Fear of Demotion (II)

BERLIN/WASHINGTON/BEIJING | | usa

BERLIN/WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Own report) - Just before the opening of this years annual Munich Security Conference, German government advisors are assessing US global policy in the aftermath of the Bush era. The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin writes that President Obama, upon taking office, aroused "great expectations" in terms of an intensified cooperation with Berlin and the EU. But in fact, there has been "little more than a shift of accents". Washington still merely concedes an instrumental role to "multilateralism" - a codeword for the German-EU ambition to share world power with the USA. Yet some strategists are calling for caution in the transatlantic rivalry. If the USA loses its predominating role this could cause grave "problems" for Germany. The warning refers to China's rapid rise, which appears to have been accelerated by the economic crisis. Economists see the possibility of Europe's abrupt decline and are predicting a global rivalry solely between the USA and China. In such a case, according to Berlin, Germany could at best have influence as the United States' junior partner.

Multilateralism

Just before the opening of this years annual Munich Security Conference, which will also handle themes on the future of the western war alliance, German government advisors are assessing US global policy in the aftermath of the Bush era. Their interest is focused on US President Obama's commitment to "multilateralism," to which he pledged himself during his election campaign and at the beginning of his term of office. The codeword "multilateralism" is particularly important in German - European policy. It stands for eye-to-eye cooperation of various major powers and therefore means the rise of the EU to become a peer of the United States in world power status. The Bush administration had "only taken the allies into consideration (...) when there was no other choice," complained the SWP in Berlin. In this question, Obama had aroused "great expectations" in terms of a change of course.[1] But the SWP considers the actual developments to be sobering.

Shift of Accents

Berlin's government advisors explain that Washington has made "little more than a shift of accents" in its global policy.[2] Even though the new administration Washington has been taking more into consideration the interests of other important powers than before, these powers are expected to "have as little incentive as possible to provoke a change in the US led international system and power constellation or to refuse system eminent cooperation."[3] Yet in Washington, the so-called multilateralism is merely instrumental. Since the 90s, President Obama has been following the motto: "together where we can, alone when we must." This is not a basis for reliable consideration of German-EU wishes. Therefore it is "quite possible that the Obama administration will remain short of European expectations in questions of multilateralism" writes SWP. At the same time, it is "not very realistic to expect more from an American president."[4]

Without Hegemonic Power

In spite of disappointments in the realm of obtaining an equal footing in great power cooperation, the SWP calls for prudence in the transatlantic rivalry. If the USA is unsuccessful in "long-term reassertion" of its leadership role, "an international constellation could develop without a global hegemonic power," explains the recently publish analysis. "Some may welcome this", writes the author, "but one should be conscious of the problem such a development would engender." This is in reference to the rapid ascension of China to world power status. In fact, a growing number of economists consider that China's rise is being so strongly accelerated through the economic crisis that Germany and the EU will be left behind in a few years. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[5]) At the beginning of the year, a noteworthy article with this view was published in the German press by the history professor, Niall Ferguson.

The End of Western Predominance

Ferguson demonstrated China's rapid rise with that country's gross domestic product (GDP). Ten years ago, China's GDP was but one-eighth of that of the USA. Today it is one-quarter. According to extrapolations, China could surpass the US GDP by 2027. According to Ferguson, even the way Beijing mastered the world economic crisis is impressive. "While the developed world is teetering at the edge of a second Great Depression," he writes, "China has merely suffered a minor setback in its growth rate, thanks to a highly efficient government aid program and a massive expansion of credit."[6] In the meantime, according to Ferguson, the People's Republic has fulfilled the prerequisites for continuing its rapid rise. The Harvard professor is convinced "that we (...) are looking at the end of five hundred years of western predominance." By 2020, alongside China, at most, the United States will be playing a role in the world.

Junior Partner

In such a case, it is said, Germany can, at best, be able to still have influence, as a close companion of the United States. In the German capital, it is being registered with apprehension that Washington and Beijing could decide the crucial questions of world policy. This prospect has been in discussion for some time under the abbreviation "G2". (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7]) Germany sees the Climate Summit in Copenhagen as an admonishing example, where Germany and the EU were helpless against the USA/China tandem. It would be better, concludes SWP, to remain in an alliance with the USA, seek to influence Washington and "support positive developments in how America sees its role" [8] - de facto as a junior partner of the greatest western power.

[1], [2] Johannes Thimm: Ein Jahr Außenpolitik unter Obama. Rückkehr zum Multilateralismus? Arbeitspapier der SWP-FG 4, 2/2010, Januar 2010
[3] Peter Rudolf: Obamas "Grand Strategy"; Arbeitspapier der SWP-FG 4, 1/2010, Januar 2010
[4] Johannes Thimm: Ein Jahr Außenpolitik unter Obama. Rückkehr zum Multilateralismus? Arbeitspapier der SWP-FG 4, 2/2010, Januar 2010
[5] see also Zweite Liga
[6] Niall Ferguson: Bis 2020 überholt China locker den Westen; Welt Online 02.01.2010
[7] see also Fear of Demotion
[8] Peter Rudolf: Obamas "Grand Strategy"; Arbeitspapier der SWP-FG 4, 1/2010, Januar 2010