Economic crises forcing states to seek common solutions to grave threats
Greater interdependence in Asia has been a driver of increases in prosperity
The realist literature on multi-polarity and on power transitions in international relations tends towards pessimism as to whether the major change in the power balance in Asia can be handled peaceably. Photograph: Reuters
Europe and Asia are facing crises of transition in economic and security issues in a wider global context of changing geopolitical realities. Their world is no longer quite as ordered by American hegemony as before since US relative power has shifted and other powers are emerging.
Europe and Asia are having to adopt to those changes in a context of economic globalisation and interdependence deeply affected by the 2007-9 global financial crisis. A shift in US foreign policy focus and priorities towards Asia after the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was determined by China’s rapid emergence as a potentially competing regional hegemon, having overtaken that role from Japan in the 2000s. These changes pose challenges also for Europe, which fears being marginalised if it does not adapt EU and Nato structures to the emerging multi-polarity.
The two regions have responded differently to these economic and security crises. That is natural given the deep differences between them. Such differences and several similarities were explored this week at a lively symposium in Trinity College Dublin on what drives regional integration. Asia is much more diverse culturally and politically, with quite distinct attitudes towards sharing sovereignty, arising largely from its historical experience as a subject of (mainly European) colonialism and its more recent nation-building, whereas European integration originated in a collective effort to escape from the disastrous consequences of its own competing and mainly imperial nationalisms.
Nevertheless such crises do drive integration in both regions. Critical moments characterised by extreme threat and short time horizons can be distinguished from longer term innovative transitions allowing more opportunity for creative solutions. The economic crises of 1997-8 in Asia and from 2010 in the euro zone saw leaders and states driven to seek common solutions to extreme financial and economic threats. Their ability to find more creative longer term solutions has depended in good part on how they dealt with the initial threats.
There was no necessary positive outcome in either case, as talk of failure, disintegration or sub-optimal outcomes continue in the euro zone. But as one speaker argued, there is no euro crisis if major macro-economic aggregates are compared with the US or the UK; but there is a need for a rules based banking union to avoid taxpayers taking the hit and for a greater common politics to underwrite solidarity.
Compared to 1997-8 Asian responses to the global financial crisis in 2007-9 were more measured, tending more to consolidation than innovation, but fundamentally geared to preserving the huge increases in prosperity made possible by greater regional and global economic interdependence in Asia.
The security issues are more pressing in Asia than in Europe, determined by China’s emerging role and how that is managed by the US and neighbouring powers. The realist literature on multi-polarity and on power transitions in international relations tends towards pessimism as to whether this major change can be handled peaceably.