Every week leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the international challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Rosa Balfourhead of the Europe in the World Programme, European Policy Centre
In the grand scheme of things, so what if Europe declines and Asia rises? Europe has spent many centuries at the center of events—it need not be there for the entire history of humanity.
What matters are two things: that Europeans are equipped for the future and that they are able to contribute their achievements on the global scene. The European Union needs to invest in the younger generations, on education, research, and development, and generally make Europe a producer of ideas, quality, and excellence. Instead, short-termism prevails and governments are cutting on schools, research, and are letting youth unemployment soar. On the global scene, Europe has much to contribute as an experiment and as a model for integration, peace-building, eroding sovereignty, upholding universal rights, being an example of multilateralism, managing diversity, and of continuous enlargement and integration. These are good ingredients for dealing with global peace and war or, to paraphrase Churchill, no better one has been invented yet.
Fraser Camerondirector of the EU-Asia Centre
Europe has no reason to fear the Pacific Century as long as it puts its house in order and pays more attention to Asia. Many trends, such as demography, are working against Europe, but Asia also has its own problems, including rising nationalism, numerous territorial disputes, growing economic imbalances, and massive environmental degradation. There is an agenda for Europe and Asia to work together, not Europe lecturing Asia about good governance (sic). This includes energy and maritime security, green technology, disaster management, telecommunications, etc. Barroso and Van Rompuy both understand the importance of Asia and plan visits to Indonesia and Vietnam after the next Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). Ashton has started to travel more in Asia, which is an encouraging development. But there is little joined-up policy on Asia linking the European Union and the member states. This is a pressing issue and demands leaders’ attention—once the eurozone crisis has been resolved!
Bates Gilldirector of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Absolutely not. The global shift in geostrategic gravity toward the Asia-Pacific—which has been ongoing for at least two decades—has been and should continue to be embraced by the wisest of Europeans, be they politicians, businesspersons, or citizens. Enormous opportunities await, and Europe has much to bring to the party, not only as investors and traders, but also on issues of socioeconomic development, the rule of law, and even in relation to security affairs and the achievement of peaceful regional neighborhoods. The problem should not lie in "fearing" the Pacific Century, but rather in not recognizing and acting on the opportunities. This would not happen from fear, but rather from poor strategic thinking, lack of confidence and awareness, and inwardly-focused policies. Those latter attributes are the things for Europe to fear, not the Pacific Century.
Daniel Keohanehead of strategic affairs at FRIDE, Brussels
It is not certain that the 21st century will be a predominantly Pacific one, but there is no doubt that the Asia-Pacific region is growing in importance for Europe. Some 28 percent of European Union external trade is with East Asia, five percent more than across the Atlantic. There are at least three aspects of Pacific politics that Europeans should worry about.
First, will China sustain its economic growth rates while avoiding internal instability? Second, the Asia-Pacific region contains numerous territorial disputes, and interstate conflict there could hamper sea-based trade with Europe. Third, if the US is more preoccupied with Pacific security, Europeans may increasingly have to tackle crises in their own neighborhood alone.
Europeans will probably not become major political players in the Pacific, but they should be conscious of the knock-on effects of instability in that region. As an old proverb says: “He who is Lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice”.
Jonas Parello-Plesnersenior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations
Delphi in Greece marks the center of the world. Greenwich near London is the point zero of time. The original meter is stored in France. Europe sets the standard for the world. Its affairs are world politics. Or, that's how it used to be.
The center of gravity is shifting. Delphi has been replaced as navel of the world by islands in the South China Sea. Thus, Asia with rising China in its middle is moving to center stage. The United States is reconfiguring its policy to reflect that. It is pivoting towards Asia and the Pacific. This is where economic growth is. This is also the center stage for the sometimes cooperative, sometimes confrontational power play between the United States and China.
Europeans are currently preoccupied with the eurocrisis and there is little bandwidth for thinking long-term and beyond the crisis. Still, some embryonic strands of thinking about the Pacific Century are distinguishable.
More Asia for the United States could spell less Europe—and less security in Europe. That's what some Europeans fear. Such attitudes can be discerned among Baltic states and Eastern Europeans.
Other Europeans see Asian power politics as remote. Europe should stay at its current level with strong economic and trade engagement—East Asia makes up 27 percent of European Union trade, larger than that with the United States—but a restricted role in Asia on security. That could be designated Europe's splendid isolation. World politics would have moved on to Asia but without Europe as an engaged security actor. Affinity with this can be clearly discerned in Germany, which adopts an almost purely commercial approach to the opportunities of Asia.
Others would like to see the EU take a larger stake in Asia's security. In the last decade, the transatlantic alliance was—for better and for worse—forged by the joint undertaking in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That era is closing. The United States’ new focus is Asia.
The UK has realized that and undertaken its own mini-pivot and is keen to see the EU follow suit.
So EU still has to sort out what role it can and will play in a world where Asian politics are world politics. Just as Asian nations in the 1990s chased access to European-based organizations like the OECD, the EU is now scrambling for a seat at the table in Asia. Europeans aren't getting an invite for the East Asia Summit where the United States and Russia are now invited along.
I would argue that the EU has genuine security interests beyond trade in Asia and could raise a stronger voice.
The shared values with the United States is one such foundation. Still, the EU also has its distinct identity on genuine commitment to multilateral solutions and international law, which could make it a credible interlocutor on South China Sea issues for ASEAN and China alike. Other areas of particular EU-strength could be civilian crisis management and conflict resolution—with one success in Asia in Aceh—and counter-piracy operations.
Gianni Riottamember of the Council on Foreign Relations
Pacific Century may be a cute name for a restaurant, but we live in the Global Century. No fear for Europe at all. Washington will indeed be looking towards China. The Pentagon will gear defense to face Beijing. Yet the rise of Brazil opens up opportunities for Portugal and the EU. Africa, the next giant, reopens the Mediterranean Sea for business to a scale lost since Columbus's trip to America in 1492. Even the opening of safe sea lanes via the North Pole, due to global warming, sets Europe much closer to Asia than ever before. We are still oblivious to the real power of globalization. Europe ruminates in terms of EU-America-Africa-Asia, forgetting the new common tectonic plates colliding against each other. It is not an ocean that will spell trouble for Europe. It is the lack of vision of its leadership; inertia may be more treacherous than a deep sea storm.
Stephen Szaboexecutive director at GMF, Transatlantic Academy
Europe and the United States should reconstitute the Atlantic Alliance in preparation for a world in which the Pacific will play a major, but not decisive role. For all the talk of a Pacific Pivot and the rise of China, the transatlantic community remains a value and interest community. It is still the center of the global economy and its vision of what global institutions and global governance should be remains close. The United States and Europe remain close in their approaches to Syria, Iran, non-proliferation, and a host of other issues, while China, Russia, and to some extent India, remain outliers. If the Pacific states are to be brought into a new and enlarged liberal world order, it will be because the Atlantic community was able to revitalize itself and adapt to the new international milieu. Europe (and America) rather than approaching these changes with fear should get its own house in order and regain its confidence.