Octavian Manea

Octavian Manea

Wess Mitchell: “The West needs to redevelop the tools and mindset of strategic competition”

Interview with Dr. A. Wess Mitchell, co-chair of the NATO 2030 Reflection Process1

Let’s describe the strategic environment of the 2020s and the structural drivers that push for the NATO strategic adaptation over the next decade. Essentially what sets aside the 2020s compared with the 1990s, and the post 9/11 eras? What are the key operational problems of NATO going into 2020s? 

I think the defining characteristic of the international environment of the 2020s is the return of great power competition. Specifically: the rise of China and the persistence of Russia as a militarily capable large state.  

China’s significance lies in the fact that it is the first rival in America’s modern history with the potential to surpass the US in the major categories of national power; its economy is already larger than America’s and its military has ambitious plans to surpass the US quantitatively and qualitatively within the coming decade.

Russia is of course not a full-spectrum competitor like China, but it nevertheless possesses substantial conventional power projection capabilities and the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. Russia stands out because it also possesses motivation: this is a country that was the main loser of the last systemic rivalry so it sees itself as having the most to gain from reversing the verdict of the previous contest, so to speak.  

I think that China and Russia represent a tandem problem set for the West. Irrespective of whether they formally ally with one another, their actions create a dynamic of strategic simultaneity — of having to deal with concurrent pressures from different directions. 

This is a very different problem-set for the US and for NATO than we have known in the recent past.  Since the Cold War, the West has existed in a kind of greenhouse environment, where we could reasonably assume the absence of a peer competitor and the availability of more or less infinite financial resources.  The challenges that NATO faced in that permissive era – the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s, the terrorist threat after 9/11 – were real, but they were the kinds of challenges that are surmountable on the basis of willpower. There was never any doubt about the material ability of the West to overcome them.  

China and Russia represent a tandem problem set for the West. Their actions create a dynamic of strategic simultaneity — of having to deal with concurrent pressures from different directions.

In that genial environment, I think NATO basically got out of the business of serious strategy – because it didn’t need it. Enlargement in a way came to substitute for strategy. NATO’s preoccupation was with exploiting the opportunities of its environment. Operationally, it was focused on enlargement and later on out-of-area operations against non-peer foes. Crisis-management rather than strategic anticipation came to dominate the culture and processes of NATO.  

A central message of our report is that that permissive era is over. The West faces serious peer competitors and cannot assume a continuation of its own material and military dominance. It needs to set strategic priorities and redevelop the tools and mindset of strategic competition. It needs to focus its attention on strategic and political consolidation within the alliance itself – using NATO as a platform for strengthening the cohesion of the strategic and political West in conditions of protracted competition with determined big-power rivals.

NATO has to develop the tools to protect its members’ equities at home

In an October 1995 White House meeting Vaclav Havel pointed out that “there is no danger of a Soviet-era type of military occupation of Central Europe. But the danger does exist of political and economic pressures on Central Europe that would seek to perpetuate a dependency.” How should NATO see the China rise? Is the Havel lenses relevant also in understanding the Chinese threat to Europe? Is the China issue going to be a make-or-break point for the transatlantic relationship relevance in the 2020s?

 

China’s rise affects NATO in two ways. First, indirectly, it tilts the international balance of power in ways that require the US to devote more resources and attention to the Indo-Pacific. And because these resources are finite, those tilts inevitably mean less US resources and attention for Europe, which ceases to be the primary theater in the world for the US for the first time. That is a very unfamiliar place for Europeans to be.  

Second, China’s rise affects NATO directly, through its activities in and around Europe.  The commercial and technological dimensions of China’s penetration are most familiar to us:  China is acquiring critical infrastructure in Europe (ports, bridges, airports, telecommunications equipment) and it is also spreading its political influence through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and 17+1 formats. But China’s presence in Europe and in areas around Europe is also increasingly military in nature. China siphons talent and know-how from Europe as part of its Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) Strategy and it has a growing naval presence in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Mediterranean. I think over the next decade that presence will grow larger as China’s power and ambition grows. 

For NATO, there should be no doubt at this point that China poses a threat that needs to be dealt with. That does not mean that NATO needs to operate in the Indo-Pacific.  Rather I think it means, in the near term, that NATO has to develop the tools to protect its members’ equities at home, in the Euro-Atlantic area. It needs a sound China strategy. It needs tools – safeguards against MCF, procurement and technology transfer filters, investment screening, criteria for avoiding excessive Chinese influence and control of critical equipment and infrastructure. Basically, anything in Chinese investment behaviour that could impede readiness, interoperability or the ability to communicate securely in SACEUR’s AOR (Area of Responsibility) should be fair-game for attention and action at NATO. And I think we are playing catch-up on that.

Longer term, NATO needs to be part of the solution for handling the problem of strategic simultaneity in the event of a major war.

Longer term, NATO needs to be part of the solution for handling the problem of strategic simultaneity in the event of a major war. To my mind, the ultimate goal should be something approaching a global division of labour between the US and European NATO that allows US to devote more attention to the Indo-Pacific without endangering stability in European theater. At present NATO’s members do not share burdens and risks at anything close to the levels that will be demanded by the new strategic environment. Needless to say, this would not be the moment to define downward the Wales metric. But in my view meeting Wales commitment is at this point a receding de minimis requirement.  

We will eventually need to move toward something like a European Level of Ambition inside NATO that encourages pooling/economies of scale among European militaries tied explicitly to NATO capability targets. I would view this as a favourable alternative, both to the current, fragmented and anemic European military spending landscape and to the concept of EU Strategic Autonomy in the defence sphere.  

Does this gradual “division of labour” mean ultimately more of the Old Europe invested in securing the Eastern Flank of NATO especially in a time when US is forced to adapt to a “China first, Russia second” kind of environment? Because I think this will also require a change of mindset on the part of the Old Europe, with a necessary threat reassessment and acceptance of the renew great power competition stance.

It is indispensable from a strategic standpoint that the large Western European states and in particular Germany bear a share of the burden for the defence of the continental Europe that is proportionate with Germany’s enormous economic power and population. It is true that Germany has stepped up defence spending in recent years, and I think the credit for that should go to the Trump administration. But a state of Germany’s size and wealth should be able to handle far more of the responsibility for defending Europe than it currently does. 

The key focus must continue to be on the Eastern flank – especially the Baltic and Black Sea areas. The EFP (Enhanced Forward Presence) was an important first step towards strengthening NATO’s defence capabilities there. But 7 years after the Russian invasion of Ukraine it is time for us to evolve beyond those very light structures and have the ability to bring greater NATO capabilities to bear for securing the Eastern Flank. 

As outlined in the NDS2 we need a strong “blunt-layer” (where the central idea is the imperative of preventing Russia from achieving a fait accompli) whereby the US military in the region is intertwined with European militaries, who ultimately have to carry more responsibility for local defence. The goal should be to shift the escalatory burden back onto the Russians in the advent of a crisis. But ultimately you have to have large European members of NATO that are putting in the field the capabilities to be able to handle Russia in a conventional crisis. Until you have that the US will find it hard to shift attention to the Indo-Pacific in the way that is envisioned in the NDS without exposing the secondary theater – the European theater – to significant risk of instability.

The resurgence of the continental powers

Should our thinking about how we understand and frame deterrence, defence and war change and evolve in the 2020s? The expeditionary war fighting model becomes increasingly complicated in access-denial environments. It seems that we enter in the age of protracted defence. At the same time, the revisionist powers increasingly adopt disruptive insurgent methodologies. 

The organising problem I see for deterrence in the 2020s is that Russia and China are both in their own ways creating facts on the ground that negate accustomed US military advantages and create the potential for deterrence failure. Both of these powers absorbed lessons from America’s wars in the 1990s and in particular the wide conventional superiority that the US enjoyed as a result of stand-off precision weapons and other technological by-products of the Second Offset3.  

If you fast-forward to the 2020s what you see is that both of these powers have invested in capabilities aimed at allowing them to control space and deny access in strategically important places. 

You see this pattern in the Formosa Strait, in the Black Sea, and in the Baltic. Basically you have large land powers attempting to ‘seal off’ portions at each end of Eurasia – the idea is to create environments where the US would draw the conclusion that it could not prevail without enormous effort and cost but also, on the basis, where it would likely decide that it lacked the political will to wage such a strenuous contest. These investments are made all the more credible in Russia’s case by an ambitious nuclear modernisation program and warfighting concepts that envision nuclear escalation on the battlefield as an offset to what they see US conventional superiority.  

The organising problem for deterrence in the 2020s is that Russia and China have invested in capabilities aimed at allowing them to control space and deny access in strategically important places. Basically you have large land powers attempting to ‘seal off’ portions at each end of Eurasia.

In geopolitical terms you can think of all of this as the resurgence of the continental powers, regaining an edge over maritime power. It’s the latest installment in a long contest stretching back centuries of sea power developing the tools (expeditionary forces, onshore alliances) to project power inland and land powers developing tools to resist and restrict those incursions. At least on paper it does look like Russia and China are gaining an edge. 

The reason that this is strategically significant is that the US has assumed at least since the end of the Second World War that its security would be met best by a forward presence, both militarily and politically, well beyond America’s shores, in the rimlands of Eurasia. The object of Russian and Chinese strategy, in a sense, is to make that a more militarily tenuous and therefore also politically fraught proposition – in effect, to convince America that the game is not worth the candle.  

The report emphasises also the role of the emerging disruptive technologies. In other words it is an invitation to reflect to and observe the changing character of warfare. What lessons are relevant for NATO from the historical periods in which major transitions between regimes of warfare took place? What could be the costs for the alliance of failing in keeping pace with the military technical revolution of its times? Today it seems that we are in another transition period away from a rough parity in precision guided munitions battle networks towards a new military regime – the algorithmic warfare – built around harnessing AI, machine learning, big data and autonomy.



