International Affairs / Mezinárodní dění - Page 4

Europe and Asia together against non-traditional security challenges

The results of the Tenth ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

Ágnes Szunomár

The relationship between Europe and Asia – alThe logo of Asia-Europe Meetingthough more and more common interests and challenges connect them – for a long time has consisted of bilateral relations without a formal supporting structure or framework such as for transatlantic relations in the case of Europe and North America, or the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in the case of North and South American states and Asia. In 1996, recognizing the need for strengthening this relationship, France and Singapore initiated regular meetings between Asia and Europe. In this way, thus the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) was born.

ASEM is an open forum for dialogue and discussion consisting of 46 countries – the twenty-seven members of the European Union (EU), the thirteen members of the ASEAN, the Plus Three regional grouping with India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Australia, Russia and New Zealand – and two international organizations, the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat. Since it is a consultative forum, specific decisions are not taken during the meetings. But a so-called “presidential statement”, a final communication, is adopted detailing the results of the dialogue. In the ASEM framework, members engage in discussions as equal partners ignoring differences in economic development, country size and population. Dialogue is based on mutual benefits and mutual respect. The ASEM process is loosely organized. There are three dimensions or pillars of the cooperation, including dialogues on politics, economics, and also other areas such as social politics, education and culture. Heads of governments meet every two years (alternately in Europe and Asia) to set the ASEM agenda, while ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meetings are organised in the interim between Summits. The Foreign Ministers Meeting is responsible for pursuing the ASEM dialogue under the first and third pillars (political dialogue and co-operation in other areas). Apart from the Summit meetings, the ASEM process is carried forward through a series of ministerial and working-level meetings.

The 10th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Gödöllő, Hungary had an over-arching theme: “Working Together on Non-Traditional Security Challenges”. This title – due to the Chairs’ Statement – provided an opportunity to address relevant issues of common interest having substantial implications for the prosperity, security and stability of both Europe and Asia. Non-traditional or new types of security challenges include almost every security problem that is not a traditional military conflict. These challenges can be natural disasters, terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, illegal arms trafficking, organised crime, and also migration or food shortages. János Martonyi, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, highlighted that several of these challenges are present in Asia simultaneously. Indeed, Japan has recently been hit by both a nuclear and a natural disaster at the same time, which made the meeting and its theme more topical than ever.

All 48 members of ASEM represented themselves at the meeting. 36 of the 46 countries even had ministers attending the meetings, reflecting very high level participation. The Meeting was opened by Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. In his opening remarks, the Prime Minister emphasized that the effectiveness of cooperation between Asia and the European Union will be crucial in the future. Due to global financial and economic competition a new world has emerged where “lone fighters can no longer be successful”. He added that the years ahead will be characterized by searching for effective forms of cooperation and alliance. Europe should look for the most effective forms of economic and political cooperation with Asia, because that cooperation will certainly form a starting point for renewing the post-economic crisis world.

A wide range of non-traditional security challenges facing Europe and Asia can seriously impact the stability, security and prosperity of both regions, posing challenges at both the regional and global levels. On behalf of the Hungarian Presidency, János Martonyi stressed the importance of establishing nuclear energy safety where the best way to resolve such problems, both in the field of nuclear safety and environmental protection, is to seek common solutions. Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto also emphasized that combating terrorism, disaster management, nuclear safety, climate change and nuclear non-proliferation, are all challenges demanding cooperation. This is in the joint interest of the countries of both Asia and Europe.  The Chairs’ Statement highlights that environmental degradation, climate change, the loss of biological diversity, the over-exploitation of natural resources and other human pressures on the natural environment are underlying causes for many emerging security threats. Ministers have reaffirmed their commitment to pursue sustainable development in tandem with economic growth and social progress.

The issue of food shortages was highlighted by several countries during the plenary discussion. According to some countries of Southeast Asia, a holistic approach is needed in this field and the members of ASEM should improve their technological and scientific cooperation. Others emphasised the necessity of promoting cooperation, not only on recovery from natural disasters, but also on their forecasting and early warning.

On the second day of the Meeting, the participants dealt with the recovery from economic crisis and the fight against poverty. The Chairs’ Statement, unanimously adopted at the meeting, points out that the ASEM partners acknowledge that the world is recovering from the economic crisis, but in an uneven and unbalanced way across and within countries. They expressed deep concern that the recovery has not yet translated into sufficient employment and adequate growth rates for all economies. In some advanced economies unemployment is still high, and fiscal and financial vulnerabilities remain such as slow progress in fiscal consolidation, sovereign debt crises and slow progress on financial sector consolidation and reform. Some emerging economies face the risk of overheating and excessive short-term capital flows, and many confront the threat of food and fuel price volatility, with high levels last seen in 2008. ASEM therefore supports the goals set by the G20 to address and provide collective solutions for ongoing global economic challenges taking into account the interest of all nations. The Hungarian Foreign Minister added that the crisis is not only a challenge, but also an opportunity, as the markets expect jointly-developed solutions from the countries of the world. János Martonyi offered the European Union’s growth strategy for Asian countries as an example. This strategy covers several areas ranging from education to employment, as well as boosting innovation. He believes that the Europe 2020 Strategy has formulated objectives that can define an appropriate course of growth for the countries of Asia as well.

