Monthly Mind Januar 2012 - The Pacific President’s Strategy – Goodbye Europe?

"America’s new strategy is not an abandonment of Europe but an answer to the far-reaching changes in global politics. In a best-case scenario, Obama may even convince Europe to appreciate these changes and to put the transatlantic partnership on a new and future-oriented footing," Wolfgang Ischinger writes in his column "Monthly Mind."

Conference Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger

It is rather unusual for a U.S. president to appear at the Pentagon in order to introduce a new defense strategy. The fact that President Obama personally introduced the strategy paper at the Department of Defense in early January not only underlined the importance of this paper with regard to the reorientation of U.S. security policy, it is also a metaphor for America’s new role. And it is Barack Obama himself who embodies this new America.


First, the new strategy marks the definitive end of a decade in global politics shaped by the aftermath of September 11, 2001. After a decade of heavy U.S. military involvement related to the "War on Terror", the United States today is neither able nor willing to maintain its global presence with such intensity. A decade of military overexpansion is coming to an end.


While Obama is holding up America’s claims of global leadership, like all of his predecessors did, he no longer pursues the ambition to shape the world in America’s own image no matter the cost. Obama has emphasized many times that his own country’s "nation-building" is his top priority. The President will focus on strengthening the U.S. economy – a necessity if he wants to be re-elected. So it comes to no surprise that the strategy is making clear that America does not want to launch any further large-scale military operations like the ones in Afghanistan or Iraq in the foreseeable future. Obama has already ended the Iraq mission, and there are increasing signs that preparations are being made for a timely withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. 2012 has just started and is already perceived very positively as the year in which wars will end. Of course this does not mean that the King’s peace has broken out – perhaps even the opposite is happening, especially when we look at the Strait of Hormuz, Syria and North Korea, but also Pakistan.


Second, the strategy sets the course for the United States’ geographical reorientation: towards Asia and the Pacific. In view of China’s rise and the economic significance of Asia as a whole, the strategy makes clear that the U.S. is making this region its priority. In light of the necessary cuts in the U.S. defense budget, this change of course is bound to be at the expense of other regions of the world; Europe in particular is viewed by the critical American public as playing a less important role today and therefore has to stand and watch the U.S. reduce its troops stationed in Europe, which the U.S. does not consider a problem for Europe to deal with.


During his last speech in Europe last summer, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that future generations of American leaders, no longer shaped by the Cold War, would hardly be willing to spend the American taxpayers’ money on Europe’s defense as long as Europeans did not increase their contributions themselves. In his first year in office, Barack Obama already called himself America’s first "Pacific President". He is also part of this new generation shifting its focus to other regions of the world, and understandably so.


Mr. Obama’s new strategy has far-reaching implications for Europe. On the one hand, this increased skepticism about what military power alone can achieve precisely reflects the sentiments shared by many Europeans. Europe does not have to fear strong pressure from President Obama to take part in global political adventures; instead, it can expect an offer to consult and make decisions as equal partners. On the other hand, this will also raise the demands made on Europe. For Europe will have to earn its place as a full partner of the United States. The least Obama’s America is expecting of Europeans is that they assume responsibility for ensuring security in their own backyard. Within NATO, the United States is no longer categorically insisting on its military leadership role – if it concerns an issue Europe can resolve on its own. As the mission in Libya has shown, Europeans are not ready yet. In the future, however, we cannot rely on the United States to stand by and assist us should the need arise. But improving the common capabilities of Europe will only be the first step towards renewing the transatlantic partnership to endure the challenges of the 21st century. The United States is also hoping for Europe to play a stronger global role.


To put it bluntly, today, the shared memory of Raisin Bombers and CARE Packages is no longer enough to hold the transatlantic community together. It is not helpful to yearn for the old days or to lament the supposed American abandonment of Europe. What we need are common projects for the future to revitalize our partnership by meeting common challenges. Unlike in the old days, these challenges are not focused on Europe anymore. In the future, the tasks for the transatlantic partnership will have to be defined within a global framework beyond the Euro-Atlantic realm.


From this perspective, America’s new strategy is not an abandonment of Europe but an answer to the far-reaching changes in global politics. In a best-case scenario, Obama may even convince Europe to appreciate these changes and to put the transatlantic partnership on a new and future-oriented footing. It is permissible to ask the question whether the EU currently has a coherent strategy for Asia and China representing us a relevant political actor in the eyes of the Chinese, and not just a seller of cars and technology. Is Beijing taking us seriously? Doubts are not completely unjustified. Hopefully, the United States’ decision to move closer to Asia and the Pacific will be a useful "wake-up call" for Europe.


One thing is certain: In a world where liberal democracy and market economy are challenged by state capitalist, authoritarian systems, the two pillars of the West, Europe and the United states, will remain natural allies. In reality, the "Pacific President" is actually quite European.


Wolfgang Ischinger was State Secretary of the German Foreign Office and Ambassador in Washington and London. He is now Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and an advisor to Allianz SE. Today, he is Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and adviser to Allianz SE. A shorter version of this Monthly Mind was published in the German daily Handelsblatt on February 3, 2012. 


03 February 2012, by Wolfgang Ischinger