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  • The Role of the EU in Asian Security:Between Transatlantic Coordination and Strategic Autonomy
  • Yong Deng (bio)

Europe, Asia, China, Transatlantic Coordination, United States

[End Page 105]

executive summary

This article examines the struggles of the European Union and the principal European powers to define their security role in Asia and considers the implications for transatlantic cooperation.

main argument

Lack of coordination on Asian security has frequently surprised and frustrated policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic. In several high-stakes instances, such as the EU states' dual-use technology sales to China, participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and reactions to the international tribunal ruling on the South China Sea, the EU seemed to have acted against U.S. policy. The transatlantic alliance has been largely lost in the U.S. pivot and Indo-Pacific strategy. Despite historical dominance, Europe today has limited presence and capacity in the Asia-Pacific region. While the security threats from Asia are hardly existential for the EU or European powers, their economic interests in a connected Eurasia are fast-growing. The EU and its states have long preferred multilateralism and engagement over hard-power logic, which is evident in how they have traditionally dealt with China. But in light of the crisscrossing challenges posed by Asia's rise, Europe can no longer stay above the fray and must assert a role in an evolving Asia-Pacific.

policy implications

  • • Europe's role in Asia has come to a crossroads as it grapples with the new geopolitical and geoeconomic realities of Eurasian connectivity. The crux of the matter is to find the right balance between its traditional alliance with the U.S. and the new imperative for strategic autonomy on Asian issues.

  • • As Europe occupies a pivotal position in the evolving Asian order, careful management of the transatlantic alliance is needed more than ever. Policymakers on both sides should be mindful of the limited European presence in Asia as well as approaches that are distinct from those of the U.S.

  • • The EU and European leaders should think strategically about how to best leverage Europe's unique strengths and visions for an effective role that sustains a rules-based order while managing great-power politics in Asia. [End Page 106]

The transatlantic alliance and cooperative relationship between Europe and the United States have together formed the key pillar of the liberal world order since the end of World War II. The rise of Asia over the last few decades, coupled with the global financial crisis in 2007–8, has allowed the region to challenge the preeminence of Europe and North America. Yet Asia's renaissance has also unsettled regional security dynamics and fundamentally destabilized the international status quo. As the center of global geopolitics has shifted east, the United States has pivoted and strategically rebalanced toward Asia. During the Obama administration, the United States called upon the European Union to join in a coordinated transatlantic response to Asian security. Indeed, Kurt Campbell, former U.S. assistant secretary of state, has declared that the U.S. pivot "is meant to be a pivot to Asia with Europe, not a pivot to Asia from Europe."1 However, even before the Trump administration, the EU had been called a security free rider, and the two sides of the Atlantic "on occasion hindered rather than enabled the other's policy objectives and impeded the realization of mutual strategic interests."2

Some of the inadequacies of the transatlantic alliance are evident in how the EU and European powers have handled the Obama administration's rebalance, China's economic and security globalization in the form of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the Trump administration's nebulous Indo-Pacific strategy. While there is no shortage of communication channels, insufficient institutionalization has beset transatlantic consultations on Asian security.3 By comparison, EU-China dialogue has significantly increased. According to a 2016 European Commission report, "the EU and China are engaged in almost one hundred dialogues and workshops in a typical year."4 This has caught the attention of the Trump administration. Now, U.S. embassies in many European capitals are staffed with China-focused personnel, and "roughly 150 U...


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