Events & News


Why are Asians not dialing the office of the High Representative to talk to Europe?

Mr Iftikhar A Lodhi, PhD student, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

22 Mar 2011

SR3-4, Level 3, Manasseh Meyer, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, 469C Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259772

4.15pm – 5.15pm


Mr. Lodhi’s overarching argument is that while the Lisbon Treaty may contribute to a more coherent European Union, the impact the Lisbon Treaty has on overall EU-Asia relations is limited.  This is partly because of the fundamentally different strategic worldviews of the EU and Asia, but also because of Lodhi’s view that EU remained essentially as an inter-governmental entity as opposed to a supranational sovereign actor. 

Encouraged by the economic dynamism in Asia, the EU has illustrated its newfound desire to play a leading role, with increased interregional activities in the last decade. Mr. Lodhi stressed that because of EU’s increased interest in Asia, there is heightened expectations from both within the EU and from EU’s external partners for EU to play a larger role in Asia’s security.  However, it is in his view that the EU despite the Lisbon Treaty still lack the capacity and competence to be a security actor, particularly in that kind of security role framed by Asia.  Asians, according to him, are “hardcore realists” who do not consider power in normative terms. By only looking at hard power, Asians do not consider the EU as a competent and independent actor particularly vis-à-vis the US.  The EU’s stress on soft power, normative power may be important for its self-image but for the Asians, EU’s lack of military capability ruled it out as a serious security actor.

The possibilities of deeper ties between the EU and Asia apart from the growing economic relationships have also been questioned given the fundamental differences in culture and their respective approaches to democracy and human rights. This has been reflected in the different approaches adopted by the EU and Asians towards Myanmar. While the EU recommended sanctions and isolation, most Asian countries preferred the ASEAN method of engagement. Other points of divergence constitute disagreements over the reform of international organizations and the role of US’ hegemony in Asia. However, it is possible that despite these differences, EU and Asia can continue to develop their relationship in areas where convergence can be found such as in trade and investment, development assistance as well as technology and policy transfers.  


In summary, Mr. Lodhi stressed that the lack of a coherent EU voice, personality and military capability reinforced EU’s inability to play a more important role in Asia. Though the Lisbon treaty is a stepping stone towards more coherence, actual progress of the EU’s standing in Asia would depend on the overall development of the EU in its common foreign and security policy and also perhaps on how transatlantic and US-Asian relations evolve.


During the Q&A session some questions were raised about the true military capability of the EU.  Mr. Lodhi mentioned that while individual powers within the EU such as France and Britain posses strong militaries, the EU as a whole does not have its own independent military force. NATO, which is not only limited to EU Member States is still in charge of European security. This in turn impacts the competency and response of the EU in times of crisis.