Europe faces difficult choices in the Indo-Pacific, as the Sino-American competition intensifies and the multilateral order that protects the freedom of the seas comes increasingly under threat. This paper argues that Europeans need to more clearly formulate their objectives and develop policies based on a realistic view of their capabilities before embarking on a long-term commitment in the Indo-Pacific. This paper examines three distinctive objectives (1) upholding the maritime order, (2) ensure that Europe maintains access to key Asian economies, and (3) support for U.S. hegemony. The authors also offer a number of solutions with which Europeans can compensate for their lack of naval capabilities and consider serious maritime engagement in the Indo-Pacific. For example, European states, like the UK and France, should more effectively share and pool infrastructure in the region and rotate their forces in and out.
The maintenance of access to the Indo-Pacific region and the safeguarding of economic interests, while avoiding entanglement in Sino-American competition, is a central consideration for European stakeholders. Alternatively, when extending support to the United States in the Indo-Pacific arena, Europeans could prioritise the strengthening of U.S. hegemony and the broader regional order. In this regard, European engagement in the Indo-Pacific is driven by the desire to sustain transatlantic relations and to ensure U.S. involvement in European security matters.
Additionally, this paper examines European commitment to fostering a multilateral maritime order through collaboration with small and middle-power nations in Asia. This kind of collaboration aims to solidify the established rules governing open seas and legal dispute resolutions. The strengthening of both formal and informal institutions in this context represents a significant opportunity to mitigate the risk of escalation.
Author: Paul van Hooft, Tim Sweijs
Contributors: Laura Elisa Niemann