En Route to New Conflicts (II)

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - In the midst of a phase of the expansion of the EU's military policy relations with several East and Southeast Asian countries, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Japan. Merkel will arrive March 8 in the Japanese capital, reciprocating Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Germany last year. Tokyo seeks to intensify its cooperation with EU countries - also militarily - to enhance its position in territorial conflicts with Beijing. At the same time, the United States is focusing, to a growing extent, its global policy efforts on eastern Asia and the Pacific Basin. Shortly before Merkel is to visit Japan, a study published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) points out that the interests of several EU countries would be "massively affected should conflicts escalate in this region." These conflicts are mostly about territorial sovereignty over islands and groups of islands, which recently have become accentuated. SWP proposed that the EU "discuss" what position to take "in case of conflict."

A Question of Positioning

Shortly before Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Japan, Berlin's Chancellery-financed German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) has published a comprehensive survey of the military and security policy situation in East and Southeast Asia. This survey focuses on the tensions between the People's Republic of China and several East and Southeast Asian countries, over various islands and groups of islands in the South and East China Seas. The West instrumentalizes these conflicts to pit China's adversaries more strongly against Beijing. On the western side, the United States is playing a leadership role. The SWP now points out that "the EU and individual European countries would be massively affected both in their economic interests and their (global) regulatory policy concepts, should the conflicts escalate in this region." The author of this SWP study recommends, "the EU and European nations discuss what position they will take in case of a conflict."[1]

Hub and Spokes

As the SWP explains, the five bilateral military policy alliances, the United States has established with individual countries in the region, play a fundamental role. "This system of bilateral alliances is called the 'hub and spokes' - with the USA being the central element radiating ties to Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand," explains SWP. "The real basis of the American eastern Asia security structure" is made up of "alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia." The USA also has a military base on Guam, with more than 5000 US soldiers - mostly naval and air force. In addition, around 550 US soldiers are stationed on the British Diego Garcia atoll in the Indian Ocean. There are also other countries, whose security policy relations with Washington would "actually" amount to "an alliance." These include Taiwan, and Singapore. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2]) Not least of all, "the American-Vietnamese economic and security cooperation ... has been expanded considerably," because of Hanoi's territorial conflicts with Beijing.

Military Exchange

The EU and its member countries, up to now, show a much weaker presence in eastern and southeastern Asia. As the SWP notes, France and Great Britain maintain their own military bases in the region. Paris has "military and civilian personnel (approx. 2500) stationed in New Caledonia and in French-Polynesia in the South Pacific." It also has "two frigates, patrol boats, maritime surveillance, and other military aircraft." London, for its part, "maintains a garrison in Brunei with about 900 soldiers, several helicopters, and a training center, along with a major fuel depot and docking station in Singapore." Germany has no comparable military base, but, like France and Great Britain maintains "security policy dialogues and military exchanges with various countries of the region, such as Singapore and Australia." This cooperation is currently being intensified. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) When taken together, EU countries "have even surpassed the USA and Russia, as the most important arms suppliers to maritime Southeast Asia." Singapore, for example, has remained among Germany's top ten arms industry customers for the past few years.

Plans of Action

Since some time, Berlin and the EU have sought to significantly expand their activities of influence - also on a military level - in East and Southeast Asia. The EU concluded a framework agreement with South Korea in May 2014, which, according to SWP, "makes Seoul the region's first EU security partner." The agreement stipulates that if necessary, South Korea can participate in future EU interventions, and through this agreement, Berlin and Brussels will have a stronger presence in East Asia. Back in 2012, the EU concluded a "plan of action" with the international alliance ASEAN,[4] which also foresees closer cooperation in the field of "security." Then at the EU-ASEAN Foreign Minister's Meeting, in July 2014, a declaration was accepted, containing stipulations on "security" policy. According to SWP, it foresees "a reinforced cooperation in the area of maritime security" as well as "the enhancement of relations between the two sides in questions of a strategic partnership."

Transatlantic Relations

There are two reasons for the growth of German-European "security" policy activities in eastern and southeastern Asia. On the one hand, their aim is to gain a stronger and, above all, an independent presence, in the region, considered to become the future axis of global politics. The SWP points out that already in 1996, the EU with the formation of the "Asia-Europe Meeting" (ASEM) had created "a counterpart" to the "Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation" (APEC), wherein the USA is a member but the EU is not. With ASEM, Brussels has entered competition with Washington. On the other hand, in spite of all attempts to obtain a presence independent of the USA in eastern and southeastern Asia, the EU should not place the superior economic-political advantages of the transatlantic cooperation in jeopardy, according to Brussels. "In light of the great importance of the transatlantic relations, the EU has a strong interest in its partnership and cooperation with the USA to meet eastern Asian challenges to foreign and security policy," according to a document on foreign and security policies in eastern Asia, passed by the EU in late 2005, and repeatedly confirmed since.[5] Berlin and Brussels seek to reinforce common western positions in eastern Asia within this framework.

Germany's Priorities

The SWP now proposes that the EU discuss "how to react to a military escalation of East Asian conflicts." Admittedly, "such a crisis is improbable." However, latent conflicts can escalate rapidly, as can be seen in the Sino-Japanese islands conflict, when tensions dramatically escalated in a flash in 2013. The development of the escalation of the power struggle with Russia is a particularly conspicuous confirmation of this fact. It has demonstrated that the political-economic significance of the transatlantic interests outweigh, in cases of doubt, the interests of cooperation with new economic partners. In 2011, a "Policy Game" of the Körber Foundation prophesied what would happen in a case of a US-Chinese conflict. The results of the "Policy Game," (german-foreign-policy.com reported [6]) showed that a simulated conflict between the People's Republic of China and the USA would lead Germany to "ultimately give its unconditional solidarity to the USA and an unambiguous declaration of allegiance to the transatlantic pact."

[1] Zitate hier und im Folgenden aus: Gudrun Wacker: Sicherheitskooperation in Ostasien. Strukturen, Trends und Leistungsgrenzen. SWP-Studie S 2, Januar 2015.
[2] See Auf dem Weg zu neuen Konflikten.
[3] See Die Pax Pacifica (I), Die Pax Pacifica (III) and Auf dem Weg zu neuen Konflikten.
[4] ASEAN gehören Brunei Darussalam, Indonesien, Kambodscha, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, die Philippinen, Singapur, Thailand und Vietnam an.
[5] Guidelines on the EU's Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia. Brüssel, 20.06.2012.
[6] Körber Policy Game Nr. 1: Deutschland zwischen China und den USA: Handlungsoptionen in einer bipolaren Weltordnung. Hamburg 2011. See In einer bipolaren Welt.