As NATO seeks closer ties with Indo-Pacific allies, analysts warn of insecurities that could arise

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As NATO seeks closer ties with Indo-Pacific allies, analysts warn of insecurities that could arise


The IP4 grouping burst onto the global stage in 2022. That same year, NATO identified China as a potential threat for the first time, saying Beijing posed systemic challenges to Euro-Atlantic security. 

Analysts said both groupings are bonded over similar concerns stemming from China’s growing assertiveness in the region and its strategic direction.

Professor Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi said NATO’s interest in the region reflects the inter-regional links between the European continent, North America and the Indo-Pacific.

“The Indo-Pacific is economically vital, not only for NATO, but the world. There’s much at stake for (all) sides,” said the senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at American think tank the Atlantic Council.

However, he added that cooperation is in the early stages and would likely be limited to information sharing, exchanging of perspectives, as well as occasional exercises in maritime, cyber and information security.

NATO believes ongoing dialogue can help enhance the mutual situational awareness of security developments in the Indo-Pacific region.


While NATO has stepped up cooperation with Indo-Pacific partners in the past few years, observers said the bloc’s expansion is not new nor recent.

The alliance was founded by 12 countries in 1949. Through 10 rounds of accession, it has grown to 32 nations today.

Associate Professor Reuben Wong pointed to the gradual shift of NATO’s objectives. It was set up 75 years ago for the defence of Western Europe. Its focus then shifted to the defence of most of Europe, and is now creeping into the Indo-Pacific.

“While this is good for European security, the expansion also comes with some costs,” said the deputy head of the National University of Singapore’s political science department.

“When you expand a military alliance with no clear military threat, it makes other countries suspicious,” he added.


One such suspicious nation, which has repeatedly voiced and acted on its opposition to NATO’s expansion, is Russia.

“Russia feels that it is being encircled by former Eastern Bloc countries that used to be allies of Moscow, but now they’re part of the Western United States-led bloc. That led to a lot of insecurity,” said Wong.

As more nations – including Ukraine and Georgia – apply to join NATO, Associate Professor Marianne Hanson said that continued expansion is not the answer.

“It is not going to ease Russia’s fears of NATO coming ever closer to its borders. This is something NATO states have to tread very carefully on,” said the associate professor from the University of Queensland’s School of Political Science and International Studies.

She said a better alternative would have been a system that included Russia within the folds of European security from the start.

“There are different options. Pushing NATO repeatedly fails to understand the security fears that are very real in Moscow,” said Hanson.

However, William Courtney, an adjunct senior fellow at American think tank RAND Corporation, said that circumstances have changed for NATO over the years.

Up until Russia’s 2022 full scale invasion of Ukraine, NATO has been relatively “modest” in its response to Moscow’s aggression on countries that were moving closer to the European Union, he said. 

He pointed to Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine’s south in 2014. Both conflicts were not met by strong rebuke from the alliance.

“But now, we see full-on sanctions and military assistance on a much larger scale,” said Courtney, who is also a former US ambassador to Georgia and Kazakhstan.

“Europe sees Russia as a country that may – if it prevails in Ukraine – attack another European country.”

Wong warned that the same reasons fuelling Russia’s insecurity could repeat in the Indo-Pacific region, adding NATO and IP4 should manage their partnerships carefully.

“NATO has to be careful in how it defines its mission. Some statements might not be very good in making sure that other countries in the Asia-Pacific feel secure with NATO’s expansion and its expanded mandate,” said Wong.

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