The clear lesson from history is that states which lose the commanding heights of technology lose not only the ability to win at war in a tactical sense but also lose the ability to shape the political order that follows.  China clearly didn’t limit its study of America’s military-technological lessons to the wars of the 1990s; it also learned lessons from the earlier US victory – in the Cold War – that allowed America to be the shaping power after the USSR collapsed.  

We are accustomed in the West to thinking of our victory in the Cold War to ideological factors but we overlook the technological dimension.  America’s superior system of representative government and financial powers enabled it to undertake technological leaps that dramatically altered the course of the conflict and placed the Soviets on the horns of a dilemma — to either yield any presumption of dominance in the scenarios that counted most; or to launch ambitious military-industrial catch-ups that were well beyond the financial abilities of the Soviet system to sustain.

A major difference I think today is the method of stimulating major innovation. The byproducts of those earlier US leaps – precision-guided munitions, stealth, GPS, even the Internet – were made possible by US government-directed research and spending in places like DARPA.  

By contrast, the technologies that will give states an edge in algorithmic warfare – derivatives of quantum computing, AI, etc. – come overwhelmingly from smaller and more highly diffuse centers of innovation in the private sector that are by definition hard to steer or control.  The more you try to manage or centralise their efforts from above, the less likely they are to produce the kinds of innovations that you need.  

That’s not to say that state-directed efforts and R&D do not have a role – clearly they do, but as outlined in the NSCAI report, it is more of a cloud-seeding role that embraces decentralisation and either partners with or outsources to private sector innovators.  

The Chinese wager, it seems to me, is that their system can be sufficiently hands-off in approach to enable private innovation to flourish and achieve breakthroughs but still have a higher degree of coordination, courtesy of the CCP power structure and things like the Military-Civil Fusion strategy, to ensure that the push for those breakthroughs is both more determined and focused and more likely to achieve military utility for the state rather than just for consumers. A key Chinese advantage in making this wager is the sheer size of the Chinese population and domestic market. The West would do well not to underestimate Chinese entrepreneurial spirit and scope for innovation. That’s true not just in areas of military technology we’ve been discussing but in Fintech and the digitalisation of the renminbi too.  

States which lose the commanding heights of technology lose not only the ability to win at war in a tactical sense but also lose the ability to shape the political order that follows.

NATO will never be the main tool of choice for Western nations to respond to the entirety of the technological challenge from China. But it does have an important and, in my view, under-developed role to play in acting as a platform for allies to coordinate on security-related tech developments, pool R&D where possible, and most importantly, provide a pressure mechanism and interface with the EU to avoid a situation where that entity’s restrictive data regulations hobble the West in the technological competition with China.

The goal should be for the West and likeminded nations, including in Asia-Pacific, to have the lowest possible barriers to aggregative data access, funding and innovation to go toe to toe with a demographically massive China in those fields that will most determine success.  

In a way, it seems to me to be about pooling and channelling efforts of the free world to set the stage/ground for a third offset strategy-ripe ecosystem. 

I think that is right. It is a balancing act where you have to lower barriers wherever possible for innovation and technological cooperation while also being in commercial competition with one another within the Western world.

Why does the report plead for institutionalising an Andy Marshall4 kind of capability? What would be the value of net assessment for the alliance in navigating the international ecosystem of the 2020s? Is this an attempt in relearning the lost art of the Cold War when Andy Marshall’s ONA focused on providing a long-term competition framework within which it highlighted key strategic asymmetries and strengths to build upon relative to the competition?



An organising problem for NATO continues to be the divergences in threat assessment so we have to start here. The divergences are due in large part to geography and the fact that different allies feel greater exposure to different threats. But as the quantity of major threats increases we can expect that divergence of perceptions to also increase. NATO political cohesion is in a sense a derivative of how well it manages those divergences of threat assessment. So, if your goal is to increase NATO cohesion you have to ask: how can we be more deliberate about achieving convergences of threat assessment?  

A big part of that is something that you cannot control: it’s a byproduct of political will, which is rooted in geography, state interests, and other seemingly immutable factors.  But the history of NATO is the history of attempting to mitigate those differentials in threat assessment.  You can do that through political consultation – that’s why from the time of the Wise Men report, in the late 1950s, onward NATO has had structured habits of consultation to proactively foresee and manage those differentials in threat assessment.  

But you can also do it by building better institutional tools for studying and assessing threats. The US found in the Cold War as you pointed out that there is strategic value to having a standing effort/office whose job is to put all of the pieces on the table – red team, blue team, etc. but also all of the relevant tools at America’s disposal for managing competition.  The premise is that doing this allows you to see aspects of the game, aspects of the competitive dynamic, that you might have missed or overlooked if just making decisions from a political or crisis management perspective. So, the idea would be to give NATO a dedicated tool for helping to understand the entirety of its threat environment and, on that basis, do a better at proactively mitigating differentials in threat assessment.  

NATO has already begun to move in this direction with the development of the Joint Intelligence and Security Division (JISD), Policy Planning Unit (PPU), and the informal practice of the senior staff policy board meeting for purposes of horizon scanning and strategic anticipation. The idea with the net assessment is to regularise these practices, give them a designated institutional home and staff inside the NATO HQ.

What’s important is not just the organisational piece or creating layers of bureaucracy for the sake of creating bureaucracy, but getting ways to get out of the reactive/crisis management mindset of the last two decades and reinject more disciplined, anticipatory strategic thinking into the NATO culture.  

The Alliance needs to avoid paralysis when it matters

We often hear that preserving cohesion is the center of gravity for the transatlantic alliance. But in a time of increasingly different security optics we can end up with a situation where cohesion becomes a liability for military credibility and deterrence. How can such a scenario be avoided?

Cohesion in a multi-country alliance is of course the result of political will. But it is also the result of the members of that alliance possessing capabilities that in aggregate provide greater security than individual members could achieve on their own. The quest for cohesion becomes a liability when it is pursued artificially, as a kind of ‘higher good’ in itself that supersedes the purposes for which the alliance was created or in ways that prevent it from responding to clear risks or opportunities.  

A good example is China. The threat from China is real and growing and all but a handful of allies appear to grasp that fact. But imagine if NATO were to prioritise the maintenance of a superficial unity over taking the difficult steps to deal with this problem. That would be an example of the idea of cohesion superseding security. It would be a case of lowest common denominator reasoning and allowing the concerns of the few to prevent the action of the majority.  

Another example is the practice of some allies importing external, bilateral disputes into NATO, essentially withholding consensus on initiatives that all 29 of the other members agree on. This is the modern equivalent of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s liberum veto – a recipe for paralysis.  

Our report recommends dealing head-on with both of these problems.

At the strategic level, we need to force the issue by updating the Strategic Concept to reflect the new strategic environment. That will require a lot of hard work diplomatically building consensus around the fact of the new and unfamiliar threats. There is no substitute for that hard work.

But in addition, our report argues that NATO would benefit from proactively reforming decision-making. In an alliance like NATO whose ultimate use is for deterrence and if necessary, sending lives into combat, consensus must remain the metric on things that count and matters of life and death. On many other matters however, we may not need consensus. The report recommends for example not requiring consensus on certain administrative and staffing matters. It recommends allowing sub groups of allies to move ahead on missions under the NATO chapeau without all members participating, as well as placing time limits on crisis decision making.  

The key in all of this is to avoid paralysis when it matters, to make it harder for one or two allies to consistently use single country vetoes to import bilateral disputes into NAC that don’t belong there. So, we recommend for example raising the threshold for those blockages to the Ministerial level. Ultimately, I believe NATO will need to develop a kind of constructive abstention model along the EU lines. The key though is to ensure that in the more contested and complicated strategic environment that I am describing, NATO has to be able to achieve collective action.

The ability to tend to the democratic foundations of the Alliance will be integral to NATO’s success

It seems that the 2020s have increasingly the contours of an inter-regnum, a time of an intensive ideological competition between democracies and authoritarianism. Has the time come for the allies to renew their vows to the founding principles – to the core NATO values? What role has resilience to play and how should resilience be understood in a NATO context?



It is important to acknowledge that there is an ideological character to the emerging era of great power competition. China and Russia are both large Eurasian land powers but also the world’s leading authoritarian regimes.  They use not only military power but divisions inside our societies to undermine representative institutions, social cohesion and trust. 

Our report argues that in strategic competition with these states the ability to tend to the democratic foundations of the Alliance will be integral to NATO’s success on two levels. First internally, in the political cohesion of the Alliance itself. NATO is an alliance built on the concept of intimate cooperation of democracies. Historically, it’s worth noting that since antiquity, democracies tend to form alliances and despotic regimes do not. The two concepts are deeply linked. In NATO’s case we can go further and say that any movement of members toward the authoritarian camp does weaken NATO and undermine support of publics for helping one another.  

And second, it is integral to NATO’s success externally – in competition with Russia and China. The report highlights the fact that these are authoritarian states from which the West must deny them the opportunity of undermining Western societies from within, and on principled grounds, in positioning the West at the moral high grounds in the battle of ideas.   

Those two dimensions should shape how we think about so-called ‘democratic resilience’. Resilience is a term that gets thrown around a lot so I think it’s worth defining clearly for NATO, what resilience means in the context of democracy.  To my mind to speak of the resilience of a democracy is to speak first and foremost about ensuring the capacity for self-correction through frequent, peaceful transfer of power. Integral to that capacity for self-correction is what we in the Anglo-American and Madisonian tradition call the principle of the separation of powers—or for continental Europeans, the German concept of Rechtstaat and from Montesquieu the principal of political non-interference.  

