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Summary: The pivot to Asia is far from being a new trend in U.S. foreign policy, since the United States has always had strategic interests in the region. However, the balance of power in both Europe and the Asia-Pacific region has changed, and that will require that the transatlantic partners adapt to the new security architecture by adopting a new method of burden-sharing. But how will Europe react to this need, given its seeming lack of resolve in taking its own responsibilities?
What the Pivot Means for Transatlantic Relations: Separate Course or New Opportunity for Engagement?
by Robert S. Ross
The U.S. “pivot to Asia” reflects three strategic considerations that combine to fundamentally affect U.S. security, the U.S. strategic presence in Europe, and transatlantic cooperation. First, the pivot reflects the enduring U.S. post-Cold War concern over of the rise of China for security and the balance of power in the AsiaPacific. The United States began to shift its strategic focus to Asia in the aftermath of the 1996 Taiwan Strait confrontation. In 1997, it transferred its first Los Angeles-class submarine from Europe to Guam. The Clinton and George W. Bush administrations then deployed advanced U.S. weapons system to East Asia, including the F-15, F-16, and F-22 fighter planes; the B-1 and B-2 bombers; the Los Angeles-class and the Virginia-class attack submarines; and the converted Ohio-class cruise missile submarine. The U.S. Navy designated a second aircraft carrier for operations in Asia. As early as 2005, the U.S. Department of Defense planned the deployment of 60 percent of U.S. submarines to Asia. Thus, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan only marginally affected U.S. budget allocations for East Asia; the wars were primarily funded by congressionally funded quarterly supplemental budgets, so that the regular annual defense budget has continued to increase at prior rates. Since 1997, the United States has also bolstered cooperation with its regional security partners. U.S.-Japan defense cooperation significantly expanded during the Clinton and Bush administrations, including cooperation regarding the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and in preparation for conflict in East Asia. In 1999, Singapore opened its Changi naval facility, which was designed to receive a U.S. aircraft carrier. The United States also expanded naval cooperation with Malaysia and Philippines. Since the 1990s, the United States and Australia have cooperated in the expansion of satellite communication and reconnaissance facilities in northern Australia. Second, the U.S. pivot to East Asia not only reflects the greater challenges to U.S. security in East Asia than in Europe, but also the magnitude of China’s potential capabilities. In contrast to the Soviet Union’s economy, China has a robust economy driven by market forces and its deep involvement in the global economy, a rapidly developing advanced education system, and a
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comprehensive long-term military development program. Projecting forward, should the Chinese leadership be able to sustain effective economic policies, it will have the ability to pose a more determined long-term challenge to U.S. security than the former Soviet Union. China will not be as vulnerable as the Soviet Union to the costs of a protracted military competition or the domestic changes of a polyglot empire. Long-term Chinese economic growth and military modernization will require the United States to expend significant resources to maintain the East Asian status quo in a protracted U.S.-China competition. Third, whereas the rise of China will pose a more formidable long-term challenge to U.S. security and economic resources than the Soviet Union did during the Cold War, the United States will not be able commit a similar share of its national wealth to defense. As a more mature economy, U.S. GDP growth will not equal its GDP growth from the 1950s through the Reagan administration and the end of the Cold War. Moreover, the non-discretionary social welfare demands on the federal budget are far greater today than during the Cold War,. In the 21st century, the United States faces greater political constraints on its ability to increase defense spending. Since 1962, the share of entitlements in the federal budget has increased from 31 percent to 62 percent, while the share of defense spending has fallen from nearly 50 percent to less than 19 percent. The combined effect of these three strategic factors prevents the United States from maintaining stability and the balance of power in East Asia as well as in Europe; the United States cannot be the Cold War superpower that simultaneously contended with security challenges in two distant regions. Thus, the U.S. transfer of much of its defense capabilities to East Asia has necessarily significantly diminished its strategic presence in Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has reduced its troops in Europe by 85 percent and it will carry out additional significant reductions by the end of 2014. The U.S. Air Force has closed two-thirds of its European bases. It has been over two decades since a U.S. carrier battle group has conducted exercises in the North Atlantic. This reduction of U.S. military presence in Europe is reflected in U.S. defense planning. Whereas during the Cold War, the United States prepared to fight two and onehalf wars simultaneously, the 2012 U.S. Defense Posture Review stated that the U.S. military is “committed to a large scale operation in one region and…denying the objectives
