Opinion: Europe and NATO can’t help the U.S. counter China. Here’s why

At a recent news conference, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stood shoulder to shoulder with NATO’s secretary general to deliver a sweeping vision.

“The alliance recognizes that security challenges in one part of the world impact another — and vice versa,” Blinken said.

He paraphrased Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan: “What’s happening in Ukraine today may well be happening in East Asia tomorrow.” The subtext was unmistakable: The United States expects Europe to join its campaign to counter China’s rise, just as allies have rallied against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Yet as stirring as expressions of transatlantic solidarity sound, they obscure a more complicated picture. Europe currently lacks both the military means and the political appetite to meaningfully help the U.S. balance China in Asia.

Major European militaries have begun conducting naval patrols in the Indo-Pacific region, but decades of underinvestment have left European armed forces too small and ill-equipped to sustain far-flung expeditionary missions.

Sending a frigate or two on patrol is one thing; maintaining a sizable presence to deter Chinese aggression is quite another. The strategic lift, logistics and bases needed to sustain forces in the Pacific would cost staggering sums. Much of NATO Europe would be hard-pressed to defend itself against a determined Russian assault, let alone project power in Asia.

Political will is in even shorter supply. In surveys the Institute for Global Affairs recently conducted in the U.S., U.K., Germany and France — four of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s wealthiest countries — Europeans proved far less inclined than Americans to view China as a threat, to hold strongly negative opinions of it or to believe the West should gear up for a new Cold War. These sentiments limit how far leaders can tilt toward Washington on China, despite their soaring summit rhetoric. When they’re done championing democracy at international summits, these political leaders return to their democracies, where their policies will be informed — and constrained — by their voters’ preferences.

If Washington pressures European capitals to join its campaign to limit China’s power and influence, it could yet again estrange the U.S. from its most important allies. Confronting China as a merry band of democratic countries may feel emotionally satisfying, but over the long term, it is unwise. Europeans are already disillusioned by their involvement in the interminable post-Sept. 11 wars and wary of America’s tendency toward military interventions. President Joe Biden should be careful to not drag them into a more expansive global contest to which they neither want to nor can contribute.

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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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