Secondly resilience must include due regard for anything that could undermine the political will of democracies to defend one another – specifically, anything that would degrade a member’s support for executing its commitment of Article Five.  

Resilience is a term that gets thrown around a lot so I think it’s worth defining clearly for NATO, what resilience means in the context of democracy.  To my mind to speak of the resilience of a democracy is to speak first and foremost about ensuring the capacity for self-correction through frequent, peaceful transfer of power.

The question in both cases is: what is NATO’s appropriate role? I think the key in a NATO context is to focus intently on the intersection of democracy and foreign influence or coercion. That is to say: we will succeed in proportion to how organically our efforts stem from the core function and raison d’etre of NATO.  So for example our report recommends building a center of excellence at NATO to support allies in the quest for democratic resilience. This is an important evolution in my mind because it elevates threats to democracy to attention at the NATO level; NATO needs a way to defend democratic resilience the same way that it has a center of excellence for countering cyber or other types of threats.  

But I think we also have to keep in mind the ultimate goal which is to strengthen the political cohesion of the Alliance. The quickest way to weaken the political cohesion of NATO would be to indulge in finger pointing that singles out allies for public rebuke. It would invite profound discord into the alliance and create an opening for Russia and China to eagerly exploit, which would be the opposite of the cohesion we need.

I also think we should abide by a mindset of ‘do no harm’ when it comes to the all-important function of deterrence. NATO is, in the final analysis, a military alliance to deter enemies and if necessary go to war for its members. This is its supreme function and all political changes have to be assessed by how they affect that core function. As our report argues, deterrence rests not only on military capabilities but in clearly-expressed and credible signals of political willingness to fight on behalf of members. 

There has to be crystal clarity on this point; any lack of clarity on the political willingness to defend members weakens the deterrent function. This would preclude some of the more ambitious ideas I have heard – for example, the idea that NATO can strengthen democracy by making Article 5 cohesion contingent on members maintaining certain democratic benchmarks. That would be a departure from the 70 years practice and precedent of NATO playing the long game for strategic influence and continuing to engage with vulnerable allies so that they do not fall into rival spheres of influence. That danger today is very great. It would be a dangerous innovation because the minute you define the factors upon which Article 5 will be contingent, you are pinpointing where Russia should focus its efforts to undermine an ally and bring about a deterrence failure.  

The key I think in all three principles is to look at democracy in the context of security – in the context of an environment where you now have alert external rivals as agitators for undermining us and opportunists for seizing the openings that come from those agitations. So the appropriate frame of reference for democratic resilience in a NATO context is to keep it at the intersection of democracy and security.

Dr. A. Wess Mitchell was co-chair of the NATO 2030 Reflection Process. He is co-founder and principal at The Marathon Initiative, a policy initiative focused on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition. Previously, he served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs from 2017 to 2019. Prior to joining the State Department, Mitchell cofounded and served as President and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).

This interview is published simultaneously in both Eastern Focus Quarterly and Small Wars Journal.

NOTES

1 In December 2019, NATO leaders invited the Secretary General to lead a forward-looking reflection process to strengthen NATO’s political dimension. To support him, NATO Secretary General has appointed a group of ten experts co-chaired by Thomas de Maizière and Wess Mitchell.

2 The National Defense Strategy (NDS), together with the National Security Strategy (NSS), were the first documents that signalled a paradigm shift by officially acknowledging that for the first time after the end of the Cold War, inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, has become the primary concern in U.S. national security.  You can find more on the broader logic of NDS in an Eastern Focusdiscussion with the lead author here.

3 The 2nd Offset Strategy – initiated under the Carter Administration and matured in the late 1980s – was a way to compensate for the Soviet size advantage in conventional forces and thus re-establish general military parity. Most importantly, it leveraged a network of stealth, smart sensors, and smart weapons together with new innovative operational concepts (Air Land Battle) to generate decisive battlefield effects, denying the Soviet Union theory of victory and shoring up deterrence.

4 Andrew W. Marshall, a former strategist at the RAND Corporation served as head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA) from its founding in 1973 until his retirement in 2015, at the age of 93 years. He was probably the longest public servant in the United States. Under his leadership, ONA focused on scrutinising the future and the past to try to understand long-term trends and shifts, especially the key competitions that were taking place. ONA understood the emerging revolution in precision-strike warfare as well as the rise of the anti-access/area-denial capabilities that could inhibit and disrupt the ability of the US to project its power overseas. Andy Marshall was also instrumental in theorising the competitive strategy mind-set adopted by the US against the Soviet Union in the 1980s by highlighting the need to identify and invest in enduring competitive advantages and strengths while exploiting the particular weaknesses of the competitor.

‘If the EU fails, we can say goodbye to the liberal order’ – an interview with Samir Saran, President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi.

To what extent is Europe important for the future of the world order? Europeans feel like they count less and less on the world scene.

Europe is, paradoxically, the single most important geography that will define the future trajectory of the global order. If Europe remains rooted in its fundamental principles – of being democratic, open, liberal, plural, supporting a transparent and open market economy, defending rule of law, the rights of individuals, freedom of speech – the world will have a chance of being liberal. If the European Union is split between the north and south, east and west and we see a large part of it deciding to give up on the Atlantic project and align with more authoritarian regimes – which is quite tempting, due to the material side attached to the choice – that will be the end of the Atlantic project. An EU that is not united in its ethics is an EU that will eventually write its own demise. How will Europe swing? Will it be an actor, or will it be acted upon? 

I have the belief that post-pandemic EU, as a political actor, will see a new lease of life. A new political EU may be born as the pandemic ends. Unless that happens, I believe this is the end of the European Union itself. It is a do it or lose it moment. Unless Europe becomes strategically far more aggressive, far more expansive, aware of its role, obligations and destiny you will see an EU that fades. For me, the most important known unknown is the future of Europe. Will the EU hold? Will the 17+1 become more powerful than the EU 27? Which way will the wind blow on the continent? Will it really be the bastion of the liberal order or will the liberal order be buried in Europe?

The Indo-Pacific is the frontline for European safety

We’ve been used to only existing as part of the transatlantic relationship. In the past few decades, Europe has never really seen itself as an individual actor, but rather in coordination with the US. That is something that is starting to shake now. Do you see Europe acting on its own terms, as a global actor, in the positive case in which the member states do get their act together? Are we rather going to continue to act together with the US? Or find some other partners?

I suspect that with Brexit, you might see a far more cohesive EU, organised around the French military doctrine and French military posture. With an absent UK, I have the feeling that the political cohesion of the EU will increase and that the EU will be far more coordinated in its approach to the geostrategic and geopolitical questions. France realises that by itself, without the size of the EU, it might not be a significant actor. A French military presence will be compelling only if it acts on behalf of the EU.

Europe believed that it could change China by engaging with them, however I suspect China will change the EU before the EU changes China.

In terms of other partners, Europe has made one error. Europe believed that it could change China by engaging with them, however I suspect China will change the EU before the EU changes China. The mistake that the EU makes is that it imagines that an economic and trading partnership will create a degree of political consensus in Beijing. Nevertheless, Beijing is not interested in politics, but in controlling European markets. 

What Europe should do is to consider the importance of India. If the European continent needs to retain its plural characteristics, South Asia is the frontline. What is happening today between India and China is actually a frontline debate on the future of the world order. The Himalayan standoff is just the first of the many that are likely to happen unless this one is responded to. If China is able to change the shape of Asia and recreate the hierarchical Confucian order, don’t be surprised if the fate of Europe will follow the same path. If Europe needs to feel secure in its own existence it needs to create new strong local partnerships – with India, Australia, Indonesia, Japan. The EU needs to see itself as an Indo-Pacific power. The Indo-Pacific is the frontline for European safety. If the Indo-Pacific was to go the other way, the mainland is not going to be safe.

What do you think about the CEE’s role in the new emerging order? We see an increased competition for hearts and minds here. How could India help, in an environment of increased competition and active engagement of China in this space?

The Central Europeans are going to be the centre of attention for many actors. China will buy their love, America will give military assurances and so on. In the near future, many actors will realise the importance of the CEE, simply because it is these countries that will decide which way Europe finally turns. In some ways they are the swing countries, the swing nations that are going to decide whether Europe remains loyal to the ideals of its past or decides to have a new path. CEE countries are in many ways the decisive countries.

CEE has two important options and two important pressures. The options: will they be able to create a consensus (between the Chinese, the Russians, the Old Europe and the new countries like India) or will they be an arena for conflict? Can we create a ‘Bucharest consensus’, where the East and the West, North and the South build a new world order and the new rules for the next 7 decades? If you play it wrong you might become the place where the powers contest, compete and create a mess.

There are also two pressures. Firstly, there is an economic divide in Europe. You are at a lower per capita income, you need to find investment funds for the infrastructure, employment, livelihoods and growth, which results in an economic pressure that needs to be tackled. Therefore, Europe will have to decide if the provenence of the money matters. Does it matter if it is red or green? Does it matter if they come from the West or the East? That is one pressure that needs consideration. How do you meet your own aspirations, while being political about it? 

The other pressure is the road you want to take. How do you envisage the future? Is it going to be a future built on cheap manufacturing? Being an advanced technological society, are you going to be the rule-maker of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or its rule-taker? Secondly, the nature of the economic growth that you are investing in becomes another pressure. This is the second choice that the CEE will have to make. In that sense, I believe that India becomes an actor. As we have experienced this in the past 20 years, we are one of the swing nations that could decide the nature of the world order, thus we may share this experience with you. We have also decided that we don’t want to be a low-cost manufacturing economy like China, but rather a value-creating economy, building platforms. Even if we have a small economic size, we have a billion-people digital platforms, digital cash system, AI laboratories and solutions. 

