By trying to consolidate foothold in CEE, Washington eyes many benefits

Tehran, Feb 20, IRNA/Global Times - After the aggressive speech by US Assistant Secretary Aaron Wess Mitchell in late October advocating the US to win influence in Central and Eastern Europe, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo recently visited Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.

Although Pompeo's visit covered a wide array of issues, including the Middle East, China, Russia, energy, and security, they pointed to US ambitions in winning the race for influence in Central and Eastern Europe.

Since US President Donald Trump took office, US capabilities have been on the decline along with its willingness to provide public goods to the international community. Although Washington clings to America First doctrine, it doesn't mean it follows a path of isolationism. The US sometimes provides regional goods to rebuild rules that are more favorable to it.

The US strategy in Central and Eastern Europe follows this logic.

The most important US presence in Central and Eastern Europe is the security cooperation under the NATO security framework. If the US wants to strengthen its clout in this region, it must win favor from those countries that strike a balance among major powers.

On one hand, the EU and the US diverge over a number of issues. For instance, Trump urged NATO members to increase defense expenditures, while the EU is seeking more strategic independence by developing a European army. But with a slowly recovering economy, Central and Eastern European countries are unable to cover defense expenses and are not as supportive of the EU's common defense plan as previously expected.

Meanwhile, with France and Germany signing the Aachen Treaty, the two will engage in more in-depth cooperation.
Considering the continuous threat allegedly posed by Russia and divergences within the EU over defense cooperation, the US can provide a security shield for the Central and Eastern European region, such as deploying more troops and upgrading equipment which would gain support from regional countries. Currently, these countries are more prone to NATO as the supplier of public strategic goods.

Besides public security goods, the US also provides the region with institutions and regulations facilitating Western democratic freedom. Actually, the US has never stopped its democratic pervasion and assistance. For example, projects funded by the National Endowment for Democracy have spread across Central and Eastern Europe.

One of the goals of Pompeo's visit is to rebuild the political relationship between the US and Central and Eastern Europe.

The US will also launch a Future Leaders Exchange Program, providing one-year academic scholarships for Hungarian high school students to study in the US.

There are many aspects to the US strategic return to Central and Eastern Europe. First, the US can enhance energy cooperation with the region. The regional countries would prefer not to become overly dependent on Russia.

The US has already voiced strong opposition to the energy cooperation between Germany and Russia via the Nord Stream 2 project.

Given that the US is set to become a net energy exporting country in 2020, it could become a major source of energy for Central and Eastern European countries.

Second, the US will strengthen political cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries. The region has undertaken multifaceted diplomacy, hoping to win more policy initiatives in today's volatile geopolitical dynamic. As they receive less political and economic promises from the EU, they are turning to external powers such as China and Russia. The US wants to get back in as quickly as possible to make up for its absence.

Last but not the least, with its return, the US can weaken the EU's integration agenda, consolidate NATO influence in Europe aimed at diluting military influence from Russia, and cripple China's economic presence in Central and Eastern European regions.

The next move by the US and the response it elicits from countries in the region are worth the attention.


Follow us on Twitter @IrnaEnglish