— or imposing unacceptable costs on — an opportunistic aggressor in a second region.” The U.S. military does not plan for war against a major adversary in the European theater. The U.S. preoccupation with the East Asian theater presents a major challenge to transatlantic cooperation and the continuing relevance of NATO in the 21st century. To adjust to these changes, the transatlantic partners will need to develop a new approach to burden-sharing that reflects both U.S. and European common security interests and the respective military abilities of the United States and Europe. Europe cannot cooperate with U.S. security efforts in East Asia. European countries have been unable to make valuable contributions to post-Cold War security crises in Europe and the northern Mediterranean, and their ability to project strategic power to East Asia is close to non-existent. And, in fact, the United States does not expect European defense cooperation in East Asia. Washington’s efforts to enhance the contribution of its strategic partners to U.S. security in the Asia-Pacific have focused on Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Australia. The United States has not sought European assistance in managing the North Korean development of nuclear weapons nor in responding to Chinese maritime activities in the South China Sea. European efforts in concert with the United States to influence Chinese policy on such issues as the global environment, cyber security, international trade, and governance in the developing world will contribute to U.S.-European cooperation. But it is not at all clear, for example, that the United States and European possess common interests in economic cooperation. Regarding the Chinese economy, the United States and Europe are competitors for market share. Their economic interests in China may contribute to U.S.-EU conflict rather than cooperation. Most importantly, the U.S. pivot to East Asia is primarily a security initiative, while cooperation on the environment, trade, and governance affects security cooperation at the margins — at most — so that such cooperation cannot substitute for U.S.-European defense cooperation in transatlantic
The United States does not expect European defense cooperation in East Asia.
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relations. More generally, Europe lacks the leverage in East Asia to contribute to U.S. efforts to cooperate with China on cyber security, governance in the developing world, and other global issues. Aside from intra-European issues, China seems to all but ignore the European countries as political actors. If Europe is to contribute to sustained transatlantic cooperation and to the relevance of NATO, it will have to compensate for the U.S. preoccupation with Asia with a greater contribution to common vital U.S.-European security interests in Europe and on the European periphery. Europe’s most vital security interests concern political instability and the regional balance of power, including the likely long-term challenge posed by the re-emergence of Russian military power. For the United States, these are also vital security interests. The United States and Europe also have common security interests in the northern Mediterranean. Europe has the potential to meet these challenges without U.S. leadership. A modern European rapid deployment capability, either developed by the EU or independently by the larger European states, could take the lead in quelling northern Mediterranean crises. Russia may emerge as a challenge to European stability, but will not have the overwhelming capabilities of the Soviet empire. Europe can manage Russian power today much the way Europe managed Russian power in the 19th century. In so doing, Europe would contribute to both U.S. and European security and make a vital contribution to transatlantic cooperation. But to contribute to a new model of transatlantic burden sharing, Europe will have to change. First, the major European countries will have to reform their economies to enable them to fund an adequate defense capability. Britain and France spend less than 2.5 percent of GDP and 2.0 percent of GDP on defense, respectively, and the rate continues to fall. German defense spending is approximately 1 percent of its GDP. U.S. defense spending is over 4.5 percent of GDP. Second, European countries will have to develop the resolve to assume leadership in security affairs. Despite frequent calls over the past 15 years by the European Council for Europe to “assume its responsibilities” for security and defense by developing a European Rapid Reaction Force, there has been minimal progress. Military acquisitions and defense readiness required for European security
demand a significantly greater European commitment to European defense. At the end of World War II, the United States and Europe established transatlantic cooperation on the foundation of their common security interests. In the 21st century sustained and vital cooperation is possible only through continued security cooperation. Given the realities of U.S. interests in East Asia and its limited capabilities and Europe’s unrealized capabilities, the prospects for transatlantic cooperation will depend on Europe’s contribution to its own security. The alternative is drift and decay in transatlantic relations and European instability. European leadership in the defense of Europe is a realistic objective and is the prerequisite to transatlantic cooperation, but it will require Europe to develop adequate resolve to devote the resources necessary.
About the Author
Robert S. Ross is a professor of political science at Boston College and an associate at the John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has offices in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, Warsaw, and Tunis. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.
Dr. Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer Director, Paris Office German Marshall Fund of the United States Tel: +33 1 47 23 47 18 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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