Europe’s Asian Pivot

CAMBRIDGE/OXFORD – The Obama administration’s so-called “pivot to Asia” is the most important strategic shift that the United States has undertaken since the end of the Cold War – and it has profound implications for Europe. But Europe’s leaders have largely ignored or misunderstood its significance, and thus have failed to seize the opportunity that it represents.

For example, some in Europe believe that America’s interest in Asia is a recent development. But, as President Barack Obama put it in 2011, “The US has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation.” The shift is aimed at ensuring that the US plays “a larger and long-term role in shaping this region,” where it has long helped to maintain stability and contributed to unprecedented economic growth. Given this, America’s pivot should be viewed more as a consolidation of established policies than as an abrupt, short-term change.

The policy’s scope is also widely misunderstood. While the policy does include a rebalancing of America’s military posture in Asia – by 2020, the US Navy will deploy more of its forces, including six of its 11 carrier groups, to the Pacific Ocean – it covers the entire spectrum of diplomacy, economics, development, culture, and inter-societal relations.

This comprehensive approach is evident in Obama’s choice of destination for the first overseas trip of his second term. By visiting Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia, Obama reinforced earlier efforts to strengthen diplomatic and economic engagement with the Asia-Pacific region.