Are Russia and Europe Ready for a New Pacific World Order?

By Maksym Khylko

The U.S. intensify the process of New Pacific World Order shaping, where Europe and Russia are not considered to be key players. Are Russia and Europe ready to assert their rights to leading roles in the future world order?

American vision of future world order: the Atlantic Pax Americana is dying, long live the Pacific Pax Americana!

In recent years the United States faced more challenges than their traditional partners from Europe. Not only economic model is collapsing but also the whole system of transatlantic relations in which the U.S. has been a leader. Against this background the crash of the EU monetary policy and economic consequences of erroneous haste with single-level model of European integration look like temporary difficulties.

However, the U.S. has an uncontested advantage, which is a distinctive feature of all great powers: broad geostrategic vision and planning that allows finding asymmetric responses to seemingly unsolvable problems. Thus if the U.S. are no longer satisfied with the old world order (and vice versa) and restoration of this order in its original form is too complicated and requires extraordinary efforts, than it is simplier to try leading the process of a new world order shaping. And the Americans started this with their inherent aggressiveness.

The last two months the U.S. has demonstrated extreme activity in the processes of shaping the New Pacific World Order. In October, the Congress ratified a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, which should eliminate 95% of all tariffs in mutual trade, and what is more important – set an example for further deepening of Washington's trade (and other) relations with Asia-Pacific countries.

In November, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu, Obama said the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam, Chile and Peru reached the broad outlines of an agreement to create a free trade area of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japan is expected to join this group of countries later. Obama said the U.S. "has been and always will be a Pacific nation."

That same month, Obama announced opening of the U.S. military base in Australia. Also Americans are planning to deploy littoral combat ships to Singapore and to strengthen their military presence in the Indian Ocean, containing a number of crucial for Asia-Pacific states (and not only for them) traffic flows.

Current U.S. interest in the Pacific is surely explained not only by the fact of Obama's birth in Hawaii. Since the late XIX century, Americans have been actively promoting their interests in the region. Let's just recall 1899-1902 war with the Philippines, confrontation with Japan for dominance in the Pacific Ocean in the first half of the XX century, then the Korean and the Vietnam Wars, the formation of anti-Soviet blocs in the region, American military bases in Japan and South Korea, military cooperation with Taiwan, etc.

However, the United States decided to shift the center of world politics from the Atlantic to the Pacific at the time when established on their initiative half a century ago and now almost obsolete economic, military and political transatlantic models fail to work, while the strength of the Asia-Pacific countries is increasing rapidly as well as their trade turnover with the U.S.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed the U.S. strategic plans in published this month in "Foreign Policy" program article entitled "America's Pacific Century". Starting with the words "The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action," Clinton presented the plans to enhance the "diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise" American presence in the Asia-Pacific region for the coming decades.

First of all, the U.S. plan to deepen their relations with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Philippines and Thailand. Relations with China, India, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Pacific island nations will also be intensified. The United States will also strengthen cooperation within the ASEAN and the APEC. Clinton particularly noted the importance of the U.S. military presence for a stable and secure economic development of the region.

It is important to note that in her large article Hillary Clinton paid little attention with just few diplomatic reverences to the importance of relations with the EU, and no even word about Russia. While the EU countries are geographically located far from the Pacific region (which however would hardly be an obstacle if the U.S. really want to see the EU significant role in the New Pacific World Order formation), Russia directly pertains to the Asia-Pacific region.

Challenges and opportunities for Russia

The absence of Russia in U.S. Secretary of State article is likely to reveal a strong Washington reluctance to see Moscow involvement in the affairs of the region, which U.S. policymakers believe to be crucial for this century.

Recent increased criticism in the U.S. media for the "reset" of relations with Russia is also symptomatic as well as condemnation of predictable Putin's decision to run for president again. Surely election campaign in the U.S. has its impact, but perhaps more important is Washington understanding of which state could potentially impede American plans to dominate the Pacific.