What is happening today between India and China is actually a frontline debate on the future of the world order. If China is able to change the shape of Asia and recreate the hierarchical Confucian order, don’t be surprised if the fate of Europe will follow the same path.

As we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the tyranny of distance between Europe and India disappears. We don’t have to worry about trade links, land routes and shipping lines. Bits and bites can flow quite rapidly. As we move to the age of 3D printing, to the age of quantum computing, of big data and autonomous systems, the arena where we can cooperate becomes huge. 

India gives Europe room to manoeuvre, room to choose. When it comes to choosing, besides the traditional American and Chinese propositions, there is also a third one – India, a billion-people market.

Do you expect that there is going to be a shift in the EU toward reshoring and ensuring that manufacturing is not captive to Chinese interests or to Chinese belligerence?

I think that we are going to see a degree of reshoring everywhere. It is not going to be only a European phenomenon. Political trust is going to become important. Political trust and value-chains are going to affect one another. Countries are going to be more comfortable with partners who are like-minded. They don’t have to agree on everything, but they should be on the same ideological and political spectrum. 

There are two reasons for this. One is the pandemic that we are currently facing and in a way it exposed the fragility of globalisation as we know it. The hippie and gypsy styles of globalisation are over. I think that people are going to make far more political decisions. The second is that as we start becoming more digitalised societies, individual data and individual space are going to be essential, thus you don’t want those data sets to be shared with countries whose systems you don’t trust. Value is going to increasingly emerge through intimate industrial growth, far more intimate in character – it is going to be about the organs inside your body, it is going to be about the personal experiences, about how we live, transact, date or elect. They are all intimate value chains. The intimate value-chains will require far greater degree of thought than the mass production factories that created value in the XXth century.

The EU may be setting the format for managing our contested globalisation

You mention the rising value of trust, as a currency even. In Europe, we often point out that we are an alliance based on values. But even our closest partner, the US seems to be moving in a much more transactional direction, let alone China and others. You are describing a worldview that is relying increasingly on shared values, at least some capacity to negotiate some common ground, on predictability, whereas in many ways it seems that things are moving in the opposite direction, a much more Realpolitik one. Is this something that is going to last?

The pandemic has brought this trend to the fore. People are going to appreciate trust and value systems more than ever. But I think this was inevitable. If you would recall, India used to be quite dismissive of the EU, calling it “an Empire of gnomes”, with no strategic clout. But if you look at the last two years, India has started to absorb, and in a sense to propose solutions that the EU itself has implemented in the past. India came up with an investment infrastructure framework in the Indo-Pacific that should not create debt trap diplomacy, should create livelihoods, respect the environment and recognise the rights and sovereignty of the people. India came up with this when it saw that the Chinese were breaking all rules and all morality to capture industrial infrastructure spaces. The Americans under Donald Trump also came up with the Blue Dot American project for the Indo-Pacific – a framework that was based on values. Whenever you have to deal with a powerful political opponent you throw the rule book in there. If you don’t want to go to war with them, you will have to manage them through a framework of laws, rules and regulations. The value systems are a very political choice. They are practices and choices enshrined in our constitutions and foundational documents. Therefore, dismissing values and norms as being less political or less muscular is wrong. The EU, “the empire of gnomes” that was much criticised for the first two decades as weak and not geopolitical enough, may well become an example for other countries. If it remains solvent, a vibrant union, and if it is not salami-sliced by the Chinese in the next decade, the EU may well be setting the format for managing our contested globalisation.

This pandemic is the first global crisis where Captain America is missing

How does India see the future of the Quad? Usually the Quad is associated with a certain vision of the Indo – Pacific, free from coercion and open to unhindered navigation and overflight. Are we going to see the emergence of a more formal geopolitical alignment or even an alliance to support a certain vision about Asia?

The Quad is going to acquire greater importance in the coming years. It is going to expand beyond its original 4 members. We’ve already seen South Korea and the Philippines joining the discussion recently. We are going to see greater emphasis by all members doing a number of manoeuvres, projects and initiatives together. The next 5 years will be the age of the Quad. The pandemic started this process. I see three areas where the Quad can be absolutely essential.

One is in delivering global public goods, keeping the sea lines open and uncontested so that trade, energy and people can move with a degree of safety and stability. In a sense, I see the Quad replacing the Pax Americana that was underwriting stability in certain parts of the world. 

The second area is going to be around infrastructure and investments in certain parts of the world. I see the Quad grouping many initiatives that will allow for big investments in countries which currently have only one option – China. The Quad will be able to spawn a whole new area of financial, infrastructure and technology instruments closer to the needs of Asians, South Asian, East African, West Asians including the Pacific Islands. The Quad will be the basis of this kind of relationships in the upcoming years.

Thirdly and most importantly, the role of the Quad will be to ensure that we won’t reach a stage where we have to reject the Chinese. None of us wants a ‘No China’ world, because all of us benefit from China’s growth and economic activities. Many of us have concluded that the only way to keep the Chinese honest in their engagements, economical or political, is to be able to put together a collective front in front of them, not negotiate individually. The EU has done that longer than anyone else and that’s why the Chinese don’t like the EU and apply a ‘divide and conquer’ methodology to get more favourable deals. The Quad is in many ways an expression of that reality, as well of that the middle powers in Asia and Pacific (Indonesia, Australia and Japan) will have to work together, sometimes without the Americans, to negotiate new terms of trade and new energy, or technological arrangements. The Quad in many ways is also the ‘make China responsible’ arrangement, an accountability framework which will keep the Chinese honest and responsible actors in the global system.  

The next 5 years will be the age of the Quad. The Quad in many ways is also the ‘make China responsible’ arrangement, an accountability framework which will keep the Chinese honest and responsible actors in the global system.

Do you also see this trend extending into the political sphere in a kind of collective endeavour both in Asia (through the Quad) and in the West (starting with Europe perhaps) to build a new kind of world order? Do you feel that this ‘middle powers concert’ is one possible way to go? Or do you believe that we are going to be disappointed, as we were by the BRICs, when some of the members drowned in their own domestic problems? 

We are part of a world that doesn’t have any superpowers. The last superpower was America, and that ended with the financial crisis ten years ago. Ever since, we have been literally in a world which had quasi-superpowers like the US, to some extent Russia, the Chinese, but there was no real hegemon that could punish people for bad behaviour and reward people for good behaviour. 

Some of the most interested actors in the Indo-Pacific in the last two to three years happened to be the UK and France. A few years ago, they sensed that if they want to be relevant in the future world order, as it is built and as it emerges, they need to be present in the debates that are unfolding in this part of the world. Both partnered with India – to do military manoeuvres, to create maritime domain awareness stations, to invest in infrastructure and to create clearly the beginnings of a new order that might emerge from here. We will have to create these coalitions to be able to get things done.

The pandemic tells us something which is also quite tragic. Ever since I was born I have never witnessed a global crisis that did not have America as a response leader. This pandemic is the first global crisis where Captain America is missing. What makes it even more complicated is that the successor to Captain America has caused the crisis. Hence, you have the old power, which is absent and engrossed in its own domestic realities, and the new power that has been irresponsible and has put us in this position. Both the previous incumbent and the new contender don’t have the capacity to take action in this world by themselves. This tells us that building a coalition of middle powers is absolutely essential. It is not a luxury, it is not a choice. This is something concerning our own existential reasons that we must invest in.

Do you see this coalition of middle powers as some sort of a ’league of democracies’? It is a concept that was previously advanced by John McCain and now Joe Biden is embracing as his overarching framework for foreign policy. Do you see the potential for creating this league of democracies as some sort of manager and defender of the liberal international order?

I think it is inevitable. Technology is so intimate that we are not going to trust our data with folks we have a suspicion about. Thus, it is this reality that makes this coalition of democracies and like-minded countries inevitable. Even if we may never call it that, it is going to become that. We are going to notice countries engaging in these intimate industries with others who are similar, who are like-minded, who have similar worldviews. Still, this process may take longer than we have. We do not have the luxury of time, because we are going to be destroyed, divided, decimated and sliced in the meantime.

A few countries will have to take leadership – either the French, the UK, the EU itself, or India, or all of them. Until there is an agreement on a big vision for the new world order we must agree to an interim arrangement and have to create a bridging mechanism that takes us from the turmoil of the first two decades of this century to a more stable second half of the century. We don’t want to go through two world wars in order to achieve this unity, as we did in the past century. We need to have some other mechanisms that will prevent conflict, but preserve ethics. 

In this context the EU-India and the CEE-India projects are essential. It is us who have the most at stake, because our future is on the line. The more the world is in turmoil, the less we will be able to grow sustainably. It is our interest to create and invest in institutions and informal institutions that could preserve a degree of values and allow for stability.

Such a coalition reuniting countries from Central Europe, Western Europe and from Asia (such as India, Australia, Japan) will normalise the behaviour of both America and China. I do not think that they behaved responsibly in the last few years – one because of its democratic insanity, and the second because of its absolutist medieval mindset. Along these lines, you have democratic failure at one end and a despotic emergence at the other end. We need to ensure that democracy will survive and that the middle powers will be able to normalise this moment.

What is Russia’s role in all this? Is Russia going to be on our side? Or is it going to be on China’s – considering that sometimes they seem to, although their agendas perhaps align only when it is opportune for both of them?

