What kind of great power can Europe be­come?

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - OPINION - ANN LEE

World War II, and the pe­riod of de­col­o­niza­tion that fol­lowed it, brought to an end the cen­turies-long global dom­i­na­tion of Europe’s great pow­ers. Af­ter 1945, nei­ther of the global pow­ers – the United States and the Soviet Union – was Euro­pean, and a plethora of newly in­de­pen­dent na­tion-states bounded onto the world stage.

Hav­ing achieved vic­to­ries both in the Pa­cific and in Europe, only the U.S. was strong enough to pro­vide the still-dom­i­nant West with a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic or­der. Amer­ica pro­vided mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion and sup­port for po­lit­i­cal co­op­er­a­tion and free trade, while the rest of the West­ern world sought to over­come the forces of na­tion­al­ism and pro­tec­tion­ism.

Amer­ica also cre­ated rules-based in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions. In Europe, this mul­ti­lat­eral frame­work even­tu­ally evolved into a new (West­ern) Euro­pean sys­tem of states: to­day’s Euro­pean Union. Fol­low­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of the Soviet Union on Christ­mas Day in 1991, the U.S. be­came the world’s only su­per­power – and quickly overex­tended it­self. The unipo­lar mo­ment ended with the sense­less U.S.-led in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003 – a coun­try from which the U.S. has been try­ing to ex­tri­cate it­self for more than a decade.

But the global or­der can­not ex­ist in a vac­uum, be­cause other pow­ers will al­ways step in to fill the void. Hence, the new emerg­ing power, China, has been rush­ing to as­sert it­self on the world stage, as has a mil­i­tar­ily rein­vig­o­rated Rus­sia, the world’s other ma­jor nu­clear power af­ter the U.S.. The cur­rent or­der is no longer de­fined by one or two su­per­pow­ers, but nor is it based on mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism – or on any other frame­work de­signed to bal­ance com­pet­ing in­ter­ests and con­tain, pre­vent, or re­solve con­flicts.

The elec­tion of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump marked the be­gin­ning of Amer­ica’s ac­tive re­nun­ci­a­tion of the global or­der that it helped build. Un­der Trump, the U.S. has de­lib­er­ately tried to de­stroy post-war in­sti­tu­tions such as the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion, while openly ques­tion­ing time-tested in­ter­na­tional al­liances such as NATO. The mul­ti­lat­eral Pax Amer­i­cana of the Cold War era has given way to the re­turn of a world in which in­di­vid­ual coun­tries as­sert their na­tional in­ter­ests at the ex­pense of other, weaker pow­ers. Some­times this in­volves eco­nomic or diplo­matic pres­sure; and some­times, as in the case of Rus­sia’s ac­tions in eastern Ukraine, it in­volves the use of force.

Europe can­not sim­ply dodge or ig­nore the ef­fects of this broader sea change. While the Euro­pean Union is pow­er­ful in eco­nomic, tech­no­log­i­cal, and trade terms, it is not a great power in its own right. It lacks the ho­moge­nous po­lit­i­cal will and the mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties that un­der­pin gen­uine geopo­lit­i­cal power, and it has come to take many of its own tra­di­tions for granted. As a supra­na­tional en­tity of 27 mem­ber states, it is the prog­eny of pre­cisely the mul­ti­lat­eral or­der that is now in de­cline.

The his­toric re­ver­sal from rules-based mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism to an un­sta­ble sys­tem of great-power ri­val­ries is woe­fully in­con­sis­tent with the cur­rent mix of grow­ing global chal­lenges, not least cli­mate change. Pre­vent­ing cat­a­strophic global warm­ing re­quires col­lec­tive ac­tion by an in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity com­pris­ing the vast ma­jor­ity of coun­tries, not a re­vival of a global or­der based on com­pe­ti­tion among states.

For­tu­nately, the EU al­ready holds a lead­ing po­si­tion with re­spect to cli­mat­e­change mitigation, both in tech­no­log­i­cal and reg­u­la­tory terms. Europe’s task now is to main­tain and ex­pand that lead, not just for the sake of the planet, but for its own eco­nomic in­ter­ests as well. Af­ter all, Amer­ica’s re­treat is forc­ing Europe to be­come a power in its own right. Oth­er­wise, it will be­come a de­pen­dent and mere in­stru­ment of other pow­ers.

In geopo­lit­i­cal terms, Trump­ism, the rise of China, and Rus­sian re­vi­sion­ism – which takes the form of mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion, ow­ing to Rus­sia’s weak­en­ing eco­nomic base – have left Euro­peans with no choice but to pur­sue great-power sta­tus. The cur­rent wave of tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion has fur­ther strength­ened this im­per­a­tive. Dig­i­tal­iza­tion, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, big data, and (pos­si­bly) quan­tum com­put­ing will de­ter­mine what the world of to­mor­row looks like, in­clud­ing who leads it.

At its heart, the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion is about pol­i­tics, not tech­nol­ogy. The lib­erty of in­di­vid­u­als and en­tire so­ci­eties is at stake. In the dig­i­tal fu­ture, the po­lit­i­cal free­doms that un­der­pin West­ern civ­i­liza­tion will in­creas­ingly de­pend on ques­tions of data own­er­ship. Will Euro­pean data be­long to firms in Sil­i­con Val­ley or China, or will it be sub­ject to the sov­er­eign con­trol of Euro­peans them­selves? To my mind, this ques­tion will be crit­i­cal to estab­lish­ing Europe’s great-power cre­den­tials in the years and decades ahead.

Euro­peans have long been de­bat­ing con­sti­tu­tional ques­tions such as the de­sired level of in­te­gra­tion or con­fed­er­a­tion (Staaten­ver­bund) for the EU. But the time for these dis­cus­sions is over, at least for now. The po­lit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion that is un­der­way is be­ing forced upon in­te­gra­tionists and in­ter-gov­ern­menta lists alike. The chal­lenge now is to trans­form Europe into a great power be­fore it is ground down by larger tech­no­log­i­cal and geopo­lit­i­cal forces.

Europe can­not af­ford to fall be­hind tech­no­log­i­cally or in terms of geopo­lit­i­cal power. It has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to lead the rest of the world on the is­sue of cli­mate change, which will re­quire tech­no­log­i­cal as well as reg­u­la­tory in­no­va­tion. In a world quickly suc­cumb­ing to zero-sum ri­val­ries, be­com­ing a cli­mate-pol­icy great power should be Europe’s top pri­or­ity.

Amer­ica’s re­treat is forc­ing Europe to be­come a power in its own right

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 DAILY STAR pub­lishes this com­men­tary in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Project Syn­di­cate © (www.project-syn­di­cate.org).

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