 18, 2022, and the British Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier group between May 1, and December 9, 2021 can be given as an example for the Pacific group assignments.
Within the scope of the developments after the publication of the EU’s strategy document for the region; The Russian-Ukrainian War broke out in February 2022; the “Strategic Compass” document, approved by the European Council in March and seen as an essential step in Europe’s strategic autonomy in the field of defence and security, and the new North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Madrid Summit that took place at the end of June, when NATO’s new Strategic Concept” has been published. Although the Russian-Ukrainian War among these developments seems to have strengthened the commitment of NATO members, its economic effects have been felt more staggeringly. With the economic dimension of the work coming to the fore, the “security” themed statements for the region, which are included in NATO’s Strategic Concept, have also remained in the air, at least from the point of view of European allies. All these developments can be considered indicators that Europe’s interest in the Indo-Pacific will continue to increase, primarily from an economic point of view.
Considering the statements about Indo-Pacific in the Strategic Compass approved by the EU Council on March 21, 2022; it may be seen that the emphasis on the importance of the region for the EU has increased, and it has been stated that the geopolitical and economic interest in stability and security in the region is of “vital importance”. In the “partners” section of the document, it is stated that the exchange of information and awareness sharing with ASEAN will be improved on various issues in the Indo-Pacific region, which has become an increasingly important area. Moreover, according to the Indo-Pacific strategy, the presence of naval forces in the region will be increased, and constructive contacts have already been made with the region’s countries in the field of defence and security with Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
In addition, EU marine elements; it is stated in the document that a series of joint naval exercises and port visits with countries in the region such as Japan, South Korea, Djibouti, and India has been achieved. Furthermore, the dialogue and consultations with China will continue on the issues such as respect for international maritime law, peaceful resolution of disputes, rule-based international order and human rights. The objectives section at the end of the document is aimed to “make more frequent port visits by EU naval elements in the Indo-Pacific by 2023 and to conduct actual naval exercises with partners in the region”.
Another development after the EU published the Indo-Pacific strategy is that the Indo-Pacific region, which was not included in the geopolitical struggle areas in the old concept, has been included in the new Strategic Concept of NATO. The concept emphasized the importance of the Indo-Pacific for NATO, considering the direct impact of developments in the region on Euro-Atlantic security, and stated that dialogue and cooperation with existing and new regional partners would be strengthened to resolve common security concerns.
The problems experienced in the force formation of the Permanent Naval Forces, which are currently participating in NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian in the Mediterranean, it is considered that it will not be easy to have ships in the region with the NATO flag, due to the limited number of members who can transfer power to the Indo-Pacific region and provide their logistical support, financial difficulties, and the necessity of obtaining the approval of all 30 members for assignments to the region outside the NATO responsibility area.
As a result, in the statements contained in the EU Indo-Pacific Strategy formed by the three-member states, it is difficult for the cooperation to be developed with ASEAN to contribute positively to the development of regional relations to the expected extent due to the economic dependence on pro-western ASEAN members on China and their desire to remain neutral. It is foreseeable that the contribution of relations to be developed with regional countries that are not members of ASEAN, such as Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, or Taiwan, which is seen as a chick in China’s armour, will remain limited or even have the opposite negative impact on the stability in the region. The maritime components of the EU member states are not considered to have a “game-changing” impact on the issues that may arise for maritime security due to the remoteness of the geographical distance, the influence of China and the lack of logistical infrastructure, which can support the military elements of countries other than France in the region.
The EU’s new strategy shows that the union is re-aligning its interests with interests of pro-Western Indo-Pacific forces. As indicated in Germany’s Strategy Document, it seems likely that Europe will follow a policy that will ensure a balance with a pro-US attitude in defence and security issues while keeping relations with China at the level they should be, considering its economic interests, as opposed to creating a “blockade” like during the Cold War. However, the point to be considered here is that in the name of balance, the warships to be sent to the region should avoid movements that will further increase the already existing tension in the region.
 “France’s Indo‑Pacific Strategy”, Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/en_dcp_a4_indopacifique_022022_v1-4_web_cle878143.pdf, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 “Policy Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific”, Federal Foreign Office, https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/blob/2380514/f9784f7e3b3fa1bd7c5446d274a4169e/200901-indo-pazifik-leitlinien–1–data.pdf, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 “Indo-Pacific: Guidelines for Strengthening Dutch and EU Cooperation with Partners in Asia”, Government of the Netherlands, https://www.government.nl/documents/publications/2020/11/13/indo-pacific-guidelines, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 “A Very British Tilt”, Policy Exchange, https://policyexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/A-Very-British-Tilt.pdf, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 “The EU Strategy for Cooperation in The Indo-Pacific”, European Commission, https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/default/files/jointcommunication_2021_24_1_en.pdf, (Date of Accession: 26.07.2022).
 “Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy”, Government UK-Cabinet Office, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/global-britain-in-a-competitive-age-the-integrated-review-of-security-defence-development-and-foreign-policy/global-britain-in-a-competitive-age-the-integrated-review-of-security-defence-development-and-foreign-policy, (Date of Accession: 25.07.2022).
 “Operation Kipion”, Royal Navy, https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/operations/red-sea-and-gulf/operation-kipion, (Date of Accession: 26.07.2022).
 “NATO 2022 Strategic Concept”, NATO, https://www.nato.int/strategic-concept/, (Date of Accession: 26.07.2022).
 “A Strategic Compass for Security and Defence”, The European External Action Service (EEAS), https://www.eeas.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/strategic_compass_en3_web.pdf, (Date of Accession: 26.07.2022).