Andrew Small, Debate Argument: “Why Europe Will Choose the United States Over China”
Editor's Note: On October 6, Andrew Small, Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, joined an Asia Society Oxford-style debate on the topic “Europe will choose the U.S. over China”. His remarks are summarized below. The full debate can be watched here.
Good afternoon from Berlin, ladies and gentlemen; I will make the case for why the choice in the motion is real.
If we were in even semi-normal times I would respond by making a straightforward case for the transatlantic alliance, why at critical moments our common values have pulled us together, the essential role that the U.S. plays in Europe’s defense today.
I would note the fact that for the greatest Europeanists, from Jean Monnet on, Atlanticism and pro-Europeanism were deeply intertwined, because they understood how the U.S., from the Marshall Plan to the unification of Germany, has been a necessary force for European unity, even at times when we Europeans ourselves had doubts and differences.
I would note that even today, despite the president, those commitments to Europe run deep in the U.S. system, as we saw from the overwhelming vote in the Senate affirming support for NATO just the other year.
I would lay out the figures for the transatlantic economy that we so often take for granted. Not just the more superficial trading relationship that we have on a similar scale with China too, but the deeper ties of investment and innovation, the complementary flows of research, hi-tech components and finance, that mean that, for all the talk of pivots to Asia, it’s Europe that has attracted nearly 60 percent of all U.S. global investment and 60 percent of all U.S. international R&D spending, even in the last decade.
But we’re not in normal times - trust in the transatlantic relationship here in Europe is low, largely because of this president and what he represents. The differences loom larger. Any case at the moment for the essential economic, security and values-based importance of the alliance is not greeted with “yes”; it’s greeted with an understandably more skeptical “yes, but…”
The “but” is important. Many of us want a more autonomous and capable Europe. We share that with our opponents. As indeed do many in the United States, who have long wanted to see a Europe that is less dependent. The same thing that is true of Jean Monnet is true of many U.S. Atlanticists, the best of whom also see a strong Europe as an asset in our common cause.
But that’s not the only reason we’re not in normal times. As my partner has laid out, in China we face a shared challenge with profound implications for the future of our economies, our technological edge, our values, and – as we’ve seen even more through the pandemic – the security of our everyday lives too.
And to deal with that challenge, a strategically autonomous Europe, a Europe charting its own path, a Europe that protects – is not enough if it’s Europe alone. What our opponents argue for is only a starting point; it’s a necessary but insufficient condition. And I will go further – if we had a full federal United States of Europe, combined European armed forces, and a fully unified approach and coherent approach on all strategic economic matters, it wouldn’t be enough either.
We know this because the United States itself has just conducted precisely that experiment over the last few years. It has been wielding virtually every instrument of U.S. power in taking China on – but it did so alone, and it wasn’t enough.
It didn’t change China’s economic behavior; it didn’t change how China is externalizing the most problematic elements of its domestic model through the Belt and Road; it didn’t even bring about even a pause in the worst of China’s behavior in Xinjiang or Hong Kong.
And there is now a growing recognition on the U.S. side that if we are going to deal with these issues effectively, it has to be through a coalition with other allies, and that – given the central role that economics and technology play in this challenge – Europe will be one of the most critical U.S. partners.
Together, we – Europe, the United States, Japan and a few other smaller but important allies – do still have the collective capacity to shape global rules consistent with our values, to exert pressure on China in critical areas from trade to human rights, to offer alternatives to Chinese financing, and to strengthen each others’ economic, security and technological capabilities.
Coalitions and coalition partners are annoying. Everyone has somewhat different goals and somewhat different ways of getting there. This is true of U.S. and European approaches to China too, which are certainly not identical. But at certain times, coalitions are essential. This is one of those times.
Spaak once said: “There are two kinds of European countries. Small countries and countries that have not yet realized they are small”. We have to recognize that in what can be achieved with our China policy too. We have made progress towards a more coherent European approach. But we don’t seem to have fully realized yet – as the United States has for itself – that this is still not going to be sufficient. We have to be ambitious as Europe but also realistic. We are facing profound global power shifts and we have to make some choices on who we’re going to work with. The choice, despite what our opponents say, is real, and we will face it very soon.
We are a month away from an election in which we are likely to see a president come to office who will be looking to place allies at the center of U.S.-China strategy. This isn’t just about us choosing the United States, it’s about the United States choosing us too – approaching us as partners to deal with one of our biggest shared challenges. And it’s not just about us deferring to the U.S. agenda, it’s about doing the hard work to come up with a shared one between the United States, Europe and other democracies too.
So for the sake not just of the continued vitality of our most important security and economic relationship – which will certainly be hit if we can’t find common cause on China – but in order to put ourselves in a position of strength to deal with the myriad issues with which Beijing confronts us, we should be ready as Europe to make the choice that this motion presents:
Our closest ally over the country that is itself choosing to be more and more a competitor and rival.