Is it Possible for France to Join Alliances in the Indo-Pacific?

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On February 8, 2023, the French Navy’s amphibious assault ship “Dixmude” and frigate “La Fayette” set sail to engage in joint exercises with India, Singapore, Australia, and other allies in the Indo-Pacific region.[1] In recent years, France has actively participated in exercises in the Indo-Pacific, conducting joint exercises with the United States, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other regional powers.

In this new mission, the two French ships will depart from the port of Toulon and navigate through the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean, before reaching the Pacific Ocean and returning to France through the Panama Canal, extending into the Atlantic. The ships will be on duty for a total of 155 days and will visit 12 ports.[2] It is stated that naval vessels from the United Kingdom, Japan, and the United States will also participate in some of these exercises.[3] According to experts, France aims to jointly contain China’s increasing influence in the Pacific with its allies in the Indo-Pacific.[4]

As the center of global competition shifts from the West towards the Pacific, the Paris administration is adapting to this conjunctural change. Currently, France possesses the largest military force among European countries in the Indo-Pacific region. This is primarily due to France’s overseas territories in the Pacific. For instance, Mayotte, La Réunion, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia are home to 1.6 million French citizens. France maintains 7,000 military personnel, 13 ships, 11 fighter aircraft, and 7 military bases to protect these territories.[5] In short, France is deeply integrated into the Indo-Pacific region. Additionally, France is the largest arms exporter to Indo-Pacific countries, with India and Australia being the biggest buyers.[6] However, it can be said that Australia’s strategic importance to France has diminished after signing the AUKUS Agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Compared to other allies, France finds it relatively easier to engage with the Indo-Pacific region. The United States, United Kingdom, India, and Japan do not have the same level of connections with the region. For example, apart from Guam, the United States does not have its own territory in the Pacific. Therefore, it needs to collaborate with regional states as part of its strategy to encircle China. Similarly, the United Kingdom does not have a permanent overseas fleet in the region. In the past five years, the British government has been trying to increase its naval presence in Singapore. Even India does not have a permanent fleet in the Pacific. However, France has a dedicated command and an overseas fleet responsible for the region. In summary, Paris is a force that can be as active in the region as Washington.

To become a military power in the Indo-Pacific, having overseas naval presence and aircraft carriers would provide a strategic advantage. In this context, it is known that India has two aircraft carriers, China has three, France has one, and Russia has one. Russia’s aircraft carrier is deployed in the Northern Fleet. The United Kingdom has two aircraft carriers, while Germany does not have any. Both countries (UK and Germany) are planning to establish a permanent fleet in the Pacific. All these developments indicate that European powers are preparing for a potential conflict in the Pacific. France, on the other hand, plans to deploy the Charles de Gaulle Aircraft Carrier Strike Group in the Pacific from 2025 onwards.[7]

In August 2021, with the publication of its Indo-Pacific Strategy, the Paris administration began gradually transforming its historical presence in the region into strategic interests. In recent years, France has been striving to establish its own hegemony in the Indo-Pacific while collaborating with the United States towards the goal of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” However, it differs from the United States in its strategy towards China. Due to this difference in views, the United States and the United Kingdom have turned to defense cooperation with Australia, excluding France from their plans in the Indo-Pacific.

Another actor who thinks like France is India. Both France and India can be described as actors that do not follow the US strategy for China in terms of the seas.  Catherine Colonna, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, said: [8]

“We fundamentally share the same thinking and concerns with India. We are aware of the role played by China and want to ensure there is no imbalance in the Indo-Pacific region.”

France’s Ambassador to India, Emmanuel Lenain, also stated, “India occupies a central position in our Indo-Pacific strategy”.[9] Referring to the AUKUS Agreement, the French diplomat emphasized that defense blocs would not be useful in resolving issues in the Indo-Pacific.[10]

France advocates for peaceful activities in the Indo-Pacific region. Its primary objective is to maintain a rules-based regional order and seeks further cooperation with regional actors who refrain from bloc politics. The formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) is based on this mindset. Member states engage in joint exercises, port visits, and activities related to navigation and flight safety in the Indo-Pacific. However, with China increasing its regional claims, there is a discussion about transforming regional security platforms into defense alliances. In this context, the inclusion of India and Japan in AUKUS or the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) towards the Pacific are being debated.

Japan is planning to sign a Mutual Access Agreement with the Philippines, following the United Kingdom, in order to enhance its regional presence in the event of a potential conflict. Additionally, Japan has started to accelerate its military cooperation with France in the seas. Captain Emmanuel Mocard of the French Navy vessel “Dixmude,” deployed to the region for recent missions, expressed satisfaction in conducting joint exercises with Japan and stated that they are strengthening their partnership with Tokyo.[11]

Fransa advocates for the development of formations like the QUAD and refraining from aggressive pacts like AUKUS. However, it is significant that France is turning towards a defense partnership with Japan, which has been pursuing a proactive policy and thus drawing the ire of China. Similarly, France is also strengthening defense ties with India, which has recently entered into an open confrontation with China.

It appears that the number of actors exhibiting a moderate stance in the Pacific is decreasing. Until now, India, France, and other Southeast Asian countries that have pursued a more moderate security policy have begun to show interest in defense alliances led by the United States. The recent example of this is seen in the Philippines and France. These two countries are increasing their defense cooperation with Japan. As a result, France, through its partnership with Japan, is providing further support to the strategy of encircling China by the United States and the United Kingdom.

[1] “French Navy to Set Sail for Round-The-World Deployment”, USNI,, (Date of Accession: 09.03.2023).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “French Navy Vessels Set Sail to Take Part in Exercises with Japan, Others”, NHK,, (Date of Accession: 09.03.2023).

[4] Ibid.

[5] “France: A Bridge between Europe and the Indo-Pacific?”, CSIS,, (Date of Accession: 09.02.2023).

[6] “Can France and the UK Pivot to the Pacific?”, Carniege,, (Date of Accession: 09.02.2023).

[7] “French Navy Plans Aircraft Carrier Mission to The Pacific in 2025”, Naval News,, (Date of Accession: 09.02.2023).

[8] “India, France Share Concerns on China”, Live Mint,, (Date of Accession: 09.02.2023).

[9] “‘India At Core of Our Indo-Pacific Strategy’: French Envoy Says Military Confrontational Blocs Not a Solution”, First Post,, (Date of Accession:09.02.2023).

[10] Ibid.

[11] “French Navy Vessels…”, op.cit.

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer, 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen Tamer, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimini “Sosyal İnşacılık Teorisi ve Güvenlikleştirme Yaklaşımı Çerçevesinde İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’nde Kimlik İnşası Süreci ve Mehdilik” adlı tez çalışmasıyla 2022 yılında tamamlamıştır. Şu anda ise ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.