The world has entered a new epoch. In recent weeks, three separate events have made this abundantly clear. First, the G7 fell apart. The gathering of the West’s seven major industrial powers collapsed on the issue it was originally set up to address: a reliable world trade order, based on agreed rules.
The West is no longer united by common values; it is divided by economic interests. Donald Trump was only being consistent when he called for Russia to be re-invited to the group.
If values play no role at the G7, why should Russia be excluded? Values do not determine the coalition: “the mission determines the coalition.” The world is an arena. But America is no longer fighting for the architecture. It has run off to play in the sandpit. Let’s not not deceive ourselves: the rules we thought we could rely on have changed, “for the time being,” at least.
A second event took place at the same time as the G7. No coincidence: at the meeting of the Shanghai Group, the West’s authoritarian rivals showed a common will and a common desire to shape the globe’s post-Western architecture. These days, China, Russia and the other Shanghai Group members represent 40 percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of world trade.
The G7 has just 10 percent of global population, but almost 50 percent of world trade. The Shanghai Group wants that to change. Little unites this disparate group of nations except a belief that this century will be post-Western.
Get yourself a nuclear bomb
The third event was the Singapore summit between the North Korean dictator and Donald Trump, a democratically elected president. This proved, yet again, that we are facing a new era of nuclear proliferation. The Non-Proliferation Treaty has burst apart.
Iran’s leaders will have watched the Singapore meeting with a watchful eye. They may well conclude that it was a mistake to get mixed up with a deal to abandon their nuclear weapons. In the end, those nice Europeans could provide no security.
Clearly, only those with nuclear weapons will be taken seriously in this world, and invited to sit at the negotiating table. The end of “regime change” is what Donald Trump offered to Kim Jong Un, but not to President Rouhani of Iran, who gave up his nuclear ambitions.
The world’s dictators will learn a lesson from this — get hold of nuclear weapons if you can. On the Korean peninsula, even the mighty America was forced to give up its ideas of regime change.
It seems extremely unlikely that Pyongyang will give up its entire nuclear capability. Nonetheless, if negotiations with the United States lead to arms limitations, they can undoubtedly be counted a success.
While in Singapore, the US president also announced, almost in passing, that his country would end joint military training exercises with South Korea, an arrangement which had acted as a kind of security guarantee for Seoul. How European ears must have pricked up at the reason given by Mr. Trump: the exercises were simply too expensive.
What does this really mean for NATO? If the Western alliance is now a sort of service agency, which you can use if you pay for it, and when it is not too expensive, then what is NATO actually worth?
A substantial increase in defense spending by European NATO members will not bring down America’s costs, although it might strengthen the alliance as a whole.
So let’s not deceive ourselves. We cannot rely on this American president on questions of defense or on trade. And we do not know whether things will change when Mr. Trump leaves office. The old rules no longer apply, but moaning about the situation helps no one. The US president reveals our weaknesses to us. Right now he is chasing America’s erstwhile allies around like a flock of startled sheep. Yesterday it was trade, today Iran. Tomorrow it could be NATO’s turn.
Invest, be ambitious
So what can we do? At the moment, “hoping for the best, preparing for the worst” is probably the best motto we can have, both as Germans and Europeans. Of course we shouldn’t write off our relations with the United States. On the contrary, we need to invest even more in them. But we have to travel to Trump’s America, as well as to Washington, New York and California. We should start major exchange programs for the young people who will make up America’s leadership elites of tomorrow. Aimed, above all, at Hispanics, Asian-Americans and African-Americans.
In just a few years, these groups will make up a majority of the American population, with European-Americans shrinking to a minority. Alongside this, we need to get clear on our own interests, and then act accordingly. We need free trade agreements with as many parts of the world as possible. And above all, serious investment in European unity. It’s not just about money, it’s a question of finding courage and setting ambitious goals to show what Europe can offer its own citizens. Moving away from technocracy and toward normal daily life.
Enough of endless gobbledygook debates about “banking union,” “deposit protection” and “a European finance minister.” Instead, we need aims that are populist in the best sense: common fuel, gas and electricity prices for all European consumers and companies, and foreign exchange programs for all students, paid for by the state, for example.
We also need one million extra apprenticeships in southern Europe in three years, around 300,000 per year. All European companies with more than a thousand employees should offer these; a European training levy should financially support them. We need common research centers to tackle the economy of the future: Centers for electro-mobility and artificial intelligence. All this must happen despite the populists, or maybe because of them. We need all of this, despite Europe’s currency crises, its migration crises, its values crises. Or maybe precisely because of them. “Europe: Whatever it takes.”
This should be Germany’s motto too. No one has profited more from Europe; we are the continent’s political, economic and financial winners. And no one stands to lose as much as we do. Our neighbors once invited us to join them in founding the European Union, even though just a few years earlier we had brought murder and pillage to their countries.
That step was taken by courageous statesmen from France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. They had to face down plenty of skeptics and critics in their own countries. But those politicians knew that Europe really was a question of life or death.
How lucky we Germans are in comparison: these days, it is only a question of money.
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