The Known Unknown

BERLIN | | china

BERLIN (Own report) - In the debate about Europe's possible forthcoming global decline, German government advisors are insisting that Germany and the EU take action. At present, most experts assume that Europe's global influence will be "measurably waning" in the future but this prognosis is based on the assumption that current trends of development will continue. This is uncertain, because no one can exclude unexpected developments. The authors of a recent article in the foreign policy periodical "Internationale Politik" point out that possible distribution conflicts could lead to "a civil war" in China thereby bringing the People's Republic's emergence to a halt. Domestic conflicts in China, systematically supported by the West, could possibly reverse Europe's decline, according to German government institutions. In any case, the authors of the article in "Internationale Politik" predict that Germany and the EU will also have the capacity to be among the global players in a multi-polar world. It all depends on their "willingness" to "exhaust" their capabilities, which must include coordinated and unified action and the enhancement of Europe's militarization.

Europe's Decline

In the debate about Europe's possible forthcoming global decline, two of Germany's most prominent foreign policy experts, Volker Perthes and Stefan Mair explained their positions in the recent issue of the foreign policy periodical "Internationale Politik."[1] Volker Perthes has been director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) since October 2005 and Stefan Mair, formerly SWP's Director of Research and a member of its leadership, has since November 2010 been a member of the Executive Board of the Federation of German Industries (BDI). They are reacting to recent predictions that Europe will be significantly loosing influence, due to the rise of new emerging powers such as the People's Republic of China. ( reported.[2])

Yardstick for Everything

In spite of its "relative loss of influence over the past few years," the United States is "still the yardstick for everything in international relations," according to Perthes and Mair.[3] The EU has great potential and could almost reach a par with the USA, "if its members could decide to transfer substantial military capabilities to the Union" and rigorously harmonize European foreign policy. Based on the global economic development, experts generally assume "that in comparison to other countries, the influence of the USA will stagnate and that of the European countries will "measurably wane," while the influence of China will "definitely" and that of India and other emerging powers, i.e. Brazil, will "probably" grow.

New Developments

Perthes and Mair point out that it is "generally estimated" that these developments could take place. However, particularly in the field of global policy, "occasionally the less probable" happens or completely new developments force their way "to the foreground." The authors give examples of factors that could significantly shift the global center of gravity but hardly play a role in the current debate. The climatic change, for example, could liberate Siberia and the neighboring Arctic from ice, "bringing Russia an enormous economic boom."[4] But one could also imagine that, because of its riches in resources, the Arab world could become "a new centre of economic growth, closely associated with Europe."[5] These are merely the "known unknowns." Much less calculable are the "unknown unknowns" - developments not even recognized yet by experts. This is why Europe's decline cannot be predicted with certainty.

Conflicts in China

Included in Perthes and Mair's "known unknowns" is the possible development of the People's Republic of China, whose global emergence, according to their current prognoses, is assumed to continue. However, future "redistribution conflicts between China's coastal regions and its hinterland," according to International Politik, could plunge the People's Republic into a bloody civil war. This, on the other hand, would signify the end of the Chinese emergence. Similar reflections are also found in German government institutions. Last year, for example, the Federal College for Security Studies, the German government's central think tank on military policy, warned that "in light of the emerging powers domestic risks" Europe's decline cannot be predicted with certainty.[6] By "domestic risks," they are referring, above all, to domestic conflicts in China, of such a magnitude that completely destabilizes the country. For decades, the West has been supporting these conflicts. Whereas up to recently, focus was on the separatist forces in Tibet and Xinjiang,[7] sectors of the Chinese bourgeoisie are, in the meantime, being seen as prospective allies. This objective motivated not only the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, but also the diverse cultural measures directed toward urban intellectuals, most recently the German government's vociferous support for the artist Ai Weiwei.[8]


Aside from their "known unknowns," Perthes and Mair are also at a loss for a convincing strategy to shore up European influence. They warn against underestimating the "significance of narratives." By "narratives," they mean the use of a particular ideological reasoning for a given system of states (e.g. for the western countries: "freedom and democracy"). Yet the authors admit "to remain persuasive and credible, the narrative must always be based on success. (...) The 2003 American invasion of Iraq exposed the well-intentioned character of the western democratization aid to be a lie." The ensuing global economic crisis "cast doubts on the liberal market order's" capacity to insure a durable economic growth. On the other hand, the "Chinese narrative," the harmony, non-interference and a wise government leadership promises, "to gain in its attractivity for non-US and non-European political elites." The authors suggest that the "western narrative" be refurbished to become more attractive - a PR task with a doubtful perspective of success.

Appeal and Sabotage

All that is left are appeals to Berlin and the EU - appeals, to promote the European integration and particularly to develop a unified European foreign policy. For this, Perthes and Mair write, the EU member states must, above all, "consign substantial military capabilities." Particularly Germany has so far shown "little creative intent," the authors explain and make a plea for a much more offensive German foreign policy. These appeals are not new; they have proven incapable of thwarting the onset of the decline of Berlin and the EU's global policy. Alongside continued attempts to shore up their own positions, German politicians are left mainly with one option - the efforts to provoke domestic conflicts in China and thereby use a "known unknown" to insure their global influence.

Please read also Europe's Decline and Europe's Decline (II).

[1] Volker Perthes, Stefan Mair: Ideen und Macht. Was definiert die relative Gewichtsverteilung in der Welt? Internationale Politik Mai/Juni 2011
[2] see also Europe's Decline (II)
[3] Zitate hier und im Folgenden aus: Volker Perthes, Stefan Mair: Ideen und Macht. Was definiert die relative Gewichtsverteilung in der Welt? Internationale Politik Mai/Juni 2011
[4] see also Militarizing the Arctic
[5] see also Stabile Conditions
[6] Modul 3 - Konstanten und Verschiebungen im globalen Kräfteverhältnis;
[7] see also The Olympic Torch Relay Campaign, Smash China, The Future of "East-Turkestan" and Alliance against Beijing
[8] see also Germany Versus China (III), Federal Republic of China and Intensifying the Pressure