The lost continent

Europe’s frustrating search for strategic relevance in Asia.

The lost continent

WHEN American strategists role-play scenarios about a crisis with China—probably, these days, a flare-up in the South China Sea—they know they can rely on their friends in Europe. As America sends another carrier strike group and Chinese submarines slink out of their bases, the European Union (EU) stiffens the sinews, summons up the blood and proceeds to…issue a stiff statement. Europe’s irrelevance to Asian security has been lamented for years at regional conferences and in countless papers. Given its size, wealth and ties with the region, including hefty arms sales, one might expect the EU to play a bigger role in the region’s defence and security. But it is not clear either that it should, or that it will ever be willing to.

The EU itself sometimes displays a puppyish eagerness to have its military pretensions stroked: “Please, please, don’t just look at us as a big free-trade area,” pleaded Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last year. She insisted that the EU is also “a foreign-policy community, a security and defence provider”. Its diplomats like to boast of the success of Operation Atalanta, in which, since 2008, an EU naval force has helped protect ships off the Horn of Africa from pirates.

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