Policymakers need to be creative in the twenty-first century. New challenges like climate change, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation, to name but a few, transcend traditional borders. Technological developments and the democratization of communication are changing the concept of foreign and security policy. The traditional, separate nation-state is less significant than ever. The security of regions, even those that are geographically distant, is now interdependent.

Recent world events clearly show us how things that happen in one part of the planet can have an immediate impact on the other. For example, the “Arab Spring” occurred in the Mediterranean region but was immediately regarded in Asian countries as a great challenge. A nuclear accident that occurred in the eastern part of Asia shook national politics in Europe. And piracy off the eastern coast of Africa resulted in the participation of aircraft and naval vessels from Asia.

All those challenges are so huge, complex, and diverse in this new borderless world that one state can no longer afford to survive alone by its own traditional means and resources.

Policymakers also realize that in this century, sticking to traditional geographical demarcation has less meaning. What counts more is how to achieve tangible results. How to cooperate and share work with other relevant stakeholders should be the priority of any policymaker in the world.

My suggestion to my colleagues from the European Union is to move away from the traditional approach and try to think of an approach that nobody has ever seriously considered: mainstreaming Asia within the strategic thinking of the EU. Asia includes some of the most dynamic economies and emerging powers in the world. Thus Asia can be a pool of relevant and pragmatic solutions for Europe.

The priorities of EU diplomacy, such as its neighborhood policy, climate change, counterterrorism, the Middle East, development in Africa, anti-piracy, and so forth might be better achieved by involving Asian countries more. Asia and the EU have already cooperated in an ad-hoc way on anti-piracy missions off the coast of Somalia and on counterterrorism in Afghanistan. The question is how we can more steadily do this and how we can extend the area of cooperation.

I would like to give you some examples of the areas where the participation of Asia may be of benefit to the EU.

First, the “Arab Spring.”

Asia may help the EU both politically and economically to find solutions to the challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa. Democratic Indonesia, with a majority Muslim population, may be able to share relevant knowledge from its experience of democratization. The economic recovery process can be done more efficiently by combining initiatives emanating from Asian countries. For instance, a country like Japan has its own initiatives to help the economic and social recovery of the MENA countries.

Second, particular attention should be drawn to the anti-piracy issue.

In the strengthening of maritime law-enforcement capabilities in the region surrounding Somalia, Asian countries could provide the useful expertise they gained from the establishment of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia. In response to the increasing cases of piracy, especially in the Strait of Malacca, a legal framework was established to facilitate an exchange of information on piracy and to enhance the contracting parties’ ability to respond to incidents of piracy. Since the agreement’s entry into force in 2006, there has been a dramatic decrease in incidents of piracy; 242 incidents in 2000 fell to 45 incidents in 2009. A similar regional mechanism could be further developed in the region surrounding Somalia.

Another example is disaster management.

Asia is one of the regions in the world which is frequently affected by natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, typhoons, and so on. A natural disaster and its impact is one of the primary concerns of Asian countries. ASEAN countries are enhancing their coordination to respond rapidly to any disaster. Furthermore, Asian countries are willing to share their expertise and knowledge of natural disasters with the EU. This could add value to the EU’s disaster prevention studies.

The experiences of Asia in the field may also contribute to the planning of future EU rescue operations and allow for the more efficient implementation of current disaster relief activities. Take for instance the use of the military for disaster relief. This is a difficult subject among EU member states. However, Asia’s experiences prove that the use of the military in this context can be efficient. A country like Japan, which has a unique Self Defense Force, can demonstrate how the use of military logistics for disaster relief is appreciated by its public.

To continue the list of potential areas of cooperation with Asia, we simply need to have a look at the agenda from the Asian side. At the July East Asia Summit’s Foreign Ministers Meeting in Indonesia, the ministers pointed out issues which might affect the stability and security of the Asian region, including:

  • the possibility of a new global financial crisis;
  • denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula;
  • maritime issues, including maritime security and safety, freedom of navigation, and the peaceful settlement of disputes in a transparent manner and in accordance with international law;
  • nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament;
  • trafficking of persons;
  • sharing of democratic values;
  • climate change; and;
  • the environment.

If one examines these issues, it is clear that both the EU and Asia prioritize the same things.

Japan and the EU have started a scoping exercise to expand their cooperative relations in parallel with an economic partnership agreement. It may encompass all aspects of political cooperation between Japan and EU. In other words, this is an ambitious attempt by Japan to mainstream the EU in its foreign policy.

This agreement will surely be an opportunity for European policymakers to move away from le sentier battu regarding Japan. Our relations were too much inclined to the economic and purely centered on trade. The negative experience during this difficult period of trade friction still haunts our relations. We need to reevaluate our relations to fulfill the requirements of the twenty-first century.

My dear European friends, Asia may provide a new kind of thinking to realize solutions to the borderless challenges of this century. How about mainstreaming Asia in your strategic thinking?

Norio Maruyama is Ambassador for political affairs at the Mission of Japan to the European Union. This article is the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official view of the Government of Japan.

To reinvigorate debate over European foreign policy and Europe’s role in the world, Carnegie Europe is publishing a series of essays from leading policymakers, diplomats, experts, and journalists on Strategic Europe over the coming weeks. A new essay will appear every day.