Russia and China as potential systemic threats to the EU

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Trine Degn Preuss
  • Kasper Søberg Stilou
In recent years the world has witnessed a ‘rise of the rest’, rising powers which challenge the current international system and the hegemony of the United States. These changes affect many aspects of political and economic life and bring many opportunities, but also come with many potential systemic threats. The European Union will also come to feel such changes caused by these rising powers, most particularly from Russia and China, both of whom are seen as some of the major threats to the union as a whole due to their recent developments. If it is to deal with such threats, decision makers within the EU need to know more about Russia and China. This thesis therefore explores different ways in which the two nations pose systemic threats to the EU as a whole.
A deductive method focussing mainly on qualitative research forms the basis for the thesis. The theoretical approach applied is one which is based upon both neorealist and neoclassical realist theory. These two serve as the foundation but are divided into five variables of threat analysis: (1) Aggregate Power (2) Proximate Power (3) Offensive Capabilities (4) Offensive Intentions (5) Executive Power. The first four are based on Stephen Walt’s notion that how a state might pose a threat to others can be analysed by focussing on these variables. The fifth variable is based primarily on neoclassical realism and the idea that states can only be a threat towards others if the executives in charge have both the option and the will to turn the other four variables into concrete actions. Hence, executive power is added to Walt’s original variables to allow for an analysis that is not purely systemic but also incorporates a domestic variable, albeit the systemic approach is still the main one. Each variable is first analysed individually and then serve as stepping stones towards the next. Finally, all of them are combined in an analysis of Russia and China as threats to the EU at an overall level.
The thesis finds that Russia and China can both be seen as systemic threats towards the EU, but in different ways. Russia has a more clearly defined military dimension while China emphasises economic and political dimensions. In the case of Russia, concerns about NATO are shown to greatly affect its foreign policy choices and rhetoric as well as form the basis for its broad modernisation of its Armed Forces. China, on the other hand, is also militarising, yet its reasoning is more about protecting its interests abroad rather than about protecting itself from an imminent threat. What is found by adding the executive power variable is that both are strong, centralised states with powerful de-facto national leaders who have both the means and the will to use their capabilities. Thus, both can with relative ease translate aggregate power into state power. Finally, it is concluded that Russia represent a current military threat due to a security dilemma occurring in Eastern Europe as a result of NATO expansion, while China represent both a political and economic threat as well as a potential military threat in the future.
Publication date31 May 2018
ID: 280170581