The global power shift from West to East offers Europe the chance to focus on pressing challenges close to home, and to create a new division of labour in transatlantic relations.

The global power shift from the West to the East is contributing to an increasingly Asia-centric world and Europe’s isolation from great-power politics. Economic crises and internal difficulties in European countries limit the role that they can play in global affairs. Simultaneously, two costly wars and economic turmoil have prompted the United States to prioritise East Asia in its foreign and defence policy. The US will rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific and China, and maintain its commitments towards the Middle East, but will scale back its presence in Europe.

Europe will necessarily play an insignificant role in great-power politics in Asia. But if European countries become accustomed to no longer being at the centre of world politics – and the United Kingdom, France and Germany in particular adjust to their declining significance – this marginalisation could be to their benefit. Indeed, the current global power shift from the West to the East offers an opportunity to avoid the traditionally destructive conflicts of ‘high politics’; revitalise the EU; maintain NATO’s relevance; strengthen Europe’s neighbourhood policy in the Arctic, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa; ensure stability throughout Europe; and promote European countries’ global economic interests.

The US stayed out of conflicts in Europe up until the First World War and relied on strengthening its position in the Western Hemisphere to expand its global commercial and security interests. The US sought to keep extra-hemispheric actors out and avoided being dragged into great-power conflicts in Europe. At the same time, it enlarged the scope of the Monroe Doctrine and went beyond isolationism by promoting regional political, economic and security cooperation, and establishing institutions to facilitate common hemispheric interests. America’s neighbourhood policy, global economic ambition and avoidance of great-power conflicts in Europe facilitated its rise as the world’s leading power. Its share of global wealth increased from 12% in 1830 to 38% in 1900. The US only assumed ‘responsibility from the regional great powers for the balance of power in the transoceanic regions’, as Robert S. Ross has put it, when it could no longer keep Europe and East Asia divided by relying on great-power balancing, and a great power threatened to achieve regional hegemony and expand into the Western Hemisphere.

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Oystein Tunsjø is an Associate Professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. He is the author of Security and Profit in China’s Energy Policy: Hedging Against Risk (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013) and US Taiwan Policy: Constructing the Triangle (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008), and the co-editor of Twenty-First Century Seapower: Cooperation and Conflict at Sea (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012) and US–China–EU Relations: Managing the New World Order (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010).

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

December 2013–January 2014

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