US Foreign Policy Shift Cuts Out EU Perspective
8th of November 2021
Since 1945, the United States has often counted on the European Union as a critical ally. Yet, recently there has been a shift in how the United States approaches its relationship with Europe and with influential European Union leaders like Emmanuel Macron. US President Joe Biden is determined to confront the rising threat of China and the United States Government is seeking new partners in this fight.
The new US approach to foreign policy can be seen in the US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan despite protestations from their European Union allies. The new US approach was also clear from the formation of the AUKUS agreement, the Australia- UK- US security pact aimed at confronting growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. AUKUS was notable because it was formed without any EU member’s involvement. This confirms what European leaders had suspected, that the United States no longer requires the European Union. It is no longer integral to have the EU on side when confronting the critical issues in the 21st century.
For several years, the EU has wanted to position itself as the mediator-in-chief between China and the United States. This strategy is no longer viable. The rise of China has provoked a moment of reckoning for the EU and for the US- EU partnership. The European Union’s position is precarious. How it approaches this issue will determine its future place in international order.
The shift in the American approach to foreign policy was clear from their handling of the US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan. The opinions of European nations on how the withdrawal should take place were cast aside as the United States sought to remove themselves from a war they began, leaving a power vacuum which they knew the Taliban would fill. When dissent was voiced by the Czech President Milos Zeman at a NATO summit in June, where Zeman described the withdrawal plan as “cowardice”, it was disregarded. It seemed Biden was on a one-track train, determined to continue on his ill-fated journey unperturbed.
“The rise of China has provoked a moment of reckoning for the EU and for the US- EU partnership. The European Union’s position is precarious. How it approaches this issue will determine its future place in international order.“
The Biden Administration, hellbent on fulfilling a Biden campaign promise, left untold devastation in their wake. The US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan and the devastation that followed served to break the spell that surrounded Biden in his victory over Trump in the 2020 election. He propelled himself onto the international stage at the G7 summit in June with his ‘America is back’ narrative, aimed at reassuring allies that the Trump isolationist policies were gone. This narrative shattered before our eyes in the withdrawal from Afghanistan. America is indeed back, but the rules of engagement have changed.
The announcement of the AUKUS agreement proved what the Afghanistan withdrawal gave early insight into: the United States are redefining their foreign policy emphasis under Biden. The AUKUS agreement means Australia will be provided with US-made nuclear-powered submarines to confront the growing threat of China in the Pacific. In recent years, China has been growing its sea and air capabilities. The present-day threat of China is undeniable, from its land reclamation projects in the South China Sea to its continued aggression towards Taiwan. AUKUS is designed to establish a key strategic alliance with increased military capability, most notably nuclear-powered submarines but also cyber capabilities and underwater technologies all designed to meet the growing Chinese threat.
The AUKUS announcement provoked a strong backlash from France, which had an existing contract with Australia to provide diesel-powered submarines. The Macron meltdown, in which President Macron recalled his diplomats from the US and Australia, was about more than this lucrative submarine deal. The reality that France and other EU countries were excluded from this new Western Alliance to combat China speaks to a shift in the EU’s standing in the world.
As the EU’s foremost military power in the post Brexit era, for France to be left out of a military strategic alliance of this nature is a catastrophic blow to French and European strategic interests. Macron was forced to confront a new reality. The European Union, while still remaining a critical player, is losing its prominence and is less integral to the US in how they approach global affairs. What AUKUS shows is that the European partnership is not central to US foreign policy going forward. As the US seeks to confront China, partners in Asia are becoming increasingly important.
“The European Union, while still remaining a critical player, is losing its prominence and is less integral to the US in how they approach global affairs.“
The dynamics of global affairs are changing. China is the catalyst for this great sea change. How the European Union approaches its relationship with China in the coming years will determine the future of its relationship with the United States. Over the past decade, with Angela Merkel at the helm of the EU, Europe has increased trade links with China and in 2020 China became the EU’s biggest trading partner, taking over this position from the United States. Merkel herself believed that the EU should be a mediator between the United States and China as they look set to go head-to-head. Yet the views of European leaders are changing and the ending of Merkel’s tenure could see a shift in the approach taken by the EU. In the recent German election and across Europe there are calls for a tougher approach to China. This tougher approach to China will be difficult to impose giving increased levels of trade. It remains to be seen whether there will be the political will to do this.
China will be a great determinant of international order in the coming years. Where the European Union falls on China, as supposed mediator-in-chief or firmly on team USA is yet to be determined. One thing is for certain, the EU’s standing in the world is shifting. The nations of the EU, while still important partners, are less relevant to Biden as he seeks to confront China. Biden has made it clear with his recent political manoeuvring that the time has come for everyone to pick a side on China. He has also shown he will act with little regard for traditional allies and is unwavering in his quest to achieve America’s strategic aims. European reluctance to engage with the question of how they will approach China has left them vulnerable. They must define their role in this new international order and act decisively in the coming months and years. Otherwise, they risk having no seat at the table when the cards are dealt and this new international order is determined.