A new report from the EU ISS, “Look East, Act East: transatlantic agendas in the Asia Pacific” is certainly worth a read. In it Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange argue that:
“It is essential that the US and its NATO allies do not simply pursue a ‘division of labour’ scenario in which the US handles the Alliance’s Asia-Pacific duties while EU members essentially concentrate resources in regions closer to home. In fact, from an EU perspective it may be desirable to develop a more direct presence in the Asia Pacific to help ensure that the US remains committed to the Alliance’s security interests in other regions that are traditionally perceived as more vital to European security.”
In the same report, Daniel Keohane proposes that Europe should be ‘a partner not a power’ in Asian security, noting that:
“the EU – as opposed to a few Member States – cannot be expected to play an active military role in East Asia, in part due to the current focus on Europe’s turbulent neighbourhood, but also because of the lack of agreement, interest and military capacities in the 27 national capitals. Instead the EU should focus its military efforts on two things: dialogues with East Asian militaries; and cooperation with East Asian governments outside the Asia-Pacific.”
Keohane’s position seems more realistic, but however well dialogues fill diplomatic diaries, they cannot be an end in themselves. You have to talk about doing something and you can only do that for so long; sooner or later people expect you do actually do it, or they lose interest.
While I can see the advantages of European cooperation with Asian Nations on so-called ‘un-conventional’ security issues, this will only work if as Europeans and EU institutions are seen as particularly competent in operating in these areas. Keohane lists counter-piracy, cybersecurity, maritime security, energy security, the impact of climate change and responding to natural disasters, but are Europeans really in a position to teach Asians much about these things? How about focusing more in issues where there is a greater differential in capability and experience like peacekeeping and how to address security aspects of regional integration. If the military element does not fit into the EU portfolio, then make EU cooperation more about conflict prevention, or negotiating and thinking about how to operationalize a common human security concept.
I agree with Keohane that for now, Europe’s involvement in Asia’s more traditional security issues looks set to be led by a few European Nations (see the previous post). The role of the EU seems limited to setting up a framework to shepheard its members along in a way that none of them do anything egregious in terms of the other members’ interests. If the institutions and the members manage to collaborate then it may yet prove to be an effective double-act.