Should Europe enact its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in a mainly regional framework (and leave the rest for America), or should it adopt a global framework that includes Asia?
James Rogers noted in early 2010 that:
The European Union’s current grand strategy is still in the making. But under Javier Solana’s tenure, it developed increasingly under the rubric of ‘global actor’ or ‘global power’. Many Europeans realised that the old ideas were no longer sufficient and that a new approach was needed. This meant that the European Union needed to acquire and maintain a military capability and engage in geopolitical engineering, especially around the European Neighbourhood. But this approach is limited by the different interests of the Member States and various well-meaning but nevertheless mistaken individuals who would like the European Union to become a ‘normative power’ or focus on something known as ‘human security’. So the ‘global power’ grand strategy is by no means here to stay – it could itself be dislocated by unfavourable events.
According to its (2003) European Security Strategy (EES) the position was clear – the scope would be global:
“…the European Union is inevitably a global player… it should be ready to share in the responsibility for global security and in building a better world.”
Note the ‘should’. After all, this was 2003, when the EES was being adopted in the wake of Atlantic divisions over the Iraq war.
Further into the document, the EES specifies that the European Union needs to:
“both to think globally and to act locally.”
But the ‘region first’ mentality has surfaced in the context of one of those ‘unfavourable events’ James Rogers mentioned – namely the defence cuts brought on as a consequence of budget, fiscal and broader economic crisis. For instance, see comments by the UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff in a recent address to RUSI on the future of the UK’s defence policy. Having asked earlier in the speech:
“How do we respond to China potentially becoming the world’s dominant economic power over the next 40 years? What impact will China’s need to keep its population content have on us? Equally what will the rise of the other BRICs mean for us? Natural allies or hostile competitors?”
he responds that:
” Already our collaboration with countries in the Gulf and Africa has delivered results in the region, for surprisingly little financial, military or intellectual cost. Perhaps we should be focussing our defence relationships on these regions rather than competing for influence, with many others, in China or India?”
His later comment builds on this rationale to de-emphasise alliances or the development of strategic partnerships in Asia:
“…we need a strategic handrail to guide our interactions and focus our efforts. Without such a handrail we risk spreading the jam too thinly, annoying our natural allies for failing to support them properly while wasting our efforts investing in others when they are already well supported by others, often our close partners.”
We are left to infer that ‘close partners’ means the United States and that he means efforts to build alliances concerned with Asia are wasteful because the USA is taking care of it. This reveals some bold and questionable assumptions:
One, of a congruence between US and UK/European interests in Asia.
Two, as for his point on the importance of Africa and the Gulf, if Gen. Richards is suggesting efficiency, measured by ‘bang for your buck’ is a legitimate measure of an alliance’s relative value, then I think he is reinforcing his point about the UK’s need for a strategic ‘handrail’ for making these decisions. There are sound arguments for evaluating the importance of Africa for European security, but to do so at the expense of Asia now seems rather backward-looking.
Others take a very different view from the ‘leave Asia to Uncle Sam’ tone of Gen. Richards and others. James Rogers is among those protesting the insufficiency of attention European strategy gives to the Far East, and has published a strongly argued call to arms for European Security Strategy to take a global view of geostrategic interest and action, in particular with respect to sea lane security ‘from Suez to Shanghai‘.
Contemporary ‘unfortunate events’ related to our economy could tempt some Europeans to retreat from the ambition of a globally scaled frame of reference for its security and defence policy, but would that be wise in the long run? We might need to find satisfying answers to the following questions –
a) can Europeans leave protection of its interests in Asia to the USA? (are interests congruent, is USA capable itself?)
b) can Europeans tackle defence and security issues in their neighbourhood without help from partners and possibly allies in Asia? (are these problems and their solutions really so geographically contained?)