Russia has an odd reality. It is a country that has a very modest GDP (the second smallest within the BRICs) but it is also a country that is possibly the second most powerful military force in the world. A big military actor with a very small economic size. This is creates a policy asymmetry in Moscow. It has very little stakes in global economic stability or global economic progress, but it has huge clout in the political consequences of developments around the world. The Russians have somehow to be mainstreamed into our economic future. Unless Russia is going to have an active role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution or have real benefits, their economy will stay in the 20th century and therefore their politics is going to reflect a 20th century mindset. If they are included in the economic policies of the future, their politics will evolve too. It is not an easy transition. Nevertheless I would argue that the Russians have to be given more room in European thinking so that they don’t feel boxed into the Chinese corner. The last thing that we should be thinking of is giving Russia no option but to partner with the Chinese. Perhaps the immediate neighbours (the CEE) will not be open to a partnership, taking into account their political history. But countries like India would be able to offer space for manoeuvre. In that sense, India could be a market, a consumer, an investor in the Russian economic future and the CEE-India partnership could become important. Can we together play a role in normalising that relationship? Can we give the Russians an option other than China? If Russia’s economic future is linked to ours, it doesn’t have to be in the Chinese corner. The Russians are not the Chinese. The Chinese take hegemony to a whole new level; the Russians have this odd asymmetry that defines their place in the world. This asymmetry should be addressed with new economic possibilities and incentives. 

The rise of the Middle Kingdom

We’ve been discussing how to react to a world that is increasingly defined by China. But what are China’s plans? What does China want? 

I do not know their plans, but I can tell you how I see China’s emergence, from New Delhi. I define it through what I call the 3M framework.

Firstly, I see them increasingly becoming the Middle Kingdom. Chinese exceptionalism is defined in those terms. They believe they have a special place in the world – between heaven and earth. They will continue to defy the global rules and they will not allow the global pressures to alter their national behaviour or domestic choices.  So we will see the first M, the Middle Kingdom, emerge more strongly in the years ahead.

This pandemic is the first global crisis where Captain America is missing. What makes it even more complicated is that the successor to Captain America has caused the crisis.

Secondly, this Middle Kingdom will make use of modern tools. They see Modernity as a tool, not as an experience. In that sense they use it to strengthen the Middle Kingdom, not to reform and evolve. Such tools include digital platforms, the control of media and a modern army with modern weapons to control and dominate. 

Thirdly, the final M deals with a Medieval mindset. They are a Middle Kingdom with Modern tools and a Medieval mindset that believes in a hierarchical world. We are a world which has moved away from the hierarchies of the past. The world is more flat, people have equal relationships. The Chinese don’t see it like that. They see a hierarchical world, where countries must pay tribute to them. They sometimes use the Belt and Road Initiative to create the tribute system or the debt trap diplomacy to buy sovereignty. Likewise, they use other tools to ensure the subordination of the countries they deal with.

These three Ms are defining the China of today.

Samir Saran curates the Raisina Dialogue, India’s annual flagship platform on geopolitics and geo-economics, and chairs CyFy, India’s annual conference on cyber security and internet governance. He is also the Director of the Centre for Peace and Security at the Sardar Patel Police University, Jodhpur, India. He writes frequently on issues of global governance, climate change, energy policy, global development architecture, artificial intelligence, cyber security, internet governance, and India’s foreign policy and authored four books, the latest of which is called ‘The New World Disorder’. 

The interview was conducted by Oana Popescu and Octavian Manea, as part of the Central Europe-India Forum Initiative created by the Observer Research Foundation (India), Keynote (Czechia) and GlobalFocus Center (Romania).

“It is more than a trade war between US and China, it is a hegemonic rivalry” – an interview with Kuni Miyake

Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo. A former career diplomat, Miyake also serves as special adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Japanese government.

How would you characterise the post-COVID Indo-Pacific security ecosystem from a Japanese perspective?

One thing is for sure: pandemics accelerate and in many cases deteriorate already-existing tendencies. For this reason, I focus on the big trends. In the case of East Asia there are several such tendencies. One, China is on the rise. Two, the United States is becoming more and more inward-looking, if not isolationist. What’s happening now is quite similar to what we witnessed in the 1930s: you have a new rising regional power that considers the status quo as something to be adjusted, and therefore it can be changed even by force. With that in mind, the rising power challenges American hegemony in the Western Pacific by force. That is exactly what Japan did in the 1930s, but China is doing it on a scale 10 times bigger. In the case of Japan we attacked Pearl Harbor and we started a war. China is not that stupid. But nationalism is an opium. Once you start using it, you cannot stop it until you destroy yourself. That happened to Japan, and I am afraid that something similar could happen to China. These trends have been exacerbated and accelerated. 

Nationalism is an opium. Once you start using it, you cannot stop it until you destroy yourself.

What would you expect to be the key pillars of post-Abe foreign policy? What will change? What will be the continuities?

Shinzo Abe is one of the few politicians in my country who really understands the global strategic environment and the imperative to maximise the national interests in the middle of such difficult circumstances. Fortunately, he stayed in power for almost eight years. If you have this time you can create a sort of a legacy which could last longer. Mr. Suga has no choice because he was part of the Abe foreign policy. I always say that foreign policy is also politics, and all politics is local. If you want to make a commitment in your foreign policy, the biggest opponent are not the foreigners but your fellow citizens inside your country who are opposed to new ideas. Therefore, in order to achieve a diplomatic goal, you need to convince the opponents inside your country. That is something Abe did and Mr. Suga did himself. That’s why I call Mr. Suga a part of the Abe foreign policy. He will just continue doing it. But Shinzo Abe was a Ferrari, a super car, and even if you drive a super car, if the streets are congested you cannot go anywhere. Mr. Suga is no Ferrari or Lamborghini, but if you find the right route and streets, you can go anywhere. Abe created a great environment for Japan to maximise its national interests. Abe’s legacy will stay.

The most worrying issue is the outcome of the US elections. This is a wild card. If Trump is re-elected we know how to deal with it. If Biden becomes president, probably his policy wouldn’t be dramatically different from the current administration. The main reason is that the geopolitical transformation in East Asia has been so drastic that it has really started a strategic rivalry between US and China. This is more than a trade war, it is a hegemonic rivalry. The Americans fear that one day China might challenge the U.S. hegemony in the Western Pacific and even replace the US in East Asia. This is not something episodic, but a strategic and structural trend which the pandemic has accelerated.

A key component of Abe’s foreign policy legacy is the Quad. How does Japan see the future of the Quad? What is the next stage in the development of the Quad? 

Too frequently we refer to China and the CCP. The Quad is not an alliance, the Quad is not NATO. It is a much looser sort of a forum because we don’t want to define it clearly. If you define it clearly then only a limited number of countries can participate. So we should make it open. India has finally joined. It took us 14 years. We started talking about the Quad in 2006. Foreign Minister Taro Aso told US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Hanoi in November 2006 that it was important for Japan, Australia, India, and the US to get together to discuss security issues in the Asia-Pacific, but at that time Ms. Rice did not respond positively. We may not see an expanded Quad in the foreseeable future. But what is more important is to keep the Quad united, to make it as loose as possible, so that more countries can join later in the future. The Quad is a good idea, but it is not NATO and shouldn’t be another NATO.

The Quad is not an alliance, the Quad is not NATO and shouldn’t be another NATO.

In June the implementation of the Aegis Ashore anti-missile system was canceled by Japan. At the same time there is currently a major debate in Japan about whether the SDF should develop counterattack capabilities, specifically acquiring attack missiles. What do these trends suggest about the national security policy, specifically about deterrence? 

Here the real issue is how we define our defence policy. There is a very long debate about what we mean by ‘exclusively defence-oriented’ defence policy. Exclusively defensive defence policy means nothing. It is a tautology. It is a strange kind of debate which we have continued for the past 60-plus years. It is time to rethink it because our potential adversaries have more military capability than before, and that requires more deterrent capability on the part of the Japanese side. Therefore it is not a debate between whether or not we should be able to attack enemy bases. It is not that simple. What is more important is a discussion about the qualification of the exclusively defensive posture of our defence policy. My argument is very simple, because defence policy consists of two elements: deterrence and attack capabilities. So try to deter your potential adversary first (so enhance the deterrence power to discourage enemy attacks), and if the deterrence fails you should be able to attack. As far as Japan is concerned, under the current constitution, we should put more emphasis on the deterrence side rather than the attack element. It is time for us to adopt a ‘deterrence-oriented’ defence posture.

Is Washington’s plan to withdraw troops from Germany particularly worrying for Japan? Do you see any ripple effects for the broader US posture in the Indo-Pacific, or questions about US credibility? 

The question is what are the stakes of the US presence in Europe and East Asia? There is of course the cultural angle – we are allies and share the same values. But the US is also a naval maritime power in the Indo-Pacific, where the economies are growing fastest. Therefore, the US might withdraw some troops from Europe to reinforce the deterrence posture in the Indo-Pacific area. But of course, this shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. You have more US Army troops in Europe while we have more US naval capabilities. In Asia what we need are the amphibious Marine units who can fight on the waters. It is a delicate balance, but the Europeans may have to keep in mind that the American priority has already shifted from Europe and the Middle East to Asia.

What does China’s most recent international behaviour (the border clash, the knock-out of Hong Kong freedoms, the bullying of Taiwan) expose about Beijing, its plans, ambitions and grand strategy? For sure this is no longer Deng Xiaoping’s China – “Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile” mind-set. Is this a sort of a wake-up moment? 

The reasons behind the recent self-assertiveness are the following.

Firstly: China is now a major power. It is not weak anymore. It has enough military power to realise its military and political ambitions. Secondly: the element of nationalism as part of the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. The legitimacy of the CCP consists of three pillars: China is one and united; their victory over Japan in the Patriotic War; and they finally found the third, which is the economic development in the late 1970s. This last element really divided the nation, because it widened the gap between the rich and poor. This is something that over time will destroy the legitimacy of the CCP. That’s why these days they have become excessively dependent on the nationalistic propaganda. The danger is that it is like opium, because once you start using it, you cannot stop it. 

