Germany, France, and the World in 2030

From a global standpoint, competition between China – the rising power – and the United States will probably form the leitmotiv of the twenty-first century. However, existing global governance safeguards, despite their shortcomings, mean that the risk of a head-on, violent clash between the two powers (‘Thucydides’s trap’, according to Graham Allison) should be very slim in the next ten to twenty years. This peace could be disturbed by Taiwan. Confrontations are more likely to rise in the new “Third World”, which, in the broad sense of the term, includes Western Europe and the former Soviet empire. France and Germany cannot put their fates in the hands of the twenty-first century’s two superpowers. The consequences will be hazardous, given the heterogeneity of this new “Third World” and pressures associated with the relentlessly accelerating pace of the technological revolution – bringing unemployment, destabilisation by social media and propaganda wars, growing inequality, and uncontrolled refugee and migratory flows in its wake. Even the United States and China are not safe from these challenges.

States will remain pivotal players in the international system of the foreseeable future. Therefore, the only way to keep the system from spinning out of control is to strengthen global governance, which requires bolstering inter-state cooperation and adapting the UN system. All that looks very hard for at least three reasons. First, the weaker states are, the more reluctantly they cooperate with each other. Second, it is likely that with or without Donald Trump, the United States has entered a long period of introversion; in the worst-case scenario, this could prompt a trade war. Moreover, China has no intention of assuming any kind of global leadership role. But is good global governance possible without a leader (Joseph Nye speaks of a ‘Kindleberger Trap’)? Lastly, the co-management of major interdependent planetary challenges such as climate change is still in its infancy, even as the problems they bring about are worsening.

Russia’s Place is Closer to Europe than to China

I do not think any miracles are to be expected in the twelve years leading up to 2030. Countries such as France and Germany cannot put their fates in the hands of the twenty-first century’s two superpowers. In the case of China, for obvious reasons. As for the United States, their vision of the world shifts depending on the circumstances. From our point of view, then, no project matters more than adapting and strengthening the European Union. But the EU faces serious problems caused by its sudden, massive expansion after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990–1991; however, recent crises – the difficulties facing the eurozone, refugees, Brexit, and populism – have shown that, on the continent, European citizens remain attached to their Union. Today, it is crucial to correct the European Union’s failings.

We must dream of a European Union capable of exerting a positive influence on the entire international system. Germany and France must work together for that vision to become reality. The task is huge, the pitfalls many, the accumulation of unpleasant surprises inevitable. Economic and financial adaptation alone is a herculean effort, to say nothing of defence, when the two countries have such different strategic cultures and often-­conflicting industrial interests. More generally, what about the difficulty of harmonising their geopolitical outlooks?

That harmonisation effort must focus on the Union’s neighbours – the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, and Africa. The little Cold War that has followed the big one is a tragedy, for in the long term it is clear that Russia’s place is closer to Europe than to China. Similarly, what do we stand to gain by pushing Iran eastward?

Thierry de Montbrial (75) is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). In 2008, he launched the World Policy Conference. He is a Member of the Institut de France. Thierry de Montbrial chaired the Department of Economics at the Ecole Polytechnique (1974–1992). He was the first Director of the Policy Planning Staff at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1973–1979). Author of twenty books, including “Action and Reaction in the World System” (UBC Press, Toronto; 2013) and “Living in Troubled Times A New Political Era” (World Scientific, 2018). He has been awarded state honours and honorary degrees by many countries.