The shifting focus of global affairs.
The current American administration has made an announcement that is beyond partisanship. Accordingly, America considers herself not to be primarily a country of the Atlantic zone but as a member of the Pacific’s community. With this, the USA reacts rationally to her interests and her location. Consequently, Europe’s priority is abandoned and the Pacific Rim becomes a core interest. The measure is justified on several levels.
A reason for the reorientation is the rise of superpowers in the Pacific, such as China. Her modernization –yet without system change- returns to her the ability to play her traditional role. At the level of power politics, we should not only consider size, population and the will to use armaments. Such considerations make India a dark horse that has good chances to assert herself if she wishes. Japan is a major player that innately rejects dominance. Regardless of her past performance and economic might, Nippon compares to Europe’s Great Powers. By 1945 these have lost the muscle mass to cut the cake in the major league.
This “pre season” ceding of rankings has ignored two powerhouses. First, Russia comes to mind. As in the US’ case, we have here a Euro-zone actor that is also a major player in any Asian league. Moscow’s real estate engages it in Asia. In time, the intensity of this engagement might undergo an upgrading. Russia’s relationship to Beijing might not continue to be defined by today’s issues. Russia is a beneficiary of the “Unequal Treaties” to whose challenge every Chinese political movement is committed. That the “Chinats” and the “Chireds” share here a common denominator underlines the extent of a national consensus.
Accordingly, Russia’s Far Eastern outposts and the rise of China create a potential for collisions. Due to their size, the ramifications are significant. Time might prove this to have been the understatement of the decade. Whatever the future of the one-and-a-half million square kilometers that Czarist Russia took from decaying Imperial China, even if she wants to hug the sidelines, the US, as a power of the heavy weight class, cannot remain uninvolved. As the case of the islands between Viet Nam, the Philippines, Japan and National China tells, America’s involvement in the Pacific theater is growing. In discussing “significance”, the economy is a decisive element. While Europe declines with the “help” of its Euro, the value of its assets nose-dives. Among the advanced economies there, only non-members such as Switzerland and Norway are holding their own. Compare Europe with East Asia, and you hit on a sustainable decisive discrepancy.
The shift that moves the axis of the world to a new pivot has an American dimension. Throughout her development, the Colonies, and later the USA, were in motion. This movement shifted the center of the country westward. In time, the movement received a well sounding name: Manifest Destiny. That tells that the contemporary regarded the expansion to the Pacific, and then to Hawaii and Alaska, as being mandated.
To aid the forgetful and to enlighten those that associate zilch with America and history, let it be noted that, by 1898 an academic, Turner by name, opined that by reaching the shores of the Pacific, the westward movement has ended and Manifest Destiny had been accomplished. This might have been true in the case of the continental US but did not hold water regarding the Pacific. Having forced the opening of Japan in 1854 and by replacing Spain in the Philippines, the US became a Pacific power. China’s decline created a vacuum that necessitated American involvement in behalf of China that opposed rising Japan and to a lesser extent Russia. The road from “Dollar Diplomacy” led directly to Pearl Harbor. American victory in East Asia did not lessen her involvement. China’s shift from friend to enemy, Japan’s movement in the opposite direction, then Stalin’s reach for global power and the Korean conflict were episodes that sustained US involvement. This makes out of the upgrading of the Far East as an American priority not a break with tradition but its logical conclusion.
Regarding the Atlantic and Europe, the dotting of the American “i” represents a change whose significance, beyond a “crucial”, is difficult to state. One consequence is that Europe is forced out of the comfortable dependency, which enabled it to prosper cheaply under America’s protection. Since it sounded good, the West’s detractors here used to bemoan America’s supposed tutelage of Europe. Now America prepares to shove Europe in to the water to swim or sink on its own.
Even if wetness is likely to be a result, Europe is better off by being told that it is time to swim, as the era of protection is terminated. Although the upgrading of America’s role in the Pacific theater has received little attention here, the notice indicates a re-forging of relationships. Once this becomes clear, the reaction will hardly be enthusiastic.
In some ways, the matter is embedded in irony. Europe gets what she claimed to covet but did not really want even if it was to her advantage. It rarely happens that an entity labeled as “imperial” withdraws support from its “dependency”. Equally odd is the “Coca-Colonizer’s” message to a “lackey” to please, go it alone. Due to US inconsistency, American – European relations have been ambivalent. The US has maneuvered herself in a position in which her protection of Europe became an unconditional commitment. This happened even if, for decades, Europe had the capability to assume responsibility for her fate. Furthermore, Washington did not ask that Europe for support in global matters in a way commensurate to America’s contribution. As an expression of the exploited unequal relationship, some European states have, with the American guarantee serving as a last resort, secured concessions from the common foe at the US’ expense. The popular talk about the American Empire is a symptom of that inequity.
The cumulative effect of unbalanced commitments has kept Europe weaker than it needed to be. It also created a moral hazard when threats had to be faced. Meanwhile, the USA not only earned the dislike of widening circles in Europe, but also extended her commitments beyond her needs. Given these conditions, it seems that the closing of the American umbrella is not only long due but might also release submerged energies. America is now abandoning a relationship that had become a fiction a decade or so after the world war. A separation that expresses equality will benefit all the participants of what needs to become a partnership relocated on a new fundament.