Russia’s war against Ukraine, the Sino-American rivalry, and the rise of new middle powers is spurring a profound reorganization of the international order that will leave Europe at a distinct disadvantage. To thrive in a world dominated by large states with growing military budgets, Europe has no choice but to become a real power, writes Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a leader of the German Green Party for almost 20 years.
The post-1945 era of global stability is over and gone. From the bipolar world of the Cold War to the American-dominated unipolar world that replaced it, we have long benefited from a sense of strategic order. Though there were many smaller wars (and even some larger ones), from Korea and Vietnam to the Middle East and Afghanistan, the international system remained generally stable and intact.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, however, this stability has increasingly given way to a renewed rivalry between major powers, chief among them the United States and China. Moreover, it has long been clear that India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other emerging economies’ political and strategic influence will increase, as will their role within the global system. In the context of a deepening conflict between China and the US, these rising powers will have many opportunities to play one of the twenty-first century’s two superpowers off against the other. Indeed, many of these opportunities seem too good to miss.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russian policy has increasingly been aimed at reversing the legacy of the immediate post-Cold War era. But the broader danger for the international system stems not from the war in Ukraine, but from the deterioration of US-China relations…
Some of the biggest losers in this confrontation are likely to be Japan and Europe. Chinese firms have built massive production capacities in the automobile industry – especially in electric vehicles (EVs) – and are now poised to outcompete the European and Japanese automakers that have long been globally dominant.
Making matters worse, America’s own response to Chinese competition is to pursue an industrial policy that will come at European and Japanese manufacturers’ expense. Recent legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act, for example, provides large subsidies for cars produced in the US. From the US perspective, such policies kill two birds with one stone: protecting large domestic manufacturers and providing them with incentives to pursue EV development.
Not only must Europe take great pains to preserve its economic model during this reorganization of the global economy. It also must manage high energy costs, the growing digital technology gap vis-à-vis the two superpowers, and the urgent need for increased defense spending to counter the new threat from Russia. All these priorities will grow even more urgent as the next US presidential election approaches, given the distinct possibility that Donald Trump could return to the White House.
Europe thus finds itself especially disadvantaged. It resides in an increasingly dangerous region, yet it remains a confederation of sovereign nation-states that have never mustered the will to achieve true integration – even after two world wars and the decades-long Cold War. In a world dominated by large states with growing military budgets, Europe still is not a real power.
Whether that remains the case is up to Europeans. The world will not wait for Europe to grow up. If Europe is going to confront today’s global reordering, it had better start soon – or, preferably, yesterday.