CSS Research and Policy Seminar with Thomas Cavanna

Thomas Cavanna, visiting assistant professor at The Fletcher School, presented an early version of a new paper on Europe’s position within the global U.S.-China competition for influence at the CSS Research and Policy Seminar on December 10, 2019. The paper is part of Cavanna’s ongoing region-by-region study of the Belt and Road Initiative and its impact on U.S. grand strategy.

Cavanna started his analysis with a description of America’s geopolitical objectives in Europe. Given its geographic location and industrial potential, the region has played a key role in the assertion of Washington’s hegemony over parts of the Eurasian rimland in the post-World War II era. However, the Belt and Road Initiative, which is designed to connect China to the rest of Eurasia via major infrastructure investments, new commercial agreements, and growing financial cooperation, could threaten this paradigm.

As illustrated by the controversy over Huawei’s 5G technology, Beijing has generated growing concerns in Europe as of late. Frustrated by China’s unfair economic practices (protectionism, massive state support, violations of intellectual property rights) and growing assertiveness (military buildup, domestic repression), both the EU and many individual European states have erected new protections and set conditions on engagement with Beijing. Yet China can count on major assets that will help it to spread its influence further, including its economic appeal, Europe’s own divisions, the frustrations some European leaders have with aspects of America’s hegemony, and the new security concerns at the heart of relations between Washington and Moscow.

Although Beijing is highly unlikely to ever match U.S. influence in Europe, its growing regional presence could have significant strategic repercussions over time. China could enhance its influence over key European sectors of activity (for example, ports, the Internet, and nuclear industries) and accelerate its technological progress. It could constrain America’s regional military movements and discourage European allies from high-end strategic cooperation with Washington in times of crisis. Most importantly, Beijing could gradually erode the United States’ ability to harness European resources to its strategic ambitions in other parts of the world in the ideational, economic, and military domains.

Professor Kajia Schilde of Boston University joined the seminar as a discussant and provided insightful commentary on Cavanna’s presentation. Cavanna also benefited from the comments offered by his colleagues and the students in the audience.

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