Why does the United States prioritize Europe or East Asia? So far, students of US grand strategy have failed to give this question the attention it deserves, let alone provide a convincing answer. But scholars cannot stay out of this debate any longer. The 2017 US National Security Strategy speaks of the erosion of America’s competitive edge, and warns about how Russian revisionism and China’s rise threaten the balance of power in Europe and East Asia. Both regions will surely remain important for the United States. But dwindling US resources and the return of great power competition across more than one front compel Washington to think more strategically about how to prioritize. Drawing on insights from balance of power theory, we provide a framework that explains why the United States prioritizes Europe or East Asia. Such decision, we contend, hinges primarily on the degree to which a particular competitor is able to upset the regional balance across three key domains simultaneously: military, economic and political-diplomatic. We assess our framework against those competing explanations that may point to threat or bureaucratic politics as the main drivers of US regional prioritization. To probe our hypothesis, we examine how the Europe vs. Asia dilemma has played out during the Cold War and post-Cold War periods. 

Luis Simón is a professor in International Security at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and director of the Brussels office of the Elcano Royal Institute. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI, London) and the Baltic Defense College, and a member of the editorial board of Parameters: The US Army War College Quarterly. Luis received his PhD from the University of London, and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the School of International and Public Affairs (Columbia University). His research has appeared in such journals as Security StudiesInternational AffairsThe Journal of Strategic StudiesGeopoliticsSurvival, and The RUSI Journal.

Linde Desmaele is a doctoral fellow at the Institute for European Studies (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and a researcher at the KF-VUB Korea Chair. Her main research interests are American grand strategy, transatlantic relations, neoclassical realism and the security of the Korean Peninsula. In the fall of 2018, she was a visiting fellow at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She has a M.A from Seoul National University’s Graduate School of International Studies and from the University of Leuven (KU Leuven).