Indian Ocean Power Competition

China backing Russia, NATO looking East: Why Indo-Pacific is at centre of global order


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Indo-pacific partnerships and evelopments

Mains level: Indo-pacific and NATO, significance and challenges


What’s the news?

  • The Russia-Ukraine conflict has made NATO summits more significant than ever. The wide presence of four Asia-Pacific countries: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea has made this year’s summit more prominent especially for Indo- pacific

Central idea

  • The recent NATO summit was held in Vilnius, Lithuania, marked a significant turning point for the alliance. The summit showcased NATO’s increasing focus on the Indo-Pacific region, signifying the importance of this area for Euro-Atlantic security.

What is Indo-Pacific?

  • The Indo-Pacific is a geographic region interpreted differently by different countries.
  • For India, the geography of the Indo-Pacific stretches from the eastern coast of Africa to Oceania whereas, for US, it extends up to the west coast of India which is also the geographic boundary of the US Indo-Pacific command.

NATO’s Historical Background and Pivot Towards Asia

  • Founded in 1949, NATO emerged as a response to concerns over expanding Soviet influence in Eastern Europe.
  • Originally cantered on trans-Atlantic security, the alliance has evolved to address pressing global security challenges.
  • The recent summit’s agenda highlighted issues in the Indo-Pacific, such as North Korea’s nuclear activities, ballistic missile tests, and China’s military expansion and modernization.

Indo-Pacific Partnerships and Collaborations during the summit

  • NATO and Japan:
  • Individually Tailored Partnership Program between NATO and Japan was signed for the period of 2023-2026- focuses on cooperation in new technologies, space, and supply chain resilience.
  • NATO and New Zealand:
  • New Zealand was recognized as a valued partner by NATO during the summit.
  • The alliance praised the collaboration with New Zealand in various areas, including cyber defense, counter-terrorism, arms control, and new technologies.
  • NATO and South Korea:
  • A significant agreement was reached between NATO and South Korea further strengthening their collaboration in emerging areas, particularly related to hybrid threats.
  • NATO and Australia: Presence of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the NATO summit indicates a willingness to strengthen ties and foster cooperation in areas of common concern

Significance of the Indo-Pacific for NATO

  • The Indo-Pacific is home to numerous security challenges that have implications beyond the region.
  • These challenges include North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities, China’s military expansion, territorial disputes, and non-traditional security threats such as cyber-attacks and terrorism.
  • China’s growing economic, political, and military influence in the Indo-Pacific has global ramifications.
  • China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its assertive actions in the South China Sea have raised concerns among NATO allies about potential disruptions to regional stability and international norms.
  • The Indo-Pacific region is a major driver of the global economy, with many NATO member states heavily reliant on trade and economic ties with countries in the area.
  • Ensuring the security of critical sea lanes and trade routes is essential for NATO’s economic interests and stability.
  • Collaborating with Indo-Pacific countries can contribute to a rules-based international order and strengthen NATO’s global reach.

Concerns Over NATO’s Role in Indo-Pacific

  • Ambiguity and uncertainty within the alliance regarding NATO’s official presence and role in the Indo-Pacific.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron’s public opposition to the idea of opening a NATO liaison office in Tokyo highlighted these concerns.
  • Establishing an official NATO presence in proximity to China could potentially unsettle the Chinese security establishment and may be perceived as a challenge to China’s regional interests.
  • Unease among ASEAN and other South Asian countries with strategic interests in the area.
  • Some ASEAN countries’ centrality in the Indo-Pacific being replaced by bloc politics led by NATO.
  • It could stretch the alliance’s resources and capabilities- divert attention away from NATO’s core mission in the Euro-Atlantic region.

Interesting read: What is Thucydides’ Trap?

  • Thucydides’ Trap is a term derived from the historical work “History of the Peloponnesian War” by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. Thucydides chronicled the conflict between the city-state of Athens and the rising power of Sparta in the 5th century BC, which eventually led to the Peloponnesian War.
  • The central idea behind Thucydides’ Trap is that when a rising power challenges an established power, the competition between the two can lead to conflict or war.
  • Thucydides famously wrote, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” The rising power’s ascent and the fear it generates in the established power create a dangerous and unstable situation that may lead to a conflict as both sides jostle for power and influence.
  • In the context of modern times, NATO’s involvement in the region could inadvertently contribute to the Thucydides’ Trap, where a rising power (China) and an established power (United States) risk conflict
  • It serves as a warning to policymakers that managing the rise of a new power and avoiding a potential conflict requires careful diplomacy, strategic communication, and the establishment of mechanisms to peacefully resolve disputes


  • The recent NATO summit in Vilnius showcased the alliance’s Look East moment, highlighting its increased focus on the Indo-Pacific region. Strengthening ties with Indo-Pacific partners is crucial amid the evolving global strategic landscape. However, NATO must navigate carefully and exercise caution while addressing the challenges of the 21st century and the changing dynamics of the international order.

Also read:

North East as Gateway to Indo-Pacific Strategy

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