Thirdly: the imperial personality of Xi Jinping. He thinks that it is time for China to strike back. With these three elements combined, China cannot stop assuming an assertive posture in the foreseeable future.

Xi Jinping thinks that it is time for China to strike back. China cannot stop assuming an assertive posture in the foreseeable future. 

When you visited Bucharest a few years back you warned about a power vacuum in the South China Sea that Beijing will take advantage of. What are/should be the lessons to be learned by the international community from the South China Sea? 

It is too late. We missed the opportunity a few years ago before they started landfilling and creating artificial islands. Once they were there and deployed all the weapons systems it became too late. In wartime these are highly vulnerable, but in peacetime it means that China is dominant inside the first island chain. We are located on the first island chain. As the US Marines say, they are already in the area and they are not going to move away. They are there to stay and defend their positions. What we can do now is to prevent the Chinese Navy especially from going out of the first island chain. In order to do that they will need more powerful platforms, which will be basically very vulnerable as the American forces transform in the future. 

Biden or Trump? Who is better for the US system of alliances?

Japan is an exception. Japan is the only nation among the allies of the United States which benefited most from the Trump Administration. Europeans suffered more than they gained. Of course, we suffered too because of the inherent unpredictability of the administration. A Biden presidency will be much more predictable. If Donald Trump is elected again maybe Shinzo Abe can play a role again. If I were Mr. Suga, I would nominate Abe as his special envoy.

Are you worried about intra-Democratic party ‘civil war’ between the Biden moderates and the radicalised progressive wing?

Yes, once Biden wins, another battle among the Democrats will resume. I hope this will not damage the foreign and defence policy of the Democratic party.

“We are still in a world where military power translates into geopolitical power. If Europe wants to sit at the table, it needs military capabilities” – an interview with Ulrike Franke (ECFR)

Dr. Ulrike Franke is policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). Her areas of focus include German and European security and defence, the future of warfare, and the impact of new technologies such as drones and artificial intelligence.

What potential do you see for truly projecting a geopolitical Commission, especially in a post-pandemic Europe? What are the critical ingredients for a successful geopolitical Commission? Over the past years, France was very active in advancing bold visions for the future of Europe that were received with little enthusiasm in Berlin. Is a Franco-German alignment on a geopolitical Europe agenda more or less likely in a post-pandemic context? 

This is the big question for the EU at the moment. In my view, the first step in shaping a geopolitical EU would be for the Union to define in a clear way the interests it has in the world, and to communicate them. But this interest-focused thinking is something that the EU is not very comfortable with, and Germany in particular is neither comfortable, nor used to doing it. The second challenge is finding agreement among the 27 member states on various issues, whether it is on Russia, China or anything else. It is often difficult to get to a unanimous decision among the 27, which is why Ursula von der Leyen has proposed qualified majority voting on some foreign policy issues, especially in the areas pertaining to human rights, as she pointed out in her latest State of the Union speech. 

For now, the EU still struggles to be a geopolitical actor. And Germany in particular appears not ready for the EU to be a geopolitical actor. The current situation in the Mediterranean is a good illustration of this. There are still important voices in Germany who believe that the EU – even in this specific instance – should be an honest broker and an arbitrator rather than an actor. But this is a dispute between an EU member state and a non-EU member state! The idea that here the EU could be an honest broker is rather surprising, but that is what you hear from Germany. France is taking on a completely different vision; they argue that this is an EU member state, so of course we are taking sides and we are sending support to the Greek. This is a perfect example where you see the difference in approach between France and Germany when it comes to a geopolitical EU. 

With regard to COVID, I don’t think that it will have a major impact on European foreign policy, or that will contribute to a geopolitical awakening of Europe. Rather, at least at the moment, the consequence is that geopolitical issues have been pushed into the background  – and we’ve seen this in the von der Leyen speech – because there are other things that seem to be more important at the moment.

The three decades following 1989 have been extraordinarily  stable and, well, weird, geopolitically speaking. But for my generation this was normal. We are absolutely not prepared for a world where geopolitical power play is again the primary language.

To what extent are Europe and Germany ready for a world where the return of great-power competition is becoming the new normal? Thomas Bagger in Washington Quarterly was emphasising the lessons that his generation took on board from 1989 that influenced their worldview – convergence, multilateralism, the belief that Germany was no longer threatened and that the future was more about development aid and mediation. It is very much a mind set that slows Europe down in the geopolitical arena as opposed to all the other major players. Put more broadly, is a generation shaped by the ‘end of history’ mindset ready for a world in which the “jungle grows back”?

I very much liked Thomas Bagger’s article, and I am in the midst of writing a follow-up article which looks at the question from a Millennial point of view. I thought what he said about his generation, the legacy of 1989 and how it influenced the thinking of his generation was very interesting. But what he may not have thought about so much is what this means for my generation, who didn’t experience 1989, but grew up in the world that was shaped by it. The three decades following 1989 have been extraordinarily  stable and, well, weird, geopolitically speaking. But for my generation this was normal. We are absolutely not prepared for a world where geopolitical power play is again the primary language. This is true for Bagger’s generation, but it is even more true for my generation, as we never learnt this language. This, in my view, explains why Germans have so many problems with geopolitical, strategic thinking. 

But this is not solely a German problem. The EU, as an organisation, also struggles with this new situation, because it wasn’t built with a geopolitical mind set either. I like the rhetoric about the geopolitical EU but if you look at the State of the Union speech that Ursula von der Leyen gave recently, she didn’t mention defence with one word. And on geopolitics, she ran through the list of the foreign policy challenges but didn’t advocate a particularly strong position on any of them. Changing this will be difficult  and it will be particularly difficult as the biggest country in the EU is particularly unprepared  for this. 

Let’s unpack a bit the issue of strategic autonomy. How far from each other are Paris and Berlin on this issue? Which are the main disagreements? To me a very divisive issue, especially in the CEE space, is the French instrumentalisation of the Trump factor in order to push for strategic decoupling and become more independent from the US.

By now, more people are talking about “European sovereignty”, or European strategic sovereignty rather than autonomy. Many found that autonomy sounded too much as if it was directed against the US. So today the term is strategic sovereignty, rather than autonomy, although the idea broadly remains the same. But in any case, there is a certain level of ambiguity, which allows everyone in the EU to define the concept in a way that suits them.

The general idea behind European sovereignty is that the EU, that Europe, should become more of a geopolitical actor. In my view, this is a good ambition for the EU to have. But one can already see that different countries emphasise different elements. Germany for example, seems to support the idea because it is something that could help bring the 27 EU members closer together, which is a German priority. France, on the other hand, tends to be much more focused on concrete outcomes, even, sometimes, at the detriment of European unity. Plus, there is the defence question; European sovereignty includes a defence element, but the extent to which the EU should be or become a defence actor is controversial. In the European East, many worry that a too ambitious EU may undermine NATO. So there is still a lot of work to be done before the EU can claim sovereignty. 

To sum up, Germany seems more focused on process as a team-building effort, while France is more interested in the concrete ends.

It depends on the context, but this is something we are indeed seeing when it comes to the issue of defence and military cooperation. Germany has always focused more on the common part of common defence than on the defence part. Germany likes building up European defence because it helps strengthen EU unity.  Therefore, the creation of common security structures, from PESCO to the EDF was seen in itself as a victory. France, on the other hand, is more interested in the defencepart of common defence, and therefore points out that the establishment of common projects does not mean anything yet.

How realistic is a potential strategic convergence between Europe and the US in counterbalancing Chinese influence in the post-COVID world? Or will mercantilist pressures (very high in Germany for example) trump geopolitics?

Over the last few years, the EU, and Europeans broadly speaking, have woken up to the fact that China is not just an economic competitor and rising power, but an ideological and strategic competitor. For quite a long time, China has been seen primarily through economic lenses, this has only changed recently. For Germany, a big wake-up call was the acquisition of the German robot maker KUKA by a Chinese investor. More recently, the aggressive disinformation campaign on COVID by China reminded Europeans that China’s geopolitical power is an issue. 

There is now more cooperation between Europe and the US on the issue, although the US’s stance is much more clear-cut than the European one. Also, on this topic, the Trump administration has caused a big problem, in particular regarding public opinion. In some countries, there is such a rejection of the US under Trump that people have begun to wonder whether a more dominant China would really be so bad. European policy-makers are still broadly transatlantic in their thought process, but the last four years of the Trump administration have destroyed a lot of goodwill among the European population and this will come back and haunt the US when it comes to teaming up with Europe on China. If Trump is re-elected, I think that it is going to be much harder for Europe to work with the US on China.

Finally, Europe has a unity problem when it comes to China. Among the 27 EU member states, there are different views when it comes to China. Of course economic interests are big here. As long as there are countries in Europe that struggle economically and feel that they are being helped more by China than by the EU, the European bloc will have problems.

Germany has always focused more on the common part of common defence than on the defence part. Germany likes building up European defence because it helps strengthen EU unity. France, on the other hand, is more interested in the defence part of common defence.

Having in mind the broader trends impacting the character of contemporary war, what should Europe prepare for? There is the pressure of geopolitical rivalries and that of the high-end war. At the same time with everything that is happening in the broader MENA space, it may be a dangerous illusion to think that we are beyond the post-9/11 campaigns and the stabilisation operations.

The biggest problem is that Europe needs to prepare for all eventualities. I study new technologies and it is true that this is an area where Europe needs to do much more – but at the same time it can’t neglect more conventional threats. European countries need to retain a conventional military capability. They will remain important for operations, be it stability operations or for defence. Even if we don’t use it – we are still in a world where military power translates into geopolitical power. If Europe wants to sit at the table, it needs military capabilities. This is the reality with which a lot of people are not necessarily comfortable or don’t like but I very much believe that that is still the case. So the big challenge is that Europe needs all the above: conventional military capabilities and new technologies.

