Europe: The Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Offer Three New Frontiers
Even as it muddles through a major economic crisis, Europe retains all the elements to remain a global leader well into the 21st century. Combined, the twenty-seven members of the European Union constitute the world’s most productive economy, the EU dominates global trade markets, and its defence spending remains more than that of China and Russia’s combined, making Europe the second most potent military power after the United States. But while Europe possesses the tools to be a global player, inefficient resource allocation and political sclerosis continue to cripple the Union from within.
Europe’s international influence suffers as a consequence. While the EU is not necessarily inward-looking and disengaged from the global community, it does lack a common vision and sense of purpose and consequently weight in international affairs, especially because its economic interests are rarely in concert with a credible foreign and security policy. European efforts have principally been directed at weak and collapsing governments in its immediate neighbourhood, but in this fast-changing world there are other regions - beyond Europe’s traditional comfort zone – that are of increasing importance to its future prosperity and security. Europe should focus more on these new frontiers and use its economic influence to solidify its foreign and security strategy.
The first of these new frontiers is the Asia-Pacific region, which has become the hub of global economic growth. Europe’s trade interests in the region are vast, but they are not backed by a security approach. The challenges in this part of the world are multi-faceted and range from conventional military competition and energy security, to climate change and the defence of human rights. It presents many options for Europeans to decide when and where to become involved. Moreover, as the United States’ ability to guarantee free navigation and trade flows is being undermined by regional disputes, the need for Europe to also pivot to Asia is growing fast.
A second new frontier has opened as a consequence of the rise of Brazil, South Africa, and other countries on both sides of the Atlantic, which present their own opportunities and challenges. From the discovery of new energy sources and drug trafficking problems, to new trends in commercial shipping, recent developments have the potential to profoundly shape the geo-economics of the four continents surrounding the Atlantic basin. New actors, above all China, are also playing a more prominent role in Africa and Central and South America. These trends should encourage Europe to widen its Atlantic strategy, and strengthen North-South connections in the fields of trade, investment, development, and security.
Finally, as the ice melts over the Arctic Ocean, Europe should jockey for political and economic influence in this outpost. Several European nations border the Arctic region where abundant supplies of oil, gas and minerals are becoming accessible. The Northern Sea Route could boost economic development by reducing the time required to ship European goods between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It may also offer a safe alternative to the maritime routes in the South China and Arabian Seas, which are threatened by regional power struggles and piracy.
By evolving clearer approaches to these new frontiers, Europe would send a reassuring signal to the rest of the world that it remains a global player. Additionally, all three regions offer important opportunities to revitalize the transatlantic partnership, either through direct cooperation with the United States, or through multilateral institutions such as NATO.
Bruno Lété is a Program Officer for Foreign & Security Policy with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels.
Photo: President of the European Council on Flickr