In the Eastern Indian Ocean

Berlin Think-Tank promotes EU operations in the "Indo-Pacific" and proposes rapprochement with the "Quad" pact in confrontation with China

BERLIN (Own report) - Germany and the EU should expand their future military activities in the Indian Ocean and extend their naval presence not only in the western sector - at the Horn of Africa - but in the eastern sector of the ocean, as well, according to the Berlin office of German Marshall Fund of the United States. The think tank considers close cooperation with India and possibly with the "Quad" ("Quadrilateral Security Dialogue") pact, in confrontation with China, as the appropriate means of extending the EU's military influence to South East Asia. Quad is a loose alliance made up of the United States and Australia with two traditional rivals of China - Japan and India. Since its revival in the fall of 2017, experts have repeatedly proposed that the EU or individual EU members join Quad. The EU would thus militarily position itself in confrontation with Beijing. The deployment of a warship to the Indian or to the Pacific Ocean is currently in discussion in Berlin.

The Origins of Quad

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), repeatedly referred to in discussions on expanding Germany and the EU's military activities in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, was originally founded in May 2007. Quad is a loose alliance comprised of the United States, Japan, Australia and India, aimed at China. Tokyo is Beijing's main traditional rival in East Asia, whereas New Delhi sees itself as the People's Republic of China's main opponent throughout Asia.[1] Already in September 2007, the Quad member states held their first major joint naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal ("Malabar 07-2"), involving more than 20,000 military personnel, 28 vessels and 150 aircraft.[2] In 2008, Australia suspended its collaboration, when the Labor Party was elected to power. Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had been banking on closer economic cooperation with Beijing. This cooperation hampered his country's continued participation in the anti-Chinese Quad alliance.

Revival 2017

Military cooperation against China had already gathered new momentum under President Barack Obama. In 2014, Washington and New Delhi again included Tokyo in their annual "Malabar" naval exercises. The Malabar series began already in the 1990s as a bilateral Indian-US-American project. Since 2015, it has been formally organized on a trilateral basis, with Japan's inclusion. In November 2017, the Quad also met again for the first time. In December 2017, the United States' new National Security Strategy stated: "We will seek to increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India."[3] At times, US military personnel seemed skeptical about Quad's prospects, which had not organized a joint military exercise or other prominent operations since its revival. Strategists, however, point out that the loose alliance is based on intensive bi- and trilateral cooperation of the four participating states, with India having re-joined.[4] In India, demands to expand the "Malabar" maneuvers again to the Quad format are now also being raised.[5]

Strategic Partner

At the same time, the expansion of the Quad to include European powers is being repeatedly suggested. Already in October 2017, when he officially proposed resuming his country's quad cooperation, Japan's Foreign Minister Tarō Kōno, sounded out his British and French counterparts on a possible „collaborative role“ with the 'Quad. In November 2017, in the wings of the Asia Pacific Conference of German Business in Perth, Australia, the Indian foreign policy expert, Brahma Chellaney was promoting European participation: "Many European ambassadors found it a good idea," he later reported.[6] In March 2018, the Paris-based European Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) suggested closer cooperation, after all, the Union is vitally dependent on maritime traffic to eastern Asia and "all four members of the Quad are Strategic Partners of the EU."[7] In the meantime, Berlin and Brussels have, begun to intensify cooperation in arms production and military policy with individual Quad members. This is above all the case for Australia,[8] to a certain extent also with Japan,[9] and with India.[10]

Rapprochement with the Quad

A new initiative toward the Quad is being launched by the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). According to a recent publication of the think tank, "the debate in Europe" on China is aligning with "that in the Quad countries." The Quad countries see themselves as strategic rivals of the People's Republic of China. The rapprochement can clearly be seen, according to GMF, in the EU's characterization of China as a "systemic rival and economic competitor."[11] The EU's new strategy for India, sees that country as one of the "decisive pillars of a multipolar Asia" and a counterweight to China. The Union is also closely cooperating with Japan within the framework of its "connectivity strategy." The "connectivity strategy" is meant to facilitate the development of infrastructure between Europe and Asia. This is conceived as a counter-project to China's New Silk Road. ( reported.[12]) The EU is also investing an increasing amount of resources and capacity into establishing a foreign and military policy presence in South, Southeast, and East Asia and the western Pacific.

Joint Operations

The GMF is now pushing for significantly intensifying cooperation with the Quad and its member countries. This could be done at various levels. Conceivable would be the infrastructure development with the Quad countries rivaling China's New Silk Road.[13] There could also be a joint effort in opposition to China's influence operations. It is conceivable to repel the Chinese company Huawei from the 5G network in close cooperation. Above all, however, military policy measures should be taken into consideration. With Operation Atalanta off the Horn of Africa, the EU already has a presence in the western Indian Ocean. There is plenty of scope for greater European engagement, particularly with India, in securing the eastern Indian Ocean as well. In addition, together with the Quad members, links could be established to third countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, also in military policies. Individual EU members are already quite active in this region.

Undesirable Polarization

In fact Quad could significantly escalate tensions and spread instability in Asia. As shown by a current poll published by Singapore's think tank ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, the fear of becoming the theater, where conflicts between China and the United States will be fought out, is among the main worries of Southeast Asia's elites. Only 3.1 percent consider it desirable to choose a side in this conflict. The Quad is considered a highly polarizing factor. If forced to choose between the USA and China, the elites of only three countries would choose the USA - those of the Philippines, of Singapore and of Vietnam.[14] The EU, according to this study, enjoys a quite good reputation among ASEAN elites, in spite of all its internal conflicts. The EU may possibly be in a position, to mitigate reservations within ASEAN toward the Quad.

Not Yet Decided

At the same time, Berlin continues to discuss the deployment of a warship to the Indian or the Pacific Ocean. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer commented on this in November.[15] Her ministry then confirmed to journalist Björn Müller that "possibly the South China Sea" may be where a frigate could be deployed.[16] Officially, of course, nothing has been decided.


Please watch our video column: War against China (English translation).


[1] See also China's Rival.

[2] Kitty Hawk, Allies Complete Malabar Exercise. 10.09.2007.

[3] National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Washington, December 2017.

[4] Patrick M. Cronin: US Asia Strategy: Beyond the Quad. 09.03.2019.

[5] Sudarshan Shrikhande: Extending India's navy ties: Making Exercise Malabar a quartet that includes Australia. 14.01.2020.

[6] "Wir dürfen China nicht gewähren lassen". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 06.04.2018.

[7] Eva Pejsova: The Indo-Pacific. A passage to Europe? European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) Brief. Paris, March 2018.

[8] See also The Transpacific Cold War.

[9] See also Rüsten gegen China.

[10] See also Chinas Gegenspieler.

[11] Garima Mohan: Europe in the Indo-Pacific: A Case for More Coordination with Quad Countries. GMF Policy Brief No. 1, 2020.

[12] See also Die Anti-Seidenstraße.

[13] Garima Mohan: Europe in the Indo-Pacific: A Case for More Coordination with Quad Countries. GMF Policy Brief No. 1, 2020.

[14] ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute: The State of Southeast Asia: 2020. Survey Report. Singapore 2020.

[15] See also The Germans to the front.

[16] Marine plant Entsendung einer Fregatte in den Indo-Pazifik. 26.11.2019.