Overall, we can be assured that the results of the meeting won’t shake the world because no historic, compromising or tough decisions were made. But the consultations within the framework of ASEM do have a raison d’être in the future. Informal political meetings are becoming increasingly important in the world as both regional and global problems can be discussed more openly. In the future these meetings may become even more important, since Asia is rapidly becoming a dominant region in the world economy, global security and politics and has started to consciously influence the international order. As the Statement points out, Asia and Europe are becoming more and more unified, but there are still plenty of thing to do till then. Deeper and wider inter-regional relations would offer many opportunities for working together. The ASEM initiative involves partners that constitute over half of the global population, comprise more than 60% of world trade and account greater than half of global GDP. These facts alone make ASEM a significant forum that has successfully provided an important opportunity for interregional co-operation on an equal and reciprocal basis for over one and a half decades.

Ágnes Szunomár is a China-expert and Junior Research Fellow at the Insitute of World Economics, Budapest

A European vision for the Middle East

In this introductory article, I will examine what kind of threats and possibilities does the current power vacuum in the Middle East present to Europe. I will argue that the way the European Union can influence the region will be an indicator of whether Europe can become a great power in the XXI century.

The blame game against the West is experiencing its renaissance among many in the Middle East for supporting the corrupt and highly authoritarian regimes of many Arab states during the last few decades. While on one level this criticism can be justified, the actual situation concerning the European Union (and its predecessors) is even more severe, since European countries were only going with the flow without having a real impact on the political system of the Arab regimes. Accepting the blame is easier, because by this we can maintain the delusion that Europe still has a serious influence over its neighbors, but the reality is that the European Union has a long way to go to if it wants to put real pressure on other countries without the aid of the United States. For the time being let us consider “European influence” as a neutral phenomenon, later I will argue for its necessity.

One might say that “Europe” never had any say in the Middle East, rather individual European powers had. While this observation is true, it is still shameful that France, the United Kingdom and the rest of the EU countries together cannot assert their agenda of human rights and stability. During the Cold War, this was a less important issue, but now, during an era of emerging great powers, it will be very important whether Europe has a stable and cooperative neighborhood, or it will be surrounded by failed states and also by allies of its potential adversaries. This realization had to come during a time of a grand turmoil affecting the region from Morocco to Iran, which has shown, that the corrupt but stable Arab regimes in the end cannot provide security neither to their own people, nor to European countries. On the contrary, they are the reason behind civil war-like situation such as the ones we experience in Libya and recently in Yemen too.

This upheaval in the Greater Middle East region has provided an opportunity for many (mostly regional) powers to fill in the ever-deepening vacuum and the European Union is only one and maybe the least active player in this struggle (except for the isolated and half-hearted intervention in Libya). Our main concern should be the growing Iranian influence in the territories in question. We sat through the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Hamas’ in the Gaza Strip; but Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen are also quickly turning into battlegrounds where conservative forces have to face an aggressive Iranian expansion. The main problem with this process is not the fall of the corrupt old regimes, but the possible emergence of another, much more hostile tyranny, which has its origins in Iran. The theocratic regime has secured its grip over its own people in Iran, by crushing all opposition back home, but in the meantime, it has been preaching “democracy” abroad, when its interests dictated it. No one should doubt that peoples of the Middle East have their right to elect their own government and set their foreign policy until the point that it is not threatening others. Europe is facing a completely new security threat, where from the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the heart of Central Asia, an extremely anti-Western and hostile power is on the rise. The possibly threatening Iranian nuclear program combined with the continuing development of advanced ballistic missile systems is more than enough to make any European politician worried. A sad thing is that it seems that almost every Western and Arab leader understands the risk, but apart from increased economic pressure and numerous speeches, they do not act against this emerging threat. This European passivity and indecisiveness has become a dangerous habit.

There are other “question marks” in the region, mainly Turkey and Egypt. Turkey seems to be at the crossroads between European integration and an independent foreign policy. The former outcome could be the greatest asset for the European Union to stabilize the Middle East, counter the rising Iran and what is maybe the most important aspect, provide all the countries in the region with a vision that is democratic, highly prosperous and authentically Muslim. An independent and possibly bitter Turkey, rejected by the West, could mean an ally for Iran and counter any European attempt to stabilize the region. These are the two extreme ends of the spectrum, but it is easy to see which one is more beneficial for all the parties involved. Time will tell if the new Egypt will turn into a democratic country, which could rally the other Arab countries Nevertheless, a powerful Egypt could pose some risks too, as we could see under the Nasser regime.

At this point, we have to understand that the most threatening prospect of the current processes in the Middle East is not the new order that hostile actors could create, but rather the emerging chaos that an intensifying power struggle in the region would cause. Today our main concerns should be the spread of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, the illegal mass migration to Europe, and the eroding security of trading and supply routes together with the violence committed against the local populations: Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. The situation is bad and we do not see any sign of stabilization in the near future. With the rise of China, India and other emerging powers, combined with the steady decline of the United States (due to its unmanageable public debt and other factors), the European Union will face a completely new international situation. The resources of the Middle East will become even more precious targets for other global powers than they are today and therefore the fight for them will be even more ruthless. If Europe wants to create a vision for itself and therefore the international order, it has to protect its vital interests in its surrounding and also the civilian population against local and also global actors, because this is what the European Union stands for. The expanding integration has the potential to fulfill these tasks, but it has to make a steady commitment to certain values, not just in rhetoric, but in its actions too. This will not be an easy shift from the Cold War routine, where Uncle Sam would protect the weak Western European countries against the Soviet Union. Truly standing on our feet will be costly, but the price we all would have to pay will be much higher if we continue to ignore the threatening signs. The peoples of the Middle East and Europe need a positive vision and an increased cooperation between these actors is one of the key tools to deliver this beneficial outcome, which is a more assertive Europe that can protect itself and contribute to a stable and prosperous world order.