Pivoting to Asia and Breaking Away from Europe
The recent contretemps involving the submarine deal between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom is just the beginning of the end of the economic, political, and military alliance between the United States and Europe. The alliance that has existed since the end of the Second World War no longer has any significant relevance for the national security of the United States.
While the alliance between the United States and Europe has lived on beyond the collapse of the Soviet Union; the rise of China, and the economic ties that have grown between Europe and China, have changed the economic and security interests of the United States and of Europe. While Europe depends on the United States for protection from Russia, her refusal to stand with the United States against China works against the alliance continuing. The fact that Europe largely does not pay for its own defense does not help matters.
Europe sees China as a marketplace for its goods and services, despite the practices of China’s authoritarianism and its aggression in the South China Sea.
Europe’s ambivalence towards China’s aggression and its implicit acceptance of the atrocities in Xinjiang have frayed the ties of alliance between the United States and Europe.
The United States sees China not only as an economic competitor but as a strategic opponent. The interests of the two blocs are diverging, and the national security interests of the United States are no longer so closely tied to Europe. Indeed, the Pivot to Asia, announced by the Obama administration is gathering momentum and will only accelerate in the future.
With the United States no longer involved in a life and death struggle against communism in Europe, as well as the United States becoming increasingly involved in the economic and political issues in the Pacific, particularly in Southeast Asia, the United States is deploying more of its resources in Asia, and less towards Western Europe.
The rise of China and its economic ties with Europe
As Lord Palmerston was quoted “Therefore I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Lord Palmerston’s quote is as relevant today as it was then.
Since 2000, the amount of trade between Europe and China has risen to $650 billion per annum. In December of 2020, Europe and China inked an agreement, the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investments. While the EU has prided itself on being a bastion of human rights, the agreement is remarkably silent on the issue of human rights and does not mention the current genocide being practiced by China against the 12 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.
Europe’s economic interests are now more centered on gaining access to China’s billion customers, and Europe is willing to overlook Chinese genocide policies to gain access to that market. It is this dynamic that is changing the security policies of Europe. Today, Europe, which must export its high-end manufactured goods to maintain its economy, is dependent upon exports to the Chinese market.
The United States recognizes this, and acting in its own interests, is turning its face towards Asia and its strategic partners there.
The agreement to provide Australia with eight nuclear-powered submarines, and the forming of a tacit security alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, AUKUS, is not the only alliance forming in Asia.
For some time now, the United States has been quietly assembling an alliance with Australia, Japan, and India. The Quad is officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Formed in 2004, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the original emphasis was on cooperation to deal with natural disasters affecting Asia. With the rise of Xi Jinping and his aggressive expansion of Chinese military power, the Quad has changed into a loose military alliance. With the Quad and AUKUS overlapping, it is conceivable that AUKUS and the Quad could eventually combine. The Quad held its 1st in-person meeting on September 24th in Washington.
In tandem with the increasing cooperation of the Quad, and the sale of nuclear submarines to Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are all upgrading their militaries. Japan has turned two of its helicopter destroyers into light aircraft carriers, with South Korea constructing its own light aircraft carrier. Taiwan on September 16th proposed an emergency increase of defense spending of some $9 billion.
Along with the sale of nuclear-powered attack submarines to Australia by the United States and the United Kingdom, India has authorized the purchase of several conventional diesel-electric submarines. While the United States in the past has declined to allow India to purchase nuclear submarines, that may be coming to an end, given the need India has to confront the growing Chinese submarine threat in the Indian Ocean.
A watershed moment in world politics has been reached. With the unraveling of the United States and European alliance, Europe must now begin to depend more on its own resources. How Europe will react to this parting of the ways is difficult to see, but a consequence of the weakening alliance will have ripple effects in Europe, and towards its relationship with Russia.