GIS Dossier: Europe as a global player – looking east

Map of EU’s network of accession and association agreements
The EU has used association agreements both to expand its sphere of influence and as a defensive buffer, supplementing the NATO alliance (source: macpixxel for GIS)
  • In the Arctic and Baltic regions, the EU faces a Cold War-style standoff with Russia
  • Ukraine is the east’s critical point, as Russia pushed back against EU encroachment
  • With Turkey, Europe faces a choice between value-based diplomacy and realpolitik

As described in a July 2017 report by GIS expert Bernard Siman, the European Union is a “geographically coherent bloc” of some 500 million people, “located at a geopolitical crossroads.” Yet without unified leadership and accustomed to operating under the protective wing of the United States, Mr. Siman argued that Europe seems incapable of thinking and acting strategically:

This malaise can be described as the absence of any recognition, definition or articulation of a basic element of geopolitical reality: that the EU, as a bloc, has strategic spheres of influence that must be defined, promoted and defended.

Europe’s most vital spheres of influence are those on its immediate perimeter, which happens to coincide with some of the world’s historic conflict zones – Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East and Northern Africa. This survey considers the EU’s northern and eastern rim, traditionally an area of contention between Western and Central European powers and their rivals to the east – Russia and Turkey.

In these areas, as elsewhere on the EU’s periphery, the main geostrategic force is the gravitational pull of the bloc’s 15.3 trillion-euro market, representing 22 percent of the global economy. But like its antecedent the Roman empire, whose grand strategy was based on a combination of military superiority and a willingness to cooperate with, bribe or even coopt neighboring peoples, the EU possesses military and diplomatic instruments.

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