WORLD WILL UNDERGO SEA CHANGE AS DISTANCE WIDENS BETWEEN AMERICA AND EUROPE
The 55th Munich Security Conference held February 15-17 revealed to the world the growing grave discord in the relationship between the US and Europe.The chosen theme of the conference－”The Great Puzzle: Who Will Pick Up the Pieces?”－proved to be quite appropriate.
Annually attracting several dozen leaders from around the world, including heads of state and cabinet ministers, the Munich conference is an important international venue for the discussion of security issues. Over the years, the conference has been a stage in which the US and European nations pursue international security as equal partners. But this relationship has changed now that a deep chasm has opened between them.
Professor Tadae Takubo, an international relations specialist who serves as Deputy Director of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, a privately-financed Tokyo think tank that I head, warns that nations of the world, especially Japan, must clearly recognize the depth of this chasm between America and Europe. Prof. Takubo explains that, while its alliance with the US remains vital, Japan has entered an era in which maintaining close ties with only one nation cannot sufficiently safeguard its security.
Let me cite some pertinent remarks from the addresses delivered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Mike Pence.
Merkel started her address by asserting: “We must think (of the world today) in terms of interlinked structures… an architecture of the world…is even likened to a puzzle, i.e., something that breaks up into pieces.” She continued:
“For us Europeans, if I may say so, the really bad news this year was the termination of the INF Treaty. After…years of violations of the terms of the treaty by Russia, this termination was inevitable. The US and Russia are terminating a treaty that was essentially agreed for Europe’s sake, a disarmament treaty that affects our security.”
What one sees in these remarks is a readiness on Merkel’s part to balance her position between condemning President Trump for announcing the decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty and denouncing Russia for violating it.
Merkel appealed to China to join a new multinational INF treaty, while in his remarks immediately following, Pence criticized Russia for its violations of the treaty. Yang Jie-chi, China’s state councilor who spoke after Peace, flatly rejected Merkel’s appeal.
Roughly 95% of China’s nuclear arsenal is in violation of the INF Treaty, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-headquartered British research institute. Therefore, there will likely be no chance of China joining an expanded INF treaty. This is exactly the reason behind America’s decision to pull out of the treaty. Asked about this point, Yang snapped: “China develops its capabilities strictly in accordance to its defensive needs and doesn’t pose a threat to anybody else. So we are opposed to the multi-nationalization of the INF.”
Merkel is obviously pro-China in that she dared entice China to join a disarmament treaty Beijing could not possibly agree to. Why is she pro-China? Something she said towards the end of her address, which I will refer to later, may explain what makes her favor China.
Discussing European security, Pence referred back to the address he delivered in Munich two years ago, in which he stressed that “America first” did not mean “America alone.” Proclaiming that the US remains “firmly committed” to NATO’s defense, Pence brought up the subject of defense expenditures born by member nations, noting that the US has “taken decisive action” to strengthen its economy by enacting “the largest tax cuts and tax reforms in American history,” rolling back regulation, and forging reciprocal trade deals. Noting that the US has also “become the world’s largest producer of oil and gas,” Pence said America is fully committed to protecting NATO going forward.
Pence simultaneously urged America’s NATO allies to “live up to the commitments they have made to our common defense and…put in place a credible plan to meet the 2% threshold. And by 2024, we expect all our allies to invest 20% of defense spending on procurement.” By so saying, Pence made it obvious that America wants its NATO allies to procure American-manufactured weapons, as he stated later in his address: “We’ve also made it clear that we will not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries. We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East.”
Pence’s tough tone didn’t deter Merkel from countering with a firm stand on “Nord Stream 2”—a new gas pipeline running from Russia to Europe across the Baltic Sea, with Germany functioning as a transit country.
Pence had this to say about the pipeline: “With (that) renewed strength, America and our allies have stood strong. We’ve stood against efforts, as well, to divide our alliance through political interference or the use of energy resources. And the US commends all our European partners who’ve taken a strong stand against Nord Stream 2. And we commend others to do the same.” Merkel countered:
“Ukraine is a transit country for Russian natural gas, and wishes to remain so. I have assured (Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko) that we will give him every possible support…I was still in the GDR (East Germany, during the Cold War) and we consumed Russian gas there anyway, but the former Federal Republic of Germany then started importing large amounts of Russian gas…I don’t know why the situation should be so much worse that we can’t say that Russia remains a partner.
“Let me ask you—again, it isn’t easy to say this in the presence of President Poroshenko on the left from where I’m standing and the Chinese representative (Yang) on the right: Do we want to make Russia dependent on China or rely on China to import its natural gas? Is that in our European interests? No, I don’t think so…”
A splendid rebuttal against Pence’s contention. Merkel asked a penetrating question: Would the free world be doing the right thing by driving Russia to depend on the China market for its gas exports?
And yet Pence remained strongly critical of Merkel’s “Nord Stream 2” scheme. The chancellor countered brilliantly by ridiculing Washington’s plan to levy high tariffs on European cars as a supposed “threat to the national security of the United States of America.”
Merkel’s Perspective of China
“You see, we are proud of our cars,” Merkel continued. “These vehicles are also built in the US. The largest BMW factory is in South Carolina. South Carolina in turn exports to China.”
By developing an impeccable argument against Pence’s criticism which left him no room for rebuttal, Merkel in effect told America to refrain from undue criticism of Europe if it seriously desires to maintain its relationship with NATO.
The gap between Merkel and Pence on such issues as the threat from Huawei or the Iran nuclear deal was far from bridged in Munich. It would be wise for Japanese to bear in mind Merkel’s pro-China perspective discernible from her address. Below is the gist of what she said about China:
“When I visited China, its representatives said: ‘For 1,700 of the last 2,000 years, we were the leading economy. What’s happening now is not a surprise. All that’s happening is that we are returning to where we once were. It’s just that over the past 300 years you haven’t been used to seeing us in this position. Over these 300 years, first the Europeans were the leaders, then the United States, and now all of us together…”
China “will return to that position,” Merkel quoted a high-ranking Chinese official as telling her during first of the 12 official visits to China she made since her inauguration as chancellor in 2005.
“We are observing that China is an up and coming country,” Merkel added. Presumably, Merkel expects the Chinese official’s prediction to become a reality. When that happens, the already large distance between America and Europe will only be vaster.
In sharp contrast to Merkel, Pence relentlessly criticized China over such acts as intellectual property theft, aggression in the South China Sea, and debt diplomacy. His criticism of China is appropriate, but the real concern about the US is the possibility that Trump, who fails to fully comprehend the strategic importance of America’s alliance with Europe, will come to easy compromises with China without understanding the dire need to continue to take a tough stance.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 842 in the March 7, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)