Europe and the rise of the world’s lynchpin states

While Europe focuses on India and China, a host of medium-sized emerging powers are helping to reshape global diplomacy. Is Europe ready for the rise of the lynchpin states?

If you believe the commentariat we now live in the
“Pacific century”, an era where power is shifting from west to east and global
affairs will be dominated, especially economically, by the Pacific
rim states. As Mark Leonard writes in his book What Does China Think?,
particularly the rise of China
may be one of the few, once-in-a-lifetime movements, like the creation and
later collapse of the Soviet Union. But
conventional wisdom can overlook equally important, if slightly less obvious
trends. The rise of a second tier of states as power-brokers, policy
entrepreneurs and progress-blockers may be one such subterranean but
potentially critical development. In fact, the coming years may not be about a
big shift, but about a number of smaller shifts.

That was the conclusion drawn by American scholar Parag Khanna who journeyed across what
he called the “Second World” to observe these
nations up close. Though the countries in this category range in size and
population from heavily peopled states like Indonesia
to smaller ones such as Malaysia
and Chile, this strata of
nations – medium-sized states that are smaller than the big emerging powers of China, India,
Brazil and Russia – may be united in seeing
their role increase. Look at Mexico
and South Korea,
who have done more to shape the nature of post-Copenhagen climate policy than
the EU. Or the role that Qatar
has played in Middle East peacemaking. Chile
is an increasingly significant player in Latin American multilateral efforts,
like the Union of South American Nations. Kazakhstan
has just begun chairing the OSCE – the first non-EU member to do so for quite a
while – and is a key swing-state between China
and Russia
inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

The power of these “lynchpin states” is both a challenge
and an opportunity for the EU. On the one hand, the 27-member bloc struggles to
deal with second-tier states because they are neither big nor small. Desperate
for the EU to be seen as a global actor, many European governments feel it
should focus on links with the US,
Russia and China. To strengthen such links,
the EU has developed instruments like the “partnership and cooperation
agreement” overseen by the European Commission and “strategic
partnerships”. The EU has or is now negotiating strategic partnerships with
states including Brazil, China, India,
Japan, Russia and South Africa.

On the other hand, the EU has developed an extensive
corpus of doctrine on fragile, failing and weak states as well as a wide
variety of policy instruments from quick-reaction funding mechanisms, like the
“instrument of stability”, to the 23 European Security and Defence
Policy missions that have been deployed.  But the EU struggles to engage
states that are neither powerful nor weak, but are becoming more influential.
That may not come as a surprise; second-tier countries do not necessarily have
important commercial ties for the EU or receive any aid – and as such have not
merited much attention.

is a good example. Nobody tracking foreign policy would deny the increasing
role of south-east Asia’s largest economy. At
the UN, Jakarta has proven quite important; its
UN envoy has sided with the US
on Darfur, worked with European governments on Lebanon,
but cooperated with Russia
on Kosovo. Yet Indonesia
represents a mere 0.44 percent of total EU exports and receives little foreign
aid.  Because of the difference between Indonesia’s
global importance and its limited commercial and aid relationship with the EU,
the Brussels-to-Jakarta
flight rarely has senior EU officials on board. So bringing the Indonesian
government on board, for example at the UN, will probably be difficult even for
EU states like Germany and France.

A related problem for the EU is the fact that these
“lynchpin states” are important for different reasons – some are key to get an
agreement on climate change, others are important if the EU hopes to satiate
its energy demands. In dealing with each problem, a different “solution set” of
countries are needed. But the EU does not have a role in all the policy areas
where the second-tier states are influential or seek trade-offs from it; some
areas remain the preserve of EU member states.

The Lisbon Treaty is meant to bestow upon the EU the
instruments to engage other states more comprehensively. An audit of the EU’s
links with the “lynchpin states”, starting with Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa,
Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Korea and
Colombia, would be useful to plot where the Union’s diplomatic corps needs to
focus more or differently.  Such a study could for example chart which
states are important for the EU’s aims, particularly on climate policy,
migratory patterns and energy, as well as what kind of trade-offs the EU can
offer. As Sven Biscop and Thomas Renard
, different types of relationships may emerge: those with which the EU
establishes cooperation in a comprehensive range of areas and others with whom
cooperation focuses on a more limited number of issues.  If the future of
world affairs will be shaped not only by big states, or affected by weak ones,
but also influenced by a range of second-tier states, the EU ought to consider
how it improve its links with these.

This piece was first published by E!Sharp

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

We will store your email address and gather analytics on how you interact with our mailings. You can unsubscribe or opt-out at any time. Find out more in our privacy notice.