Over the past few years, the US has invested constantly in searching for a new offset strategy, going beyond a precision-guided munitions regime and focusing on what is often called algorithmic warfare (combat operations dominated by intelligent weapons and platforms using artificial intelligence as the core, but also enablers like big data, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and intelligent control). Does Europe have a similar effort?

I don’t think Europe has a similar effort as the third offset strategy. But I don’t think that this is surprising, or concerning – even in the Cold War, even for the first and second offset strategies, the big ideas of reinventing, rethinking warfare and conflict always came from the US. 

That being said, of course there is a lot of thinking being done all over Europe about the future of conflict. It doesn’t necessarily happen at the EU level. But at the national level you do have quite a few people thinking of the future of warfare and conflict, especially in the UK and France, which makes sense, as they are the big military powers of Europe. One big challenge is how to continue working with the EU, what will new technologies mean for joint operations, such as within NATO. Interoperability will be a big challenge, and it is essential to figure out how to work together and make sure we don’t end up with an interoperability gap at the NATO level.

You are specialised in drones. What role will drones and swarms of drones play in enhancing deterrence? Such solutions could be contemplated in better securing the Eastern flank. 

I don’t think that the current generation of drones have a big role to play in the inter-state wars, or for deterrence. The current generation of drones are particularly good in asymmetric conflicts, where you enjoy air superiority, but they are vulnerable to contested environments. That being said, smaller countries benefit quite a lot from having more airborne capabilities, and this is something which we are seeing right now in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where both sides have used drones extensively.

A lot of work is being done on the next generation of unmanned systems that have more autonomous capability, are harder to find, faster etc. This changes the situation, as it means that they will be more of a challenge for  air defence. Swarming especially is an area where a lot of work is being done. Swarms are particularly thought to be a great way of overwhelming the enemy’s air defences, which are not built and optimised against swarms of 100 or 1000 attacking drones. 

But what we should never forget is that it will not be only our side trying to get this technology. I do see a danger of an arms race when it comes to ever more capable AI-enabled autonomous systems.

Macron’s has simply looked at the map of the world, he has assessed Europe’s interests and Russia’s interests and he has concluded that we need to find some kind of modus vivendi with Russia and that the current situation is just bad for everyone.

It seems that there is a different mood and tone in Berlin vis-à-vis Russia, driven by what happened in Belarus and particularly by the poisoning of Navalny. Will such a stance last? Should we expect a change also in Macron’s plans of rapprochement with Russia?

This isn’t my primary area of expertise. If I had to speculate, I wouldn’t  think that Navalny’s poisoning is going to change the approach substantially. After all, it is not as if Macron had been saying “let’s work with Russia, they are going to be our friends.” I believe that the French government is entering into talks with Russia with open eyes. They are aware of the spoiler role that Russia has been playing with regard to European stability for the last 5 to 10 years. The poisoning of Alexey Navalny hasn’t changed this assessment.In my view, Macron’s has simply looked at the map of the world, he has assessed Europe’s interests and Russia’s interests and he has concluded that we need to find some kind of modus vivendi with Russia and that the current situation is just bad for everyone – which strikes me as a valid point. But France has not done well in explaining its approach, particularly to the Eastern Europeans. I think it was some misunderstanding among the Eastern Europeans that France wants a new partnership with Russia, but I don’t think this is what they are trying to do. 

“Europe has no interest in decoupling from Asia” – interview with Parag Khanna

Dr. Parag Khanna is a leading global strategy advisor, world traveller, and best-selling author.

Sometimes crises put history on fast forward. What would you expect to be the geopolitical fallout/aftershocks that will shape the post-coronavirus world? To what extent is Covid-19 accelerating some of the trends that were discernible even before the pandemic? 

For me the biggest geopolitical and geoeconomic trend under way for quite a few years is regionalisation. It is an organic process given the growth of the Asian regional environment, given the renegotiation of the North American trade relationships, but also because of the US-China trade war. In the post-COVID world regionalism will accelerate because it is very difficult to travel outside of one’s region for an indefinite period of time, as the supply chains are going to be more entrenched within the regions; it will accelerate because of the growing suspicion of outsourcing to China across long distances. In short, there are many reasons why we will see this emphasis on the region, instead of the global. This is a very significant geopolitical trend that began before the pandemic.

There is no West…

You are a researcher of globalisation and connectivity. What will change in the pattern of globalisation? How will globalisation be restructured and recalibrated? Especially in a context shaped by pressures for decoupling and fears of deglobalisation.

It is very important to emphasise that decoupling and deglobalisation are different things. Deglobalisation is if all globalisation stops. But Europe and China are both trading more with Asia, therefore you do not have deglobalisation. Decoupling simply means that the US might invest less in China, it might buy less from China and the reverse. Some connections are weaker and some connections are getting stronger. But when it comes to trade, the United States is not nearly as important as Asia. We should be looking at the globalisation of trade from the Asian standpoint, not the American standpoint. Trade between Europe and Asia is much larger than trade with America. There is not necessarily deglobalisation, but we can identify sectorial decoupling. 

In the post-COVID world regionalism will accelerate because it is very difficult to travel outside of one’s region for an indefinite period of time, as the supply chains are going to be more entrenched within the regions; it will accelerate because of the growing suspicion of outsourcing to China across long distances.

We can talk about increasing globalisation or decreasing globalisation by sector. In the energy sector, you have deglobalisation because oil is abundant, but consumption is down, so you have less trade in oil. You have some slight deglobalisation of finance, as some portfolio capital has been removed from some emerging markets. In digital services there is an increase of globalisation – everyone is using Skype, Zoom and Netflix. We have an increase in trade in digital services, which is a very high value-added component of globalisation. It is more important and more valuable than oil. We usually see the oil tankers as the embodiment of globalisation, but they are not. Internet is a better embodiment of globalisation.

To what extent is this phenomenon of decoupling reinforcing the trend of regionalisation? In both United States and Europe we can hear calls for reshoring some strategic industries and creating some sort of Western resilience from this perspective. Should we expect massive shifts in this direction? 

When we talk about infrastructure, supply chains and resilience we should not be talking about the West. The West is a cultural concept and it has nothing to do with supply chains and resilience, which are essentially geographical concepts. We must focus on North America and Europe completely separately. For example, Europe is moving towards some degree of decreasing the dependence on fossil fuels, therefore it is not competing for global oil supply. When you look to North America – United States, Canada and Mexico, all are major energy powers. North America has energy self-sufficiency, a large labour force, it has industrial potential, it has technology, labour, land. All of these potential inputs for self-sufficiency and resiliency are present in North America. Europe does not have its big software companies, but it has more people than North America, it has enough land, it has renewable energy, it has financial capital. It still needs to import some energy, it is still importing food from different parts of the world, but it is trying to be more self-sufficient. If Google were to stop Internet access for Google in Europe, that would be a problem for Europe. But there is no particular technology where you would say that if Europe switches off that access to America, then America is in trouble.

Time for Europe to take itself seriously

I also want to discuss a bit the dynamic that you see inside the Atlantic system. The COVID crisis that started in China hit the West dramatically, right at its core. Is COVID an opportunity for the Atlantic system, for reinventing the strategic unity & solidarity of the Atlantic system? We see a lot of calls from the other side of the Atlantic trying to persuade Europe to align with the U.S. in the broader great-power competition.

Europe has no interest in decoupling from Asia. Europe is much more export-dependent than America is. Europe still needs to trade and export to Asia. That is why you can see that while the US is trying to block the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Europeans were joining the AIIB. There are different perspectives on this issue. In terms of a strategic community, you can still argue that there is a cultural West, but in terms of geo-economics, you cannot argue that there is a common West. America’s geopolitical allies are also its geo-economic rivals. They are competing with each other to gain market share in Asia.

How would you see the EU faring in a post-COVID international system where we see so much internal fragmentation, between North and South, Old Europe and New Europe, but at the same time a world in which the “return of history” and Machtpolitik, not multilateralism define the new normal? 

I don’t believe in the language of Robert Kagan. It is reflective of a trend focused on measuring capabilities in a way that is very different from the way sophisticated people measure capabilities today. In the XXI century, there is no particular reason to privilege the size of a nuclear arsenal over market access. Europe’s strength derives from areas where a) it acts coherently, and b) where it demands reciprocity and where it insists on high standards. This is a very important source of European influence. Europe has to actually act on these capabilities in trade, in regulations, in human rights. What we are seeing over the last couple of years is Europe trying to be tougher on China in terms of reciprocity, demanding to have a greater share in the BRI projects, demanding reciprocal market access, it has declared China as a strategic competitor, it is working to develop a big fund to support strategic industries. All of these are indications that Europe does want to be a more coherent strategic player, but this will require of course that Europe evolves towards a common fiscal policy as well.

When we talk about infrastructure, supply chains and resilience we should not be talking about the West. The West is a cultural concept and it has nothing to do with supply chains and resilience, which are essentially geographical concepts. We must focus on North America and Europe completely separately.

Balancing China

In the recent past, the way China has been rising has created a lot of resentment in Japan, in Australia (as we’ve seen in the last few weeks) in the whole East Asia, because of Beijing’s aggressive push in the South China Sea. Does the US have the ability to create a balancing coalition to check China’s strategic ambitions there? Or is that a role to be played first and foremost by local countries (like the TPP-11)?

