Australia dropped its large order for French submarines last week and instead embarked on a project with the United States. It confirms a pressing reality for Europe: it is no longer an Indo-Pacific power. It will not become an Indo-Pacific power. And if it continues to exceed its geopolitical ambitions, Europe could entirely lose its credibility as a power.
If Europe wants to become more geopolitical, it must respect the first saying of geopolitics. Geography tells you where to prioritize. For Europe, it is not in the Indo-Pacific, but its backyard.
Europe continues to emerge as an Indo-Pacific power. Countries like France are doing it too, but also the EU – which recently published an Indo-Pacific strategy. This strategy presents Europe primarily as an economic and soft power.
But Europe’s economic strength is not impressive. Europe, including the UK, buys only 15% of the region’s exports. It is less than the United States and it will soon be overtaken by China. Europe’s development aid in the region is stagnating and its investments mainly in China.
Moral power is also limited. Europe says it can impose rules through advanced trade agreements that also include social and environmental standards. But these standards remain difficult to enforce, and advanced trade agreements still cover less than 30 percent of Europe’s trade with the region. He does not have such an agreement with China, for example.
A recent survey in Southeast Asian countries confirms that citizens appreciate Europe’s upholding of the rule of law and action on climate change, but question its ability to show leadership.
There is also a marked gap between the enthusiasm in the speeches of politicians and their willingness to visit the Indo-Pacific.
For decades, Asian diplomats have lamented the lack of interest of European heads of state in the region and their reluctance to attend summit meetings of regional organizations, like ASEAN.
If we consider the official visits of the French President and the German Chancellor, for example, they made 15% of their visits outside Europe in Indo-Pac, with China remaining their most frequent destination.
Europe’s military presence is insignificant.
France, for example, the European country with the largest military footprint in the Indo-Pacific has reduced the number of troops in the region from around 10,000 in 2020 to 2,700.
They are not expeditionary troops; they only preserve security in overseas territories such as Caledonia and Martinique. It has three small frigates to patrol the exclusive economic zone around these islands. Its intelligence satellites wouldn’t even cover the entire area.
The UK has a few hundred troops in the Indo-Pacific, mostly at a jungle war training center in Brunei. London recently decided to deploy two large patrol vessels for a longer period.
These two means are supposed to patrol throughout the Indo-Pacific. The Chinese media scoffed at the deployment of these “less capable warships”. The deployment of the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in the region remains symbolic. Such a presence simply cannot be sustained.
This partly explains why Australia replaced the order for French submarines with an order for American submarines. Besides the fact that the Americans will be much more capable, Australia does not want submarines; he’s looking for life insurance.
“Trusted, but helpless”
Over the past decade, Europe’s annual defense exports have remained stable at around $ 2.4 billion [€2.05bn]. Despite an arms embargo, it is interesting to note that annual defense exports to China are still around $ 260 million. Hence the perception of Europe as an opportunist mercantilist in defense; not a strong security partner.
Europe remains an ephemeral power in the Indo-Pacific. He is seen as a trusted partner, but also a powerless partner. Some globalists argue that power is inevitably fleeting these days, that it is about standards and networks, less warships and big investments; to be a neutral broker, not an arrogant tyrant.
Only around two percent of respondents in Southeast Asia identify Europe as the most powerful player in the region, behind China, the United States, Japan, ASEAN and just ahead of Korea. South.
Europe’s Indo-Pacific strategy is therefore so worn out that it is becoming commonplace.
Indo-Pacific activism comes at the expense of more pressing challenges in Europe’s backyard. As the United States continues to move towards the Indo-Pacific, the power vacuum in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa is causing further instability.
This is where Europe should be. It should focus its investment, trade, diplomacy and security capabilities on this area if it is not to become fully redundant.
Tackling terrorism, piracy, state failure and regional power politics in this region is likely to impress its Indo-Pacific partners more than sending a navy ship every now and then to across the South China Sea.