Some views on what Obama’s Asia Pivot means for Europe

Sir Malcom Rifkind, (a former British Foreign Secretary)  writes in ‘The Diplomat’ that ‘while the United States’ “pivot” is welcomed by much of Asia, it is causing concern to the nations of Western Europe’. How does he think Europe should react?

He recommends three priorities for Europeans -

  1. Do more for their own security (through increased contributions to NATO and interoperability)
  2. Do some of their own ‘outreach’ to Asia – but his examples are only of economic development  and trade initiatives.
  3. Be happy the US is ‘back’ in Asia because we can ride on their coat-tails.

Considering his present role (chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee), these three seem a bit meagre. (1) is old wine in new bottles. The UK has been playing this tune since before the pivot was a twinkle in Obama’s eye. (2) and (3) are lacking punch in security or diplomatic terms.

Could it be a simple matter of that famous UK Conservative party ‘euro-scepticism’? There is no mention of the EU or its ‘Strategic framework for enhanced partnerships’ with Asian nations, not the EU ‘Strategic Partnership’ with China. His underlying logic seems to be that Europe should not relate directly to Asia except on economic issues, and should channel all strategic/security matters through the US alliance.

Kurt Volker has something to say about that. He wants the United States to apply similar ‘pivot-like’ attention to Europe and to have ‘a global strategy that integrates thinking about both Europe, Asia and other parts of the world‘.

Joe Nye and Dan Drezner argue (for different reasons) that the pivot doesn’t mean any reduction in attention to Europe, but how can that be true? You can’t prioritize everything. Unless you are increasing committed resources, you are in a ‘zero-sum’ game. Obama comitted to maintaining force levels in Aisa, and the USMC deployment to Australia represents an increase. But an increase in US military resources is exactly what we are not expecting. Judging from what the new US Secretary of Defence, told us in October (“we are facing dramatic cuts with real implications for alliance capability”), this will come at the expense of commitments outside Asia, maybe in Europe. US Asia hand Michael Green certainly seems to think so:

‘Polls by the German Marshall Fund show that a substantial majority of Americans now think Asia is the most important region in the world to the United States. Corporations overwhelmingly see Asia as the center of their global growth strategies. Even amidst defense budget cuts, the Pacific Command is being reassured by the administration that force structure reductions will happen in Europe and not Asia’

Or maybe not. David Blumenthal sees it differently, that if this is a pivot ‘away from’ South Asia and the Middle East. He does not mention Europe. But a more general sucking sound can be detected in the European area. The preparations for the NATO Chicago summit give prominence to the idea of ‘Smart Defence’, which means the allies must ‘prioritise, we must specialise, and we must seek multinational solutions’. But remember the speech the old US Secretary of Defence gave before bowing out, about how NATO allies had to get ready to do more for themselves (“smart defence initiatives are not a panacea”)? Washington expects… Welcome to austerity NATO.

So much for the US strategy, but who has a European strategy?

‘Europe Stumbles’ is the verdict of Nicholas S. Siegel, who quotes President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, saying in a speech last week:“The twentieth century was an Atlantic century, while the twenty-first is going to be a Pacific one”. What is he planning to do about it?

According to James Rogers, HermanVon Rompuy’s ideas are “naïve and wrong. Why? Because it ignores the role played by military power”. Rogers suggests Von Rompuy take inspiration from the dedicatee of his speech – Churchillian boldness is the answer:

‘Ultimately, Europeans should come to their senses. There is no such thing as a pax commercium devoid of military power; after all, if looked at over a longer time-frame, trade has not led to peace. Even though international trade has grown rapidly over the past five-hundred years, each century has been bloodier than the last. Instead, as Churchill would have no-doubt counselled, Europeans should look once again at the utility of their armed forces, particularly their ability to mount expeditionary operations in the Indo-Pacific zone, to protect their interests in the event of a regional conflict. They should also seek to deter wars between third powers through the threat of European intervention, and to ‘show the flag’ in order to build confidence among their ‘strategic partners’, some of whom should eventually be co-opted into a full alliance. In short, Europeans should stop their rapid de-militarisation and self-inflicted drive to irrelevance. And then they should work hard to reverse it.’

What would Sir Winston’s fellow proud Tory Sir Malcom say to that?

1 Comment

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One response to “Some views on what Obama’s Asia Pivot means for Europe

  1. SikBeng

    Since those Asian countries which have island disputes with China have found a wholeheartedly sincere friend who is so caring about them and so willing to give them unconditional support by proposing to provide them arms and by showing their muscles in the related sea region, they might as well take the golden opportunity at this special forum in Singapore to ask them for assurance to give them financial aids should China finally boycott them in trade. To them this is more realistic and pragmatic as it is more likely to happen than they being militarily attacked.

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