The Broken Umbrella – Shifting Security Architecture in Europe and the Asia-Pacific



On 9-11 December 2020, UCSIA organizes an academic workshop on shifting security architecture in Europe and the Asia-Pacific at the University of Antwerp.The end of the Cold War did not lead in the immediate post-Cold War period to fundamental changes in the US-centred alliance systems in either Europe or the Asia-Pacific region. Despite concerns about a possible reduction in America’s defence commitments in the wake of the disappearance of the shared Soviet threat, throughout the 1990s and until the mid-2000s European states made minimal efforts to diversify their security dependence on the US. In the Asia-Pacific region, strategic uncertainties associated with a rising China and the related absence of collective security mechanisms ensured the continuity of the US-led bilateral alliances, also known as the “hub-and-spoke” security system.

Regional fears of possible US disengagement in the post-Cold War era were initially about Washington’s political willingness. However, America’s relative decline has gradually turned the question into that of US ability to sustain its security commitments, as well as a matter of alliance burden-sharing.

Notwithstanding the significant increase in America’s defence budget, President Donald Trump’s “America first” foreign policy has questioned the credibility of the US alliance commitments. The perceived Russia threat, especially in the Eastern part of Europe, and the perceived China threat, notably in Asia’s maritime domain, have raised European and Asian “abandonment” concerns, respectively.This is an opportune time to comparatively examine regional responses to the perceived decline in US alliance credibility by focusing on the period from the early to mid-2000s onwards.

The workshop will seek to answer the following key questions:

  • Given the changes in America’s willingness to maintain its security commitments as a result of its relative decline, how are the US-led alliances in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region being transformed in terms of objectives, burden-sharing and operational capabilities? Is there a strengthening or a weakening of the examined alliance relationships? To what extent are the interests of the allies diverging?
  • How are the American allies responding to the changing power relations beyond their alliance framework with the US, both intra-regionally and inter-regionally (i.e., at the Europe-Asia level)? What are the main trends in alignment formation?
  • What accounts for the similarities and differences between the alliance and alignment dynamics in the two regions?
  • Based on the current trends in alliance transformation, what are the future prospects for the US-led alliances from both a short-term (5 years) and mid- to long-term (10-15 years) perspective?

Expected results and impact of the workshop

This comparative study has both theoretical and prescriptive significance. Theoretically, the study directly addresses the question of hedging vs. abandoning. Do states keep the alliance with the US or do they abandon the US alliance in favour of another form of security cooperation? What kind of alliance transformation do we observe in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region? Does the observed transformation support the “alliance abandonment” theory, or some mixed “hedging” strategies? In terms of policy prescriptions, our comparative research findings will inform the European governments of Asia’s responses to the “Trump phenomenon,” and the Asian governments of Europe’s reactions.

The main contribution of the proposed workshop to the current scholarly debates on US-led alliances will be its comprehensive and comparative aspect. Not only will the workshop provide an in-depth examination of the transformation of the American-led alliances, as well as of US allies’ responses to potential American disengagement from regional security, it will also place this analysis within a comparative framework by bridging the dynamics in the European and Asian-Pacific contexts. This will also allow for a more accurate projection of current trends into the near- to mid-term future, as well as for the formulation of specific future scenarios on the evolution of alliances and alignments, in general.

More information here.