US-EU three seas initiative vs Russia & China | By Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi


US-EU three seas initiative vs Russia & China

APPARENTLY, with the Biden Administration’s glaring slogan that America is back, a new resurrection in the transatlantic relationship seems to gain a strategic pace via the US-EU sponsored Three Seas Initiative (3SI).

Yet euphorically, the American-backed European project (testing American-European unity) is aimed at countering the growing European dependency on Russian energy and the Chinese economy, particularly Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Established in 2015 on the initiative of the Polish and Croatian Presidents, the 3SI was handed a momentum boost the following year when the Administration of Donald Trump gave its backing.

Geographically, the 3SI team sheet builds a block running right across Europe from north to south and linking the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas.

In November, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution in support of the Three Seas Initiative.

Nonetheless, the stories of all 12 Central and Eastern European States have one chapter in common: the Iron Curtain, which split Europe in two and stifled natural development, economic growth and international unity in the region for half a century.

Historically, both Central and Eastern European nations seem to have reflected their different cultural and religious backgrounds.

Three Seas Initiative membership includes: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The Three Seas Initiative seeks to build cooperation for the Central and Eastern Europe region.

Obviously, these states are connected by the fact that they stand to lose the most from the two speed Europe idea that some Western politicians have imposed. They are also at a clear disadvantage when it comes to infrastructure investment.

In the past, the European Union has emphasized East–West cooperation and overlooked the North–South communication and energy corridors.

“The idea of improving CEE infrastructure to raise its resilience to Russia’s dominance of energy supplies or China’s offer to bankroll rail and road upgrades under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is most commonly cited as the reason for Washington’s interest.

As the newly passed US resolution states, the “shared goal” in increasing connectivity between the three seas is to “counter Russian and Chinese malign influence.”

Whereas the nations of Western Europe are linked by roads and railways, power lines and oil and gas pipelines, countries in Central and Eastern Europe remain comparatively disconnected from one another in terms of modern infrastructure. The deficit is particularly acute along the region’s north-south axis.

A-Economic growth. The main aim of the overall initiative is to boost economic growth and well-being in the region.

More activity in trade and the provision of services within the region and with neighbouring countries creates such opportunities and makes Europe, as a whole, more competitive in global terms.

B-Greater interest among investors. In the context of the European Union, the countries in the Three Seas Initiative have stood out for many years for their above-average rates of economic growth. As such, they offer investors potentially higher rates of return.

By working together and pursuing similar policies, these countries will make the region more attractive on the global financial market.

C-Energy security. Energy is not only an economic issue, but has also become a strategic and security concern.

A cohesive, well-functioning energy market and the freedom to choose between suppliers will increase open competition, ensure that the region is better supplied, and boost energy security.

D-Geopolitics. Strong economic development across the board in Europe, including the Three Seas region, will help to more effectively defend current geopolitical interests, while at the same time making a stand against interests that are not conducive.

E-Smart connectivity. Where new investments are concerned, the aim is to make the most of the region’s experience and potential for implementing digital solutions.

This goes beyond the development of digital infrastructure, and encompasses the creation of smart, modern solutions for data exchange and the more efficient use of information. F-Achieving climate goals.

A cohesive approach from the Central European nations focused on developing new and modern infrastructure will help the region move towards lower carbon emissions and achieve carbon neutrality.’’

Moreover, the Three Seas Initiative Investment Fund supports entrepreneurs in expanding export and their business in Eastern and Central European countries.

At the moment the fund is estimated to have the value of 1,2 billion Euros and it has a potential to grow to 5 billion.

So far the fund has invested to Poland and Estonia. The Biden Administration’s support for the 3SI is intrinsically based on the very perceived goals: First, the Three Seas Initiative helps the US to strengthen ties with Central and Eastern Europe, while counterbalancing Chinese and Russian efforts in the region; second, If nations in Central and Eastern Europe — already reliant on Russian energy — cannot get American, or British, or German investments, they will also turn to China.

Though the motivations of the 3SI members are mixed, both political and pragmatic, Poland, the Baltic States and some others are primarily driven— by a historic geopolitical imperative— to shore up the region against Russia, and increasingly in these countries China is also seen through the same geopolitical lens, with populations suspicious of Chinese firms and Chinese political influence.

Whereas Hungary, Austria and some other members are hedging and seeking benefits from whichever major power, the US, China or Russia is making offers, looking for infrastructure funding.

It is fanciful to predict that the 3SI is a US-Europe befitting answer to China’s BRI project. By any comparison, the US-EU 3SI has no match with China’s BRI project- a mega trans-regional development project aimed at involving the economic future of more than 120 countries of the world.

A big question mark on the viability of the 3SI is whether national governments will deliver on major projects, such as a mooted north-south highway, or “Via Carthia”, a grandiose idea to link the Greek port of Thessaloniki to Klaipéda in Lithuania. Such an ambitious project is likely to face some gigantic challenges ahead.

—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.

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