The international order, as it has existed since the end of World War II, has changed much more significantly than the public debate in Germany is willing to admit. The German world view is centred around the international order of the UN and a shared commitment to a value and rules-based world.
A world like this is desirable, but only realistic for as long as the major powers or alliances with real potency actually support and enforce it. And this support is missing. Europe is weakening, the US are putting ‘America first’ and solely focusing on their own interests. Russia has less and less real influence and is concentrating on its role as a troublemaker. Under the guise of modesty, China is pushing forward into Europe, Africa, and the Southeast-Asian region and will have expanded its economic influence into that of a global political power in the coming ten years – while itself facing political and economic pressure from its rising competitor India. A large number of aspiring and established middle powers, acting increasingly independently, as well as numerous non-governmental global players are contributing to a new lack of clarity: companies and entrepreneurs, civil society groups, the media, and ‘influencers’, but also private agents of violence such as terrorists and organised crime. This is the new world order of the future, and Germany must reorientate itself in order to define and enforce its own interests.
Our country is facing two novel challenges. First of all, formulating national interests and our own political concepts is a difficult endeavour, even seventy years after the end of World War II. Implementing them is even more difficult. However, a generally damaging development might be of assistance to us here: the Trump administration’s questioning of international institutions, alliances, and global agreements is forcing Germany to rethink the parameters of its foreign and security policy and in part redefine them. The reduced reliability and increased self-centredness of American politics is pushing other, new partners with similar interests into the focus. And this leads to the second challenge: can Germany, as it is embedded in Europe, become a negotiator, architect, leading protagonist, idea generator of new alliances for further developing the world order together with its partners? A network of democratic, liberal-minded nations – this is the approach we need, together with partners such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Peru, Botswana, and others. The specialist term is polycentric global governance – flexible alliances that can also be supported by international organisations, companies, the scientific community, and civil society. In addition to the great pillars of global order and major powers, such flexible, variable networks are growing in importance: they can help create common orientations, make the world order more inclusive, build global communities of responsibility, and pool formative power.
Something is happening, and it is heading in the right direction. Germany needs a plan for the future that is aligned with our values, perspectives of political design, and interests. The operating principle is set: multilateralism that seeks balance and combines the national and global common good. Germany must now place its bets on variable networks with which it can impress, incorporate, and influence the global powers. In addition, interests must be formulated – a delicate endeavour in a morally charged society like ours. But without our own clearly formulated ideas and interests regarding what we want to achieve in this multilateral order, even the best networks will be futile.