EU Indo-Pacific Strategy

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Perhaps one of the best ways to understand EU’s plans for the Asia Pacific does not come from the recently published Indo Pacific Strategy but rather from another recently published report, writes Simone Galimberti.

There is no doubt that the Indo Pacific Strategy provides for concrete measures of actions that, if put into practice, would certainly upgrade the status of the EU in a vast and diverse region that comprises multiple geographical areas, each with its own characteristics, histories and complexities.

After all, forging a coherent document that tries to connect the dots from Zanzibar, on the most western side of the Indo Pacific to the Cook Islands on the other opposite, is not an easy feat.

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Yet there are important statements in this Indo Pacific “master plan” including a much more robust, almost assertive projection of maritime capabilities that could foresee more predictable, sustained presence modeled on Operation Atalanta like naval mission.

While it will take time to turn aspirations and long-term goals into practice, recent events might accelerate the EU’s resolution to be heard and seen in the world.

The slap on the face received by the French on the issue of the nuclear-powered submarines will define the future of the Indo Pacific Strategy.

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A special defense summit announced by President Macron and President Von der Leyen with the latter dedicating considerable space in her “Speech to the Union” to the idea of Defense Union, will probably honor, at least partially, a long due pledge made in Helsinki in 1999.

An inspirational document like Indo Pacific Strategy will surely be seen differently in the Asian capitals from Delhi to Tokyo to Soul to Beijing to Taipei if a real defense union is created with boots on the ground and with a strong naval presence in the most strategic sea of this era, the South China Sea.

Capability in terms of both soft power and strengths require cutting edge analysis.

That’s why, while taking note of the key messages from the Indo Pacific Strategy, the 2021 Strategic Foresight Report, is an equally important document as it provides with the “raw material” upon which you build a foreign policy.

Patiently waiting for the EU Strategic Compass, this latest Foresight offers the best analysis on the challenges ahead for Team Europe.

At its launch, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “European citizens experience almost on a daily basis that global challenges such as climate change and digital transformation have a direct impact on their personal lives. We all feel that our democracy and European values are being put into question, both externally and internally, or that Europe needs to adapt its foreign policy due to a changing global order”.

“Early and better information about such trends will help us tackle such important issues in time and steer our Union in a positive direction” she further explained.

Because foreign policies and the projection of power on the global stage is driven by interests and priorities while asserting certain values, this document presents a list of so called “strategic areas of policy action”.

It is a long array of key challenges, each with clear goals.

For example, “safe” goals like ensuring sustainable food systems and securing decarbonized and affordable energy to developing cutting edge technologies but there is also more in it.

Covering top interest issues like the need of securing safe supply of raw material, the report is strong on hard core global governance and foreign policy dimensions like “strengthening security and defense capacities and access to space and working with global partners to promote peace, security and prosperity for all; and strengthening the resilience of institutions”.

It’s another way, more understated, to assert the prerequisites for an EU capable and free to thrive and act on the global scene.

It is paramount for partners, competitors and foes alike to know that strategies like the Indo Pacific Strategy are built on EU’s ability to adequately predict and understand the most serious challenges ahead, many of which are common.

Finally, with a new consensus emerging, strategies and approaches are being forged to translate needs as well as inspirations into policy tools that will define the EU’s relations with the world.

Each region within the Indo Pacific will require it to be able to contribute in addressing unique issues, working out common solutions to bolster relationships but, whenever warranted, also deter and counter potential threats.

A common naval mission to assert freedom of navigation in the South China Sea will be certainly welcome by all the ASEAN countries minus Cambodia, a staunch ally of Beijing.

Wisely the EU soft power in the region is growing exponentially and it must continue so.

At the same time an EU betting on the South East Asia, needs also to craft a stronger South Asia dimension in its foreign policy.

The considerable effort here, tailor made on the needs and aspirations of India, another key partner in the Indo Pacific Strategy, must be broadened to address those of the remaining nations in the region. Pursuing a reinvigorated policy in a messy neighborhood, will prove the EU has all the tools and resources and the patience to make a difference even where the payoff will take longer.

Simone Galimberti is based in Kathmandu. He writes on social inclusion, youth development, regional integration and the SDGs in the context of Asia Pacific.



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