News | June 1, 2014

The U.S. “Rebalance” and Europe: Convergent Strategies Open Doors to Improved Cooperation

By Leo G. Michel and James J. Przystup Strategic Perspectives 16


Executive Summary

The U.S. strategic “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific region has captured the attention of our European allies and partners. When the strategy (initially described as a “pivot to Asia”) was articulated in late 2011 and early 2012, European reactions were diverse. Some governmental officials, nongovernmental experts, and media commentators voiced concern that the strategy signaled at best a diminishing U.S. interest in European security affairs, or at worst a deliberate U.S. policy of disengagement from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

European concerns regarding U.S. disengagement have dissipated but not entirely disappeared over the past 2 years. Still, U.S. readiness to lead politically and militarily in Europe— for example, in response to the ongoing crisis involving Russia and Ukraine—and adjoining regions remains under close scrutiny. Furthermore, while many Europeans agree in principle that renewed American focus on Asia-Pacific issues should encourage Europeans to assume a greater share of security-related responsibilities in their neighborhood, there is little evidence to date of a sea change in European attitudes toward defense spending and overseas military deployments.

Meanwhile, many European governments are engaged in an Asia-Pacific “rebalance” of their own, albeit without using that term. They are working together, mainly under the auspices of the European Union (EU), to set agreed international norms and standards, particularly in areas related to trade and investment. But they are also competing with each other and with the United States for economic markets, including defense-related sales. France and the United Kingdom are less reluctant than other Europeans to become involved in Asia-Pacific strategic affairs.

European officials and nongovernmental experts are interested in improving transatlantic cooperation in several areas related to the U.S. rebalance. For example:
  • Senior German, French, and British officials would welcome more regular high-level consultations with American counterparts on Asia-Pacific issues. Coordinated “strategic messaging” could play a useful role in security-related confidence-building and risk reduction measures in the region. 
  • French defense officials seek enhanced military-to-military cooperation with the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, the French are interested in improved interoperability with U.S. forces.
  • Senior EU officials would like to rejuvenate work on the common agenda agreed by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in their July 2012 Phnom Penh statement. And successful U.S.-EU negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would go a long way toward setting international norms and standards that would positively influence trade, diplomatic, and security-related behavior involving Asia-Pacific nations.