What ought such a response to entail? Three priorities come to mind. Primarily, European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization must give much more consideration to their own defense and security. The Libyan conflict demonstrated the limited capabilities of Europe’s armed forces, and the extent to which they rely on the United States for support. More consideration must be given to interoperability, bilateral agreements of the kind signed by France and the United Kingdom, and the overall level of funding set aside for military expenditure, which remains insufficient.
In addition, European states should give consideration to some Asian outreach of their own. Britain has already demonstrated what might be possible in this regard. Prime Minister David Cameron led a major trade delegation to China within six months of taking office, and the British government has also sought to revitalize its ties with Commonwealth countries, among them Australia and New Zealand. London also pre-empted Obama’s announcement on Burma, scheduling a visit by the Minister for International Development earlier this month.
Last, European nations should actively embrace the United States’ new willingness to engage the Asian world. Whatever misgivings they may have about dwindling interest in Europe, greater co-operation amongst Pacific countries need not be regarded as a zero-sum development. Indeed, strengthened American ties with Asian countries carries the prospect of indirect access to a host of new markets and opportunities.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Transatlantic ties are by no means immune to periods of instability. Indeed, the Bush administration’s pursuit of regime change in Iraq greatly destabilized transatlantic ties by dividing a continent that prizes harmony. Moreover, America’s shift in focus is likely to be gradual. The United States remains actively involved in NATO, and has been supportive of the steps that EU nations have taken in an effort to resolve their ongoing sovereign debt crisis.
Still, Washington’s determination to engage Asia represents a fundamental change in the United States’ order of priorities, and one that is unlikely to be reversed. European nations will only be able to remain secure and prosperous by responding, not fearing, the change.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind is the Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Kensington and a former British Foreign Secretary. He is currently chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.