29 December 2012

Transatlantic Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “Transatlantic Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific,” in Patryk Pawlak, ed., Look East, Act East: Transatlantic Agendas in the Asia Pacific, Report 13 (Brussels: European Union Institute for Security Studies, 18 December 2012), 38–44.


Europe and the United States stand at a critical crossroads as regards their individual positions in the Asia Pacific, and the extent to which they might cooperate with respect to this region. Brussels and Washington, and the democratic polities that they represent, each strive to promote larger universal values, support international institutions and defend the postwar international system and global commons. Both welcome the success, security and prosperity of emerging powers in the Asia Pacific such as China, but also want to ensure that these nations act as stakeholders that build on the existing international system that both sides of the Atlantic have worked so hard to develop. These principles and norms are worth promoting and defending, but this will not happen automatically in Asia – indeed, the US-EU relationship in the Asia-Pacific region contains elements of competition as well as cooperation. Yet it would be a shame for Europe and America to turn inward and focus only on their parochial interests when they have both contributed so much to the postwar world, and when the international system and institutions that underpin international relations will not sustain themselves in a vacuum.

Many US scholars envision a scenario in which US engagement with China becomes more effective as the result of a closer partnership with Europe. It is also in every EU country’s best interest to coordinate policies towards China with the US to some degree, despite temptations for Member States to make decisions at the national level. As the US has come to understand from recent experiences such as the Iraq War, disunity on foreign policy issues remains a fundamental challenge to greater cooperation with Europe. … … …


It will be vitally important to continue to engage with Beijing on issues of mutual interest. Meanwhile, European and US strategic differences in the Asia Pacific are much less significant than shared interests between the two sides. At the same time, China’s economic and political challenges to collective US and EU interests across the security spectrum can no longer be ignored. Working together to address these challenges will produce a result greater than the sum of its parts, and given the contemporary manifestation of security challenges, domestic austerity does not have to preclude meaningful and effective cooperation between nations across the Atlantic vis-à-vis China and the Asia Pacific.

It is essential that the US and its NATO allies do not simply pursue a ‘division of labour’ scenario in which the US handles the Alliance’s Asia-Pacific duties while EU members essentially concentrate resources in regions closer to home. In fact, from an EU perspective it may be desirable to develop a more direct presence in the Asia Pacific to help ensure that the US remains committed to the Alliance’s security interests in other regions that are traditionally perceived as more vital to European security.

Both sides should work to align their support of international organisations and norms to prevent recourse to the use of force to resolve disagreements. A powerful example of this is UNCLOS, the key international forum in which maritime law is being shaped. The US adheres to compatible customary international law, but should ratify it as soon as possible so as to ‘reinforce Europe and US common positions’ and enhance credibility vis-à-vis other international players.

The US and EU should allocate resources to areas within the maritime security realm such as improving international laws on transnational, non-traditional emergencies and contingencies, as well as increasing the frequency and intensity of military exchanges with the PLAN, in particular through each sides’ respective staff colleges.

The US also needs to be honest with itself regarding technology transfer in the space industry as well as in other security-related fields. If it seriously wants to engage the EU on adjusting the current state of dual-use transfers of space technology to China, it must first systematically evaluate its current policies with respect to technology transfer in the global commons.

In order for US-EU policies to complement each other, it is critical that both sides engage in high-levels of information sharing with regard to PLAN developments in the global commons. While the EU has been criticised for ‘free-riding’ off US-gathered information in recent decades, it is time to formally establish a comprehensive transatlantic framework that ensures policies on Asia-Pacific security issues from both sides will be formulated based on parallel threat perspectives and levels of information.


The EUISS is pleased to present the final report prepared in the framework of the research project ‘Look East, Act East: transatlantic strategies in the Asia Pacific’ carried out at the EU Institute for Security Studies since January 2012. The aim of this project was to explore the possibilities for developing a more strategic EU involvement in Asia – both inside and outside the transatlantic partnership. To this end, the EUISS organised a series of meetings with policy makers, diplomats and members of the research community from Europe, the United States and Asia. We also conducted a survey which resulted in the analysis entitled Transatlantic strategies in the Asia Pacific.

The report concludes that, on the whole, the transatlantic partners share similar objectives with regard to the Asia Pacific: nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, free navigation and protection of the global commons, trade liberalisation and multilateralism. Nevertheless, history, geography as well as differences in perceptions contribute to forging two distinct stances vis-à-vis the region. Europe’s focus is on issues related to trade, financial regulation and global imbalances. The United States views the region through different lenses, giving precedence to security and trade issues. The challenge, therefore, is to identify areas where those two positions intersect and could potentially serve as a basis for an effective pursuit of common EU-US interests in the region.