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Is the United States neglecting its transatlantic relationship by “pivoting” to the Pacific?

Question submitted by Hamza Serry-Senhaji, from Brussels, March 21, 2013

Answered by: Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy

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In 2012, the Obama administration announced a "pivot" to East Asia—a strategy that includes a focus on regional security alliances and a rebalance of U.S. military presence from Europe to the Asia-Pacific. After World War II, the United States focused its military presence in Europe, and more recently in the Middle East with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, U.S. foreign policy priorities are shifting, driven by emerging economies, rising powers, and renewed tensions in Asia.

During a recent address at the Atlantic Council, General James Jones, former national security adviser to President Obama, called the phrase "pivot to Asia" regrettable because of its unintended interpretations. "It would be a catastrophic mistake… if the transatlantic alliance was somehow allowed to dissipate in terms of its importance to the rest of the world," he said. Especially in Europe, the term "pivot" created the impression among many that the United States would look predominately toward Asia while neglecting Europe. This was certainly not the intention of the Obama administration, and it has subsequently stressed that strong U.S. ties with Europe continue to be a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy.

Nevertheless, it is also true that Asia, because of its extraordinary economic dynamism and the rise of Chinese power, is ever more prominent in American strategic thinking and policies. In this respect, therefore, Europe will not figure in the decades ahead in as encompassing a way as it did during the Cold War, when the Soviet threat to NATO was the center of U.S. strategic preoccupation.