After all, China in spite of its strong economic growth is still relatively weak militarily: it has a lot of weapons, but its quality is significantly worse than modern Western. Especially noticeable is China lag at sea: Although tremendous efforts of the government has already given some results, but quantitatively and especially qualitatively Chinese navy is still far behind the U.S.

And the navy is expected to play a major role in the regional security provision, firstly the economic one. In this regard criticism by political opponents of the Russian leadership decision to buy a few warships abroad appears unreasonable. Development of own shipbuilding is of course a necessary and promising case, but Russia needs powerful and modern mobile warships right now.

In the context of the world geopolitical axis shift Russia's efforts on BRICS cooperation enhancement are promising. Russia, China, India and South Africa geographically partially surround the Asia-Pacific region (which de-facto also includes the Indian Ocean). Although Brazil does not have direct access to the Pacific, yet it is likely together with all South American countries to take an active part in the Trans-Pacific issues.

Another potentially promising Russian project is the Customs Union, designed to transform in the future into an economic and military-political Eurasian Union. As key players in the Pacific World Order will be larger powers than the European countries, Russia must strengthen its capacities to have comparable to the U.S., China, India and Japan resources. In this regard, the deepening integration in the post-Soviet space may give Russia the opportunity to compensate for the demographic problems and significantly increase the GDP.

To win a place under the Pacific sun Russia has to do a lot, including the development of its Far Eastern regions. In this context it was positive decision to allocate 15 billion dollars in Vladivostok development ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit-2012. But the region requires more systematic development, because soon it will become Russia's main window to the world.

The New World Order can open a number of opportunities for Russia, including a new way to build its relations with the EU. While previously Russia was located on the periphery of the Atlantic World, now Europe will be located on the periphery of the Pacific World. While in Europe Russia was considered the most Asian state, in Asia it would be the most European one. Also in the new world Russia will feel less problems with criticism concerning tendencies to authoritarianism, since democracy model of most Asia-Pacific countries is much closer to Russian than to European one.

Europe's insularity

For the EU the absence of its representatives at the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this month in Indonesia was the alarm bell. Besides the members of the ASEAN plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, representatives of the U.S. and Russia arrived at the summit. But the Europe remained aloof from these prospective processes of cooperation.

The EU's unwillingness to change priorities was indicated by the results of the 10th annual Transatlantic Trends survey (http://www.transatlantictrends.org/). 52% of the EU citizens believe the U.S. are more important to their national interests than the Asian countries (only 37%). In the U.S. the situation is quite the opposite: here 51% believe that Asian countries are more important to their national interests than the countries of the EU (only 38%). One should note that in 2004 a majority of Americans (54%) considered European countries more important to their interests than the countries of Asia (29%). In just a few years American media have managed to convince public opinion of the importance of priorities changing, and now it is quite easy for U.S. politicians to explain to their voters the reasons to replace the Atlantic World Order for the Pacific one. Meanwhile their European colleagues have a lot of work to do with the electorate opinion that would mean loss of time and therefore loss of opportunities.

Being hung up on the internal economic issues the EU runs the risk to move from the center to the periphery of the global geopolitical game. For some time this situation may seem to be comfortable for Europeans, who in case of socio-economic stability restoration can enjoy quiet and peaceful "retirement" life. However, the younger generation of Europeans from newly acceded countries of Central and Eastern Europe with dynamic economies can hardly be satisfied with the politics of quiet stagnation.

Outlet for the "new Europeans" may be found in enhancing of regional cooperation in Central, Eastern and Northern parts of Europe. The preconditions for that already exist in predominantly Polish projects of the Visegrad Group and the Eastern Partnership, as well as deepening of the cooperation between the Baltic States and their Northern neighbors. Here one can also mention Poland and Russia reconciliation, which in future may develop into a partnership of promising regional projects headed by them.

Thereby, in recent months the U.S. have been actively involved in the New Pacific World Order shaping. U.S. authorities want the XXI century to enter history as the America's Pacific Century. Will the New World Order also be an American one or not – it strongly depends on the activity of Russia and Europe as key players of the outgoing world order.
Maksym Khylko, Research Fellow at Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University, PhD in Philosophy and MA in International Relations