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November 15, 2011 |  8 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Chris Ogden

Strong US-EU Ties Key to Balancing Asia

Chris Ogden: The European Union and the United States share a myriad of interests in the Asia-Pacific, from global governance concerns to engagements on free trade, and, despite the US’s geographic claim, they face the same challenges as outsiders. In a region where bilateral strategic partnerships are essential, the most important one may be between the US and Europe.

In an era where global forces and interactions now form a critical part of diplomacy and national security for all major and emerging powers, the need for rehabilitated engagement of the Asia-Pacific is only emboldened. Apart from containing the Chinese and Indian powerhouses, in the next decades the region will have a key influence in decisions concerning the global governance of climate change and environmental pollution, as well as combating transnational threats such as disease, smuggling and migration. Its waterways are also critical in terms of both economic and energy security. This means that being strongly and proactively involved in the region is just as critical to the EU as it is to the US.

Crucial to our consideration of the US’s renewed interest in the Asia-Pacific is how that region’s largest rising powers regard the international system and their place within it. Here, both China and India share the same vision of an emergent multipolar world. Underpinned by the use of selective, multiple and, importantly, simultaneous bilateral (and potential trilateral) strategic partnerships, this order commonly consists of the US, the EU, China, India and Russia. Within such a global makeup, the emphasis rests much more upon cooperation and co-dependence than dichotomy or schism, and upon economic and soft power rather than military balances of power and materiel.

Consider: while the US military presence in Asia is well documented, the US track record of multilateral engagement is patchy. Take the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) for example. Formed in 1954, and consisting of a patchwork of states that included (among others) France, Pakistan and Australia, it failed to thrive primarily through a lack of shared cultural background, collective identity and common aim – facets that have proved historically critical to the formation of both the EU and NATO. More widely, regional engagement in the Asia-Pacific has been most successful through economic regimes as they are more transparent, with clearer gains and reduced risks. Because of this, the emergence of a multilateral security regime in Asia-Pacific that is comparable to NATO appears unlikely in the coming decades.

While it may appear troublesome for the EU and NATO to hear of Hillary Clinton’s discussion of “America’s Pacific Century”, it’s important to note the EU has itself been gradually developing closer relations with the Asia-Pacific. It has Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Asia-Pacific powers such as South Korea, Chile and Mexico and is currently negotiating further regional agreements with ASEAN, Canada, India, Malaysia and Singapore. In 1996, it also instituted the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which now meets biannually to discuss issues pertaining to political dialogue, education and culture, and most critically, international security and economic cooperation. Here the US and the EU are intertwined as they both seek further Asia-Pacific engagement in order to bolster their strategic interests through the diversification of their global interactions.

Overall, increasing engagement by both the US and the EU in the Asia-Pacific regions highlights how both entities essentially face the same challenge. Although the US can claim to be part of the region through its geography, spurs towards regional multilateral regimes will come almost solely from the region’s emerging great powers. Moreover, regional security regimes will be led by those in the region and be based upon norms that originate within the region, having important repercussions on debates concerning human rights and democracy but also critically economic development. Dependent upon how virulent the coming economic pandemic becomes, Asia’s influence will only rise in the coming decades, and the US and the EU will need to engage more with her in order to protect their interests. This engagement is reflective of an emerging multipolar world where state interests are currently being re-balanced as the global system is gradually re-ordered. Protecting and sustaining strong EU-US relations will be as much a part of this embryonic architecture as stronger US-Asia or EU-Asia ties.

Chris Ogden is Lecturer in Asian Security at the University of St Andrews. His research interests concern the relationship between national identity, security and domestic politics in East Asia (primarily China) and South Asia (primarily India), as well as the analytical uses of social psychology in International Relations.

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Tags: | East Asia | ASEAN | Asem | EU-Asia | NATO | seato | free trade agreement |
 
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Greg Randolph Lawson

November 15, 2011

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Europe's role in Asia is looking to be limited absent a successful fix to its economic woes. A breakdown of the EU, or even a major period of internal distraction defending the EU (or some type of successor like mechanism for organizing the continent) will keep Europe on the sideline in Asian politics. Even if China were to invest massively in Europe, this will still keep it peripheral.

The reality is that Europe has accidentally taken itself out of the big picture for the time being and needs to get its own house in order, lest it become an appendage to Asia rather than a defining actor capable of balancing with the U.S.
 
Jason  Naselli

November 15, 2011

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Thanks for your comment Greg.

You say that Europe needs to get its own act together or it is in danger of becoming a side player rather than a main actor. But isn't an inward looking policy just the self-fulfilling version of that?

If Europe waits to engage in Asia, opportunities may pass it by and the US and China will assert their own policies with no regard for the European agenda. As some of the other articles this week make clear, Europe could take a first step by simply ATTENDING these big Asian meetings and being in the room... that doesn't require massive investment, and yet it is lagging behind on even the simplest steps.
 
