Europe & the World Europe abroad

EU-United States: Take advantage of US indifference

6 November 2012
Libération Paris

Whoever takes the White House for the next four years, Europe must face the facts: it is no longer considered a strategic priority by the United States. Europe must therefore reinforce its common defence structures and spearhead decisive diplomatic initiatives towards Russia and the Mediterranean countries, suggests a French commentator.

No matter whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama is elected as the next president of the United States on November 6, he will think Pacific rather than Atlantic; Asia rather than Europe. The most convincing sign of this change is that during their foreign policy debate neither of the candidates mentioned Europe or NATO, substantial allies on which all US diplomacy relied for some seven decades. Because Europe is no longer a strategic problem for the US since the Soviet Union crumbled and because it has no new markets to conquer there, the US has turned all of its attention towards an emerging Asia where it must ensure its industrial position and curb the competing power, China, before it imposes its dominance on its neighbours and rivals in this New World.

Battle of giants

Now that the USSR is confined to the dustbin of history, a battle of giants is beginning between the US and China. It will dominate this century and will modify geo-politics; the West will no longer straddle the Atlantic but will be on the one hand the United States and Asia and on the other Europe and its Eastern and Southern neighbours – two major zones in search of an internal balance that will take a long time to achieve. This does not mean that all solidarity will disappear overnight between the two shores of the Atlantic. A privileged tie will continue but it will constantly be weakened because the US and the European Union will have other priorities than to maintain it.

To counter Asia, the former will have to build an Americas' Front unifying, from Alaska to Argentina, into a single market zone. This would be coupled with a reinforcement of alliances with Japan, Southeast Asia and, if possible, India. The rise in Asian military spending and the redeployment of US troops towards the Pacific as well as the Sino-Japanese stalemate over a few, tiny uninhabited, but disputed islands proves that the manoeuvres have begun. The new century began in the Pacific and is also starting, in parallel, in the basin around that large communal lake – the Mediterranean.

Foundations of a common destiny

Whether it wants it or not, whether it accepts to see it or not, the European Union cannot sustainably count on the military protection of the United States. Not only will it have to build a common defence system, but it is up to Europe to ensure the stability of its borders by weaving solid ties with Russia, Africa and the Middle East, three major neighbours in which changes cannot leave Europe indifferent and which are, in any case, closer to it than America. Russia is regressing under the rule of Vladimir Putin who would like to hitch his country to China so as to consolidate his dictatorship far from European democracy, but this project has no future. Russia needs Europe to prevent Chinese labour and merchants from continuing their rampant annexation of Siberia. The new Russian, urban middle class is looking towards Europe and certainly not towards Asia. The Union must offer a democratic option to Russia by offering it binding ties to Europe so it can call on these when its current impasse is revealed. The same holds true for Africa and in the Middle East. If Europe wants to stabilise the other shore of the Mediterranean, if it wants to accompany the emerging growth in Africa and the first steps of Arab democracy, if it wants to open markets, slow illegal immigration and finally turn the page of jihad it must invest in Northern Africa, in the Arabian Mashriq countries and in sub-Saharan Africa so that they are bound as long-term economic partners. As with Russia, the foundations of a common destiny must be established, which is much more obvious than it would be with China whose own stability is no longer guaranteed. That is where the future of Europe will be determined, just as that of the US will be determined in Asia.

Translated from the French by Pat Brett