Think Tank (2/2021)
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A Pacific Turn? The Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union towards Asia
09 Apr 2021

The European Union is witnessing a “Pacific turn” in its foreign and security policy but not a “pivot to Asia”, argued Assistant Professor Christian E. Rieck, Chair of War Studies at the University of Potsdam.

Prof Rieck was giving a talk titled “A Pacific Turn? The Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union towards Asia” at the RSIS webinar series on multilateralism studies organised by the Centre for Multilateralism Studies.

Noting that EU member states and the European Commission have pushed for an upgrade of their relationship with the Indo-Pacific region, especially with ASEAN, Australia and Japan, Prof Rieck added that competing regional priorities and strategic cultures among the member states, especially in defence, nevertheless make a full-blown pivot to Asia unlikely, if not impossible. For instance, while France is trying to fill the strategic void the Trump administration has left, increasing its defence budget and military readiness, Germany, for its part, is trying to reinvigorate the European Union and NATO as the main arenas for German defence initiatives but is reluctant to increase its defence budget.

On Europe’s approach towards the Indo-Pacific, Prof Rieck highlighted four elements: (i) rebalancing of its relations with China, which is now seen as “partner, competitor and rival”, by pursuing a mix of competition and cooperation; (ii) scaling up of relations with the rest of Asia, especially India and like-minded partners, to offer geopolitical and geo-economic alternatives to Chinese influence without forcing countries to choose between Europe and China (iii) upholding of rules-based orders in the region and beyond; and (iv) connectivity by focusing on physical infrastructure.

Prof Rieck concluded by noting that while the European Union will seek to leverage and enhance member state assets and instruments in pursuing its security and defence policy, it will not be able to fundamentally alter its character as a fractured foreign policy actor. Thus, we will see more “Europe” in Asia in terms of soft power projection but this will not entail more “European power” in hard power terms.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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