On January 27, the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security hosted a discussion on strengthening the Atlantic-Pacific partnerships and correlating challenges facing this pursuit with the incoming US administration.

Following a welcome and introductory remarks by Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., chairman of the Atlantic Council, Dr. Matthew Kroenig moderated a panel on the security and trade relations between the United States, Europe, and Asia, featuring Dr. Ellen Frost, senior advisor at the East-West Institute; Mr. Yoichi Kato, senior research fellow at Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation; Dr. Niklas Swanström, executive director at the Institute for Security and Development Policy; and Dr. Theresa Fallon, director at Center for Russia, Europe, Asia Studies.
Dr. Frost opened the session with self-proclaimed “gloomy comments”, expressing her concern about future cooperation between the United States, Europe, and Asia. She pointed towards long-term problems such as a slow crisis of legitimacy dating to 1998, in which the EU and the United States are failing to increase voting share and halt further inequality, as well as short-term problems such as the crisis of credibility, in which allies no longer trust the United States on security related issues. Dr. Frost further elaborated on the challenges regarding countries’ tendencies to view political disputes from a nationalistic perspective. She related this concept to the EU’s preoccupation with Asia on economic terms, as well as overall threat perceptions of Western countries toward Russia. Frost especially emphasized the ongoing rivalry between parties competing for US attention.

On this point, Mr. Kato agreed with Dr. Frost, explaining Japan’s “America hugging” foreign policy. He discussed Japan’s challenge to preserve relevance in the shifting global structures. The framework between foreign actors has been altered with the increasing involvement of Europe. Kato further underlined this point with the breakdown of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Japan, as one of the only countries to have already ratified the pact, had anticipated deepening economic ties to the United States, slashing tariffs, and fostering trade to boost growth. Members had also hoped to foster a closer relationship on economic policies and regulation. The TPP was seen as the main driver for common values as well as an external pressure for economic reform. With President Trump’s hostility towards the trade deal, the chance to foster a closer relationship on economic policies and regulation falls away.

Dr. Fallon opened with a quote from the German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier: “With the new administration, many feel left in the cold.” Fallon commented on the idea of change and pointed to Brexit, European populism, as well as China’s surge in the world economy. She followed Mr. Kato’s statement and argued that with the collapse of TPP, China will be consolidating its power. As for EU-Asian security affairs, Fallon saw no future surge in involvement, but rather Europe prioritizing internal affairs, such as the refugee crisis. EU member states have indicated contrasting standpoints on issues concerning the South China Sea, environmental consensus, and trade relations, hindering future European involvement in Asia.

Lastly, Dr. Swanström introduced a new perspective on Atlantic-Pacific security partnerships. He argued that Europe, China, and the United States have vastly diverging views on issues concerning Russia, North Korea, and nuclear arsenals. One of the challenges he identified was the lack of consensus among EU member states. With upcoming elections and shifts in European political structures, maritime security has taken a backseat. While there is a prevailing need for greater transatlantic trade, shifts in global power structures give rise to concern. Dr. Swanström emphasized the necessity for EU member states to not only unite on economic relations but to find a clear stance together with the United States on matters regarding security in Asia.

In the past, US alliances have served as an example for the rest of the world, including Europe. However, whether the future will bring a more integrated security cooperation is an open question. Trump’s election victory has played into the identity-sharpening effect in US-EU-Asia partnerships. There is a presumption among the Southeast Asian leaders that the new Trump administration will place less emphasis on democracy, human rights, and trade. Nevertheless, the cards are still open with shifting outcomes.