In line with NATO’s effort to comprehend the future strategic and military environment, the Strategic Foresight Regional Perspectives Report on the Indo-Pacific represents a brilliant resource, together with the on-going series of Regional Perspectives Reports. The initial research on the Indo-Pacific region involved NATO nations, NATO entities, academia, think tanks and a talented group of 15 Subject Matter Experts from around the world who presented their findings to nearly 100 participants.
Key amongst the findings set up within the Indo-Pacific Perspectives Report is that China is not the only challenge facing the region, but it will likely remain the dominant influencer for the foreseeable future. Politically, the Indo-Pacific landscape is likely to convert into a predominant Chinese attempt to federate or potentially constrain split countries through economic, diplomatic, cultural and military levers putting at risk the rule of law, international order, democratic values, maritime freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Vis-à-vis China, the region is likely to become an increasingly competitive space in terms of sovereign territory claims, resource exploitation, infrastructure development and free maritime access. The increasing militarization of the area is obviously the main concern for the Alliance, because it makes direct confrontation with dramatic economic and geopolitical consequences possible. Maritime capabilities are likely to continue to grow, especially for China, putting at risk freedom of navigation. The militarization of disputed islands, nuclear proliferation, a possible invasion of Taiwan, the positioning of an emerging India, the use of Cyber, Space and cognitive warfare will create increased possibilities for tension, escalation, and even direct or indirect conflict. Before that, the increasing number of defense partnerships and the constant rising of defense budget will convert the Indo-Pacific into the most militarized area of the world.
By placing interest on regional trends with security implications relevant to NATO worldwide, notably geopolitical, economic, environmental, human-related and technological, the report underscores the complexity of the region, including China’s rise and its strategic partnership with Russia, and provides perspectives and scenarios on how the future of that region may look like in 2040 and beyond. Nevertheless, the Indo-Pacific is likely to become an increasingly competitive space in terms of sovereign territory claims, resource exploitation, infrastructure development and free access. Consequently, the Alliance needs to improve its understanding of both the entire region as well as China’s strategic and economic influencing therein. Yet the rise of China is a defining global challenge, which has implications for all NATO. The 2022 NATO Strategic Concept identifies the Indo-Pacific as important for the North Atlantic Alliance, given that developments in that region can directly affect Euro Atlantic security, and so the evolution of the international security system will require the Alliance to adopt its global outlook and approach.
More than any other region, the Indo-Pacific Area will be shaped by technological innovations and Emerging and Disruptive Technologies for both civil and military purposes. At the same time, the Indo-Pacific will face environment and resource challenges. On one hand, the growing population, concentrating on urban areas and on the coastline will be increasingly vulnerable to natural or human catastrophes. These will range from tsunamis to industrial accidents, from massive earthquakes to severe droughts and major flooding events. On the other hand, human pollution and global warming will compromise resources, fishing, and crops, at unprecedented stress levels and could create further tensions. In this context, supporting urban resilience in the region will become vital.
To conclude, the release of the Indo-Pacific Report is crucial in the aftermath of the 2022 Madrid Summit and the adoption of a new NATO Strategic Concept. The rise of China and its destabilising effects on the Indo-Pacific region require the Alliance’s collective attention and a comprehensive understanding of the implications of an expanding Chinese influence. The analysis and the strategic scenarios identified in the Report facilitate the understanding of the NATO’s challenging role in the region and its primary goal to ensure and maintaining a stable maritime order in order to mitigate threats to regional stability and global economic supply chains.
The Indo-Pacific Report is available here.