The World in 2030. ­Hyper-connected and Hyper-fragmented

Connectivity can cause conflict. That is the lesson of the last few years. Rather than creating a harmonious global village, we increasingly recognise that the very same forces that have brought people together and broken down boundaries between peoples and nations are leading to nationalism, protectionism, and a desire for control.

Hyper-connection and Hyper-fragmentation

The world of 2030 will therefore likely be more closely bound together than at any time in history, but also one where political fragmentation is at an all-time high. It will be a world in which connections between people and countries become instrumentalised and weaponised. Hyper-connection, hyper-fragmentation, and the weaponisation of the links between us will mark all the different bits which bring the world together: trade and supply chains will both be sources of contact, but will also become battlegrounds for the competition between countries. The Digital Revolution has brought people together in a single connected web and is going to lead to further fragmentation of societies. We increasingly recognise that the very same forces that have brought people together and broken down boundaries between peoples and nations are leading to nationalism, protectionism, and a desire for control. Migration and the movement of people will be weaponised and will also be the defining topic for politics, even more so than already now and both in countries which are scared for their existence due to demographic changes and countries that are experiencing migration influxes. Moreover, international law and institutions will grow increasingly weaponised: the idea of lawfare, using the norms and processes of these institutions to damage the opponent, is going to be a very well-known concept. We thought of law and institutions as a constraint on competition and a way of regulating our relations in the past. They will now become a core means and field for competition at the same time.

Germany will be uniquely affected by these development. First, its dependence on exports and close connections to other markets and power centres will also make the exportweltmeister uniquely vulnerable to the weaponisation of those links. Donald Trump taking a swing at key German industries has given policymakers in Berlin a first taste of what more might come. Second, Germany is probably the country with the biggest stake in transforming the international arena from a world of power to a world of rules. The pushback against this vision has taken many by surprise and left them insecure about what to do. Many will emphasise the importance of international law and institutions even more in the years to come. They make an important argument when reasoning that the world of weaponised connectivity needs dialogue and regulations to avoid escalation. We should continue to fight to uphold global norms and institutions, and see if we can build a liberal archipelago with different countries on different issues.

However, as the United States moves away from the multilateral world order and non-western powers such as China, Russia, Turkey, and India question its liberal foundations, the key question for Germany will be what we can do to create and uphold a rules-based order on our own continent.

The EU as a Liberal Archipelago

The EU has to be prepared to protect itself effectively and to be more self-reliant. Europe can use regulatory means – such as carbon taxes – to pursue our goals of effective climate policies. We can build a European Internet, where our rules are applied in a fashion similar to the General Data Protection Regulation. We have to develop European strategic autonomy to become our own policeman for our political order. Even if we accept that we need to go back to a more Westphalian past in our interaction with other parts of the world in 2030, the European Union can form the heart of a liberal archipelago of human rights, democracy, and regulated markets.

Mark Leonard (44) is Co-founder and Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the first pan-European think tank. He writes a syndicated column on global affairs for Project Syndicate and was Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Geo-economics until 2016. He is author of two best-selling books: “Why Europe will run the 21st Century” (2005) and “What does China think?” (2008). Both were translated into more than fifteen languages.