Expert Speak Atlantic Files
Published on Apr 05, 2021
Conflicted Coalitions: Discussing the Curious Partnerships Shaping Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific

As we move towards a new global order, we are seeing an increasing development of issues-based alliances or “coalitions of the willing”; this, arguably, is going to be the way for the future. This is especially true for the twin geographies of Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific, which play host to a myriad of shifting and sometimes contradictory partnerships.

While the Indo-Pacific is a union of two maritime geographies, Eurasia is the intersection of two continental and prescriptive spaces. It is interesting to observe that rather than sharp and consistent divisions over ideology and influence, regional powers are developing issue-based alliances with each other. States that cooperate on land can compete at sea, and vice versa.

China, through its Belt and Road Initiative, is aiming to erase the “western” artificial constructed divide between Europe and Asia by solidly defining and managing Eurasia, This has spurred new engagements in both the Indo-Pacific and Eurasia.

In Eurasia, most major alliances have been subregional in nature with the primary vision of shared borders, shared currency, shared security, and shared economy. A significant number of countries remain unconnected from the global economy and supply chain and, in turn, do not have the same kind of global footprint. This has created a situation where rules, institutions, the strategic order, and competition in Eurasia is far less clear and far less predictable.

The European Union (EU) is the largest coalition with a shared vision of environment protection, trade, security, health, social welfare, and democratic principles. The unpredictability around Brexit and a deepening political crisis due to the migrant influx is redefining its evolutionary theme. The Greek, Irish and Spanish economic crises, the Russian resurgence, and a heightened terrorism threat are all creating ‘Eurosceptics’ who are giving considerable attention to the possibility of a ‘multispeed EU’ in which some EU members opt out while those wanting to pursue greater integration in specified areas could remain to refine its agenda.

Europe is becoming more intertwined within itself; the divide between the US and the EU is increasing while Europe and Asia have remained separate ideologically due to their historical social construct rather than simply a physical separation. Russia is building a narrative in the Middle East to have a controlling say in jihadi terrorism and in regional ethnic conflicts. Israeli-Russian relations have never been better -—Saudi Arabia has begun turning to Russia for regional issues, more so than to the US. Russia may introduce new emerging powers to the world — the Russia-China-Iran triangle in Eurasia may create a new future of the world. Russia sees Eurasia as a way to reassert itself as one of the poles in the region and cement its influence in the post-Soviet space amidst emerging rival powers. For Iran, the Eurasia concept is trade within the entire central and eastern European region stretching across to Far East Asia through Russia and China.

The interdependence between Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific has also been consistently growing. The EU-Russia Common Spaces alliance formed on the basis of four shared interests covering economic issues and the environment; issues of freedom and justice; external security, including crisis management and non-proliferation; and research and education including cultural aspects, has not made progress due to Russian overtures in Crimea and Ukraine. The EU and Russia are locked in a normative war over international conduct. Even though the EU members have held an intrusive position in Russian affairs and have remained remarkably united in their assessment of Russia’s authoritarian statism. Experts analyse that the path to winning the overall normative war will not go so much through countering Russia as through improving Europe’s resilience by translating the unity into a political strategy that reflects not just European values, but also Russian realities.

Then there is the emerging Eurasian alliance among Russia, Iran and Turkey and Qatar. Turkey has NATO’s second largest military and is a strategic easternmost member. Qatar has been the US’ largest forward base in the region. Lack of clarity in US foreign policy is telling Iran how to run and govern the country, and Saudi Arabia’s efforts to isolate Qatar have helped Turkey, Iran and Qatar congregate on ideological, geopolitical and economic platforms. This mini-grouping is powerful in its intent and reach in the conflictedand weaponized zones of central and western Asia.

China’s rising economic clout, its maritime, road, rail route infrastructure investments across Asia and Europe, its military modernisation and expansion, and its complex manoeuvres to contest territorial claims in the Indo–Pacific now compete directly with the United States’ military and soft power in the region. The US’ pivot to Asia would not have occurred without China’s surge. While the Western countries try to position China as a rising eastern power, China sees itself as a Eurasian power with influential seapower in the Indo-Pacific and a strong continental power across Central Asia and Europe.

The US has forged coalitions in Eurasia to prevent Russia from assuming the role of a continental superpower again. It wants to control China from becoming a global economic superpower and it wants to contain Iran while continuing to control the Middle East. While the US strategy is to balance and contain China by pushing China’s wary Asian allies into its own arms, only Japan and Australia engage in anti-China balancing through US-led engagements. Singapore has positioned itself as neutral state while the Philippines has adopted the hedging strategy.

The EU’s role in South East Asia and South Asia has largely been in the development and aid donor sectors with focus on institution-building, democracy, good governance, and human rights. Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) forum between the EU and Asia has 53 partners from across Europe and Asia, representing nearly 65 percent of the world’s GDP, 55 percent of global trade and more than 60 percent of the world’s population, but it is yet to contribute anything meaningful to the two regions. Japan and India seek to rebalance the regional order not only against China but with China. On the one hand, India boycotted the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China while on the other, it participated in the China-led Shangri La Dialogue and joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to articulate and expand on its geopolitical conception of the Indo-Pacific and Eurasia in maritime and continental contexts. It is strongly emerging that the large multilateral organisations that dominated the second half of the twentieth century are no longer in a position to steer the Eurasian or Indo-Pacific dialogues. A competition between democracy and authoritarianism with new means of interaction—hybrid and cyber—is taking place in the increasingly globalised world. One cannot exclude the possibility of non-democratic countries being successful and selling the idea of success. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum continues to make the mistake of not including India, while the Saudi led oil groupings exclude Iran. Israel is isolated from several regional and sub-regional groupings. It has spurred these countries to seek new, issue-based opportunities for partnerships and coalitions. There have been discussions around the EU developing defence capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region. However, its ambitions are not clear: Does it want to be a great power, or is it looking at bolstering regional security for its trade lanes? As such, the world is advancing towards post-Western sets of modest ‘minilateral’ coalitions that operate through diffused security structures, informal legal frameworks, and soft trade coalitions that honour and integrate diverse national interests with an eye on balance of trade.

This essay originally appeared in Raisina Dialogue Conference Report 2019
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