Japan, which invented the modern geopolitical concept of the Indo-Pacific, is on its way to changing the way we think about Asia-Europe relations. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s message during his trip to Europe last week was straightforward: the security of Europe and the Indo-Pacific are inextricably linked. Kishida is determined to forge a stronger military partnership with Europe, building on the ideas of his predecessor, the late Shinzo Abe. Japan is not acting alone in this endeavour. South Korea, which hasn’t always agreed with Japan, is getting in on the act by raising its profile in Europe. Seoul, for example, is selling major weapon platforms to Poland. Australia, which has joined the United States and the United Kingdom in the AUKUS agreement, is equally eager to bring Europe into the Indo-Pacific. Japan, South Korea, and Australia are working together to bridge the gap between Asia and Europe, which have long been viewed as separate geopolitical theatres. Russia’s war in Ukraine, as well as the alliance between Moscow and Beijing, has accelerated this process.
This new dynamic presents India with both challenges and opportunities. But first, consider the emergence of a new Eurasia.
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin altered the geopolitical dynamics in Eurasia before Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol travelled to Europe. Days before ordering his forces into Ukraine, Putin travelled to Beijing last February to sign an agreement declaring it “without borders” and not a “forbidden zone”. China, which has largely succeeded in developing Europe since the 1990s, has avoided taking sides in Europe’s conflicts with Russia on purpose. On the eve of the Ukraine war, however, xi chose to side with Moscow, blaming NATO for the crisis. Xi most likely agreed with Putin’s assessment that the West is not only deeply divided, but also in terminal decline. They may have also bet that Putin’s success in Europe would significantly improve China’s chances of achieving long-desired dominance over Asia.
Putin and Xi unveiled a Eurasian alliance that they hoped would pave the way for the West’s long-awaited return to global hegemony. Instead, it strengthened the Western alliance in Europe while also laying the groundwork for a new kind of Eurasia – an alliance between China’s East Asian neighbours and Russia’s West European neighbours.
The concept of Eurasia is not new. Many people used it as a neutral term to describe the vast landmass that connected Europe and Asia. Despite continental continuity, Europe and Asia emerged over time as distinct political and cultural regions. Russia, which straddles the region, saw itself as both a European and an Asian power but found it difficult to integrate into either. When Soviet Russia’s efforts to integrate with the West failed in the 2000s, it created “Eurasia” and “Greater Eurasia” as new geopolitical constructs. Putin’s Eurasian strategy included consolidating former Soviet space, regaining influence in Central Europe, forging a strong alliance with China, and limiting Western influence in the continental heartland. Putin’s “Russky Mir,” or his historic mission to reunify the Russian world, includes the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Despite the high costs of the strategy, he was determined to pursue it.
The unintended consequences of Putin’s Eurasian strategy, particularly NATO expansion, have received considerable attention. The impact on Asia, however, has been equally dramatic. This has never been more important than in Japan.
Tokyo was quick to recognise the significance of the Sino-Russian alliance and the Ukraine conflict for Asian security. Caught in bilateral maritime territorial disputes with China and apprehensive of Beijing’s possible invasion of Taiwan, PM Kishida declared “Ukraine could be the future of Asia”. Since then, he has helped to forge a new consensus in Tokyo to fundamentally reshape Japan’s security policy. This includes a plan to more than double annual defence spending from $50 billion to $100 billion over the next five years. To deter China, Japan would also build a large missile arsenal (and North Korea, whose missile capabilities have increased). Tokyo wants to revitalise its domestic defence industry while also increasing military capability on China’s periphery through arms exports.
Some attribute Japan’s stronger defence posture and new security engagement with Europe to the country’s desire to reduce its strategic reliance on the US. Quite the contrary. The United States remains the cornerstone of Japanese security policy. Washington is pressuring Japan to adopt a comprehensive defence posture and assume greater responsibility for Asian regional security.
Major Asian partners were invited to the NATO summit in Madrid in June at the request of the United States. The summit was attended by the Prime Ministers of Australia, Japan, and New Zealand, as well as the President of South Korea. This is the first time Asian leaders have taken part in NATO discussions. This is not a one-time occurrence. NATO’s involvement in Indo-Pacific issues, as well as East Asia’s involvement in European security, will remain novel features of Eurasian geopolitics. The Biden administration expressed a desire for greater cooperation among its European and Asian allies and partners in its national security strategy, which was released late last year. Washington has finally admitted that it cannot secure Europe and Asia on its own. It is eager to encourage its allies, including India, to strengthen their capabilities and balance of power in Europe and Asia.
The rise of Eurasia makes it difficult for India to ride two boats at the same time. Until now, India could easily hunt with the Quad maritime alliance in the Indo-Pacific region while also hunting with the continental alliances led by Russia and China. If marine and continental powers did not collide, this was achievable. However, the conflict between the United States, Europe, and Japan on the one hand, and China and Russia on the other, is now intensifying and shows no signs of abating.
On the downside, India’s growing security challenges from China along its Himalayan border, as well as the tightening embrace between Moscow and Beijing, will cast a darker shadow over the country’s continental strategy in the coming days. On the contrary, the prospects for strengthening India’s strategic capabilities in collaboration with the United States and Europe, as well as Japan, South Korea, and Australia, have never been better. Delhi must now seize possibilities.