Sep 29th 2020

The Transatlantic Tragedy 

by Joschka Fischer

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 until 2005, was a leader in the German Green Party for almost 20 years.

BERLIN – Between the intensifying Sino-American drama and the persistent COVID-19 crisis, the world is undeniably undergoing fundamental, historic change. Seemingly immutable structures built up over many decades are suddenly exhibiting a high degree of malleability, or simply disappearing altogether.

In the ancient past, today’s unprecedented developments would have put people on guard for signs of a coming apocalypse. In addition to the pandemic and geopolitical tensions, the world is also confronting the climate crisis, the balkanization of the global economy, and the far-reaching technological disruptions brought on by digitization and artificial intelligence. 

Gone are the days when the West – led by the United States, with the support of its European and other allies – enjoyed unchallenged political, military, economic, and technological primacy. Thirty years after the end of the Cold War – when Germany was reunified and the US emerged as the world’s sole superpower – the case for Western leadership is no longer credible, and East Asia, with an increasingly authoritarian and nationalistic China at the helm, is moving swiftly to replace it.

But it wasn’t the escalating rivalry with China that weakened the West. Rather, the West’s decline has been driven almost entirely by internal developments on both sides of the Atlantic, particularly – though not exclusively – within the Anglo-Saxon world. The United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and US President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 marked a definitive break in the transatlantic commitment to liberal values and a global rules-based order, heralding the revival of a narrow-minded fixation on national sovereignty that has no future.

The transatlantic West, a concept embodied in the establishment of NATO after World War II, was the result of the military triumph of the US and UK in the Pacific and European theaters. It was these two countries’ leaders who created the post-war order and its principal institutions, from the United Nations and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the precursor to the World Trade Organization) to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. As such, the “liberal world order” – and indeed “the West” generally – was wholly an Anglo-Saxon initiative, one that victory in the Cold War further vindicated.

But in the ensuing decades, the Anglo-Saxon world’s powers have been exhausted, and many of its people have begun to long for a return to a mythical imperial golden age. The prospect of reclaiming past greatness has become a successful political slogan in both countries. Between Trump’s “America First” doctrine to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s effort to “take back control,” the common denominator is a yearning to relive idealized moments of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In practice, these slogans amount to a self-defeating reversal. The founders of an international order that enshrines democracy, the rule of law, collective security, and universal values are now dismantling it from within, thereby undercutting their own power. And this Anglo-Saxon self-destruction has created a vacuum, leading not to a new order but to chaos.

Of course, Europeans – starting with the Germans – are in no position to sit back complacently or point the finger at the Anglo-Saxons. By free-riding on security matters and simply shrugging their shoulders at persistently high trade surpluses, they, too, bear responsibility for today’s nationalist resurgence.

If the West – as an idea and as a political bloc – is to survive, something will have to change. The US and the European Union will each be weaker alone than as a united front. But Europeans now have no other choice but to transform the EU into a genuine power player in its own right. A deep rift has opened up between continental Europeans – who must hold on to the traditional Western construct – and increasingly nationalistic Anglo-Saxons.

After all, Brexit is not really about pragmatic questions of trade; rather, it represents a fundamental break between two value systems. More to the point, what happens if Trump is re-elected in November? The transatlantic West almost certainly would not survive the next four years, and NATO would probably face an existential crisis, even if Europeans increase their defense spending in response to US demands. For Trump and his followers, the money isn’t really the issue. Their primary concern is with American supremacy and European fealty.

By contrast, if former US Vice President Joe Biden is elected, the tone of transatlantic relations would certainly become friendlier. But there is no going back to the pre-Trump era. Even under a Biden administration, Europeans would not quickly forget the deep distrust that has been sown these past four years. 

Whoever wins in November, the US will have to deal with a Europe that puts much greater stock in its own sovereignty – particularly on technological matters – than it has in the past. The cozy interdependencies of the immediate post-Cold War years are long gone. The relationship will have to be remodeled, and both sides will need to adjust. Europe will have to do much more to safeguard its own interests, and America would do well to understand that Europe’s interests may diverge from its own.


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. 

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020.
www.project-syndicate.o

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."