Greg Randolph Lawson

November 15, 2011

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Jason:

You raise a legitimate point. There is a risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but that prophecy may already be baked into the pudding irrespective of what Europe does. I agree that attending the conferences is a low cost way of keeping a seat at the table, though it is difficult to envision having much of a voice under present trends.

The European political landscape is quite possibly on the verge of a huge shift against the consensus that has underpinned it for over a generation. It is almost inevitable that it will miss opportunities because it will increasingly be unable to exploit them no matter its desire.

I am not sure all Europeans understand the full magnitude of its challenges (though I am confident the same can be said for Americans on this side of the Atlantic as well- so no schadenfreude).

I suppose, my point is that Europe must resolve its internal contradictions first, distractions will prolong what will inevitably be a painful process.

Statesmanship is about choosing between conflicting, often very worthwhile and necessary, priorities. Trying to do too much means nothing gets done well. A decaying EU structure will not be able to balance well between the U.S. and the reasserting "East." Indeed, it might become a black hole for political competition between the two main powers in what is shaping up to be a non-polar, as opposed to a multipolar, world.
 
Unregistered User

November 15, 2011

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A necessary perspective indeed!
 
Jason  Naselli

November 16, 2011

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I hear what you're saying Greg, but by the same token, couldn't foreign policy goals be one of the unifying factors for a European Union those domestic issues are getting more and more divisive? The case for Europe often made in the UK is the economic case, that the EU and by extension its member states will be left behind without the EU economic functions. Obviously, those now need to be reformed, but it doesn't mean the larger point of acting as a whole economically is wrong. Rather than trying to do too much, perhaps it could be the focused goal the European economic system needs.

Also, what do you mean by a "non-polar" world? That is an interesting theoretical idea.
 
Jordan  Becker

November 16, 2011

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I think examining the Asia - EU - US relationship through the lense of Richard Haass's notion of "non-polarity" is a useful approach here. As global power (hard, soft, smart or otherwise) becomes more diffuse, it seems to me that transatlantic cooperation becomes more, and not less, important. Competition between the US and Europe for economic or security engagements in Asia seems unhelpful at best - a point I think Chris makes in his concluding sentence.
My question for Greg relates to polarity and balancing - when you refer to Europe as a "defining actor capable of balancing with the US," do you mean balancing against rising Asian powers with the US, or balancing against the US, or something different?
 
Greg Randolph Lawson

November 16, 2011

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Jordan:

My notion of balancing would be with respect to the rising Asian powers. I do not necessarily think that it would be a military balancing. In fact, any military balancing that might be needed would need to be amongst Pacific powers and in a regional format.

However, economic balancing appears more important now than ever. A free-trade Atlantic area might bolster political ties and keep the "West" more unified in a certain way (as best as can be given what I envision and detail below). In the context of a clearly discernible shift of power to Asia, this would seem to be something the Atlantic region would need to do to retain a real seat at the table (as opposed to simply being tolerated but largely ignored).

Jason:

I take your point as well.

Ultimately, I am pessimistic about a unified European project. I do not think a pure economic calculation will be enough to pull it all together.

I think we are going to return to a Europe more like the post Napoleonic era (obviously this is a stretched metaphor, so don't take it too literally). It will be a long-term process, but disunity is the European norm from a broad historical perspective. While a lot of things have changed, including the embracing of cosmopolitan values by elites, I don't think that permeates into the average citizen when the chips are down. I think populism still wins the day when the economic tide is out and all boats are sinking rather than rising. The elites clearly would agree with you. The people less so, even if they are wrong from a purely rational standpoint.

Existentially speaking, Europe must find out what its true soul is. Is it "Europe" or is "French," "German," "Greek," "Italian," "Spanish," etc. The people now know to be "European" means giving up to some degree those identities. Economic calculation may not be enough to induce them to do so.

Sorry for the long post.
 
Jason  Naselli

November 16, 2011

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Greg,

Interesting that you talk of an Atlantic free trade area, when in fact what Obama is currently attempting is the construction of a broad Pacific free trade area, and one imagines one of the key thoughts behind this plan is that it will ingratiate the US further into the Pacific system economically... in some ways, its a variation of how China has tried to project its power, not militarily but through economic leverage. To borrow from a different situation (and region), once you get "too big to fail" for certain economic areas, you de facto have a seat at the table.

All the more reason why Europe must be engaged in Asia. Without that leverage, they will miss out on the potential US-led free trade area and miss out on the evolving economics of the region. Asia is a key market for the EU and while we're talking in some of the article about whether or not the relationship should go beyond trade, I think without engagement, even the trade portion is in peril.

As for European unity, you are right that people still define themselves as French, German, Italian, etc... and that's all well and good for football fandom, but, as much as Europeans may be skeptical of their partners, so long as the EU gives publics a better economic outlook (and I think it still does), they will vote with their wallets and grudgingly keep it.
 

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