The answer is definitely both. The most important thing to remember is that Japanese, Indian, Korean and Australian interests have been aligned for a very long time. As neighbours of China, they’ve been concerned about China’s rise for much longer than anyone else. It is important not to argue that the United States are leading the effort to balance China. That is not true. Japan and India really are leading the effort. America has the most powerful capabilities and it is wisely supporting efforts like the Quad arrangement (Australia, India, Japan and United States). The four navies are working together to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The aim is to prevent China from dominating the South China Sea, from dominating the Indian Ocean. This is going to shape Chinese behaviour. It is not a formal alliance, as in Asia alliances are very rare. It is a coalition of countries based on a very strong structural agreement on the desire to contain China.

In the book (“The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict & Culture in the 21st Century”) published last year you point out that “Russia and China are today closer than at any point since the heyday of their 1950s Communist alliance”. Do they learn from each other in challenging the status quo? Are they coordinating their movements?

It is more an axis of convenience than a real alliance. Russia remains very suspicious of China, but Russia is also accepting a lot of investment from China. What will happen over time is a China that is being very careful not to alienate Russia, as it could potentially cut down on the amount of the Chinese investments in the country, even though it needs it desperately. In the long term, China has significant interests in using Russia for access to Europe and the Arctic, but it has to be careful not to appear too dominant. I can see that right now Russia is the country that is most compliant with the Chinese interests, but in the medium term it could be the country where there is a substantial backlash against China.

In a shifting global landscape where we will see a change in supply chain patterns, will the Belt and Road Initiative remain a comparative advantage for China or could it become a liability?

The Belt and Road Initiative is an integral part of China’s grand strategy. A lot of people are discussing whether China is going to speak less about BRI or de-emphasise it. We should focus less on what they say in speeches and more on following the money. This is the bigger issue. What we will see is that China will talk less about BRI as it has become controversial, but I think it is still a strategic priority to achieve the supply chain diversification, to build these infrastructure corridors, to access West Asia and access Europe through infrastructure. There will still be BRI, but China will talk less, it will try to multilateralise more and it will have to make concessions on issues of debt relief in the wake of the pandemic.

In terms of a strategic community, you can still argue that there is a cultural West, but in terms of geo-economics, you cannot argue that there is a common West. America’s geopolitical allies are also its geo-economic rivals. They are competing with each other to gain market share in Asia.

Lessons from Asia in managing COVID-19 

South Korea and Taiwan were at the forefront in managing the pandemic. What lessons in terms of resilience and effective governance should be learned from their example, including by the West?What is crucial to remember is that these are democratic states (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan) that performed very well during the pandemic. The key aspect is that they are democracies, but they are also technocracies. They have democratic elections, independent branches of government and separation of powers, but they have a very strong civil service, really competent and professional bureaucracies that know how to get things done to meet the basic needs of the people to deliver high quality medical care. It is very important to appreciate that countries can be democratic and technocratic at the same time. Very often that is something that we ignore.

The experience of Singapore

Singapore is a country that embodies a lot of hesitation and concern about China, even if it is a majority Chinese country. You have Chinese people in a country that is not China, but they are very worried about China. In a way, the more Chinese Singapore has become demographically, the less comfortable it has become with China geopolitically. I believe there have been times when, even though Singapore was suspicious about China, it was also naïve, as they hoped that China would have a peaceful rise. That has not been the case. Now, Singapore has been very clever to make sure to emphasise to China that it will maintain its strategic relationship with the United States, that it will not back down from allowing American naval forces to have a presence on its territory. It is a strong sign of Singapore’s independence and neutrality. When it comes to the US and China it is much more of a binary. But countries like South Korea, Thailand and Singapore have been very good at maintaining good relations with both. This is tricky because there is very strong US pressure on one side and very strong pressure on the other side.

Short-term vs. long-term trends

“The Second World: How Emerging Powers Are Redefining Global Competition in the Twenty-first Century” is about the competing efforts of the United States, of Europe and of China to develop spheres of influence in emerging regions and ‘swing-state’ sort of areas like Eastern Europe, Arab world, Latin America, Central Asia or Southeast Asia. In each of those regions you see a very different landscape of influence. In the short term you hear people saying that Russia calls the shots in Syria, that it is very influential in the Middle East. In the long term that is nonsense, because Russia cannot be influential in those regions. Through the 2000s we thought about Central Asia as part of the American dominion because U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and had a very large military presence there. In 2020, American presence has declined to almost a symbolic one and American influence is almost zero. Geopolitically we have to make a distinction between a very artificial and short-term situation like the occupation of Afghanistan, versus the long-term reality that countries like China and Iran will be much more influential in countries like Afghanistan.


Parag Khanna is Founder & Managing Partner of FutureMap, a data and scenario-based strategic advisory firm. Parag’s newest book is The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict & Culture in the 21st Century(2019). He holds a PhD from the London School of Economics.

‘If the EU fails, we can say goodbye to the liberal order’ – an interview with Samir Saran

Samir Saran is president of Observer Research Foundation (ORF), one of Asia’s most influential think tanks.

Europe is, paradoxically, the single most important geography that will define the future trajectory of the global order, because it has its foundations rooted in democratic principles and is currently the only power that can push the world towards a liberal trajectory, Samir Saran, President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), one of Asia’s most influential think tanks, told Eastern Focus in a video interview. We discussed the world’s “silly season”, the emerging global order and how, absent a hegemonic United States, “which has ceased to be a superpower ten years ago, with the financial crisis”, it is up to middle powers, including Central and Eastern Europe or the Asian countries of the Quad (India, Australia, Japan) to put up a united front to defend democracy in the face of a rising China.

Saran curates the Raisina Dialogue, India’s annual flagship platform on geopolitics and geo-economics, and chairs CyFy, India’s annual conference on cyber security and internet governance. He is also a Commissioner of The Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, member of the South Asia advisory board of the World Economic Forum, and a part of its Global Future Council on Cybersecurity. He is also the Director of the Centre for Peace and Security at the Sardar Patel Police University, Jodhpur, India.

He writes frequently on issues of global governance, climate change, energy policy, global development architecture, artificial intelligence, cyber security, internet governance, and India’s foreign policy and authored four books, the latest of which is called ‘The New World Disorder’.

“It’s the do it or lose it moment for Europe”

Part 1

“For me, the most important unknown unknown is the future of Europe. Will the EU hold?, Saran told Eastern Focus. “Which way will the wind blow in the continent? Will it really be the bastion of the liberal order or will the liberal order be buried?”

He says that Europe is at a crossroads and because it is seen as democratic, liberal, open, pluralist, supporting a transparent and open market economy, defending the rule of law, defending the right of individuals and freedom of speech, Europe can give the world a chance to be liberal. “If the European Union is split between the north and south and east and west, and we see a large part of it give up on the Atlantic project, the liberal project, and align itself with more impressive authoritarian regimes – which is quite tempting these days, there’s a lot of money attached to that choice -, you will see the end of the Atlantic project. An EU that is not united in its ethics is an EU that will eventually write its own demise.

How will Europe swing? Will it be an actor, or will it be acted upon?

I think that a political EU may be born as the pandemic ends. If a political EU is not born, I will see the end of the European Union itself,” Saran says. 

He also points out that Europe has made a mistake in thinking that it would change China by engaging with it. “China will change the EU before the EU changes China,” he explained. “Beijing is not interested in politics, it wants your markets. And it will have them, one way or another.”

“Europe needs to see itself as an Indo-Pacific power. The Indo-Pacific is the frontline for European safety,” he insisted. “If China is able to change south-east Asia, don’t be surprised if Europe has the same fate”.

Central and Eastern Europe swinging between the EU and China

Part 2

Central and East European countries can be decisive and could form a bridge between the EU and Asian players. If only they wanted to take that path, Saran explains. “The choice for CEE is between becoming a bridge between East and West or becoming the venue of conflict.”

Central and Eastern Europe is facing two types of pressures and both are of an economic nature. On the one hand, the CEE countries are struggling to boost their economies and increase their income per capita by finding investment. “[They] will have to meet [their] aspirations while being political about it and worrying about the colour of the money,” he stresses.The second pressure is the nature of economic growth: are CEE countries going to continue to be cheap manufacturing centers for Europe, or will they switch towards becoming advanced technology societies? “Are you going to be the rule-makers of the fourth industrial revolution or the rule-takers?”

India – CEE cooperation
“These are the choices you have to make and I think here India becomes an actor. We have experience with these things over the last 20 years. We are also one of the swing states that would decide the new world order, we have lived this and maybe we can share our experiences with you.”GlobalFocus Center, the Observer for Research Foundation (India) and Keynote (Czechia) initiated the Central Europe – India Forum, whose first online meeting took place in June. CEIF will be a forum to explore avenues of cooperation between CEE and India in socio-economic, political and security arenas.

Industrial growth becoming “intimate”
“People are going to make far more political decisions going forward. That is one reality the pandemic teaches us. As we become more digital societies, […] your arenas of value creation are going to be your bedrooms. And you wouldn’t like to share those data sets with countries whose systems you do not trust. It’s going to be about the organs inside our bodies, how we eat, how we date, how we elect, whom we elect…”

The first global crisis without Captain America

Part 3

Saran explains that middle powers from across all regions need to take matters into their own hands if they decide to keep dwelling in a liberal system. “The old power [the US] is absent and engrossed in its own domestic realities, and you have the new power [China] that has been irresponsible and has put us in this position,” he said.

“This tells us that building a coalition of middle powers is absolutely essential. It is not a luxury, it is not a choice. This is something we must invest in for our own existential reasons.”

“So we have a democratic failure at one end, and a despotic emergence at the other end and we need to make sure that democracy survives despite this moment. None of us wants a ‘no China world’ because we all benefit from China’s growth; we want a responsible China world. [we need to] put up a united front and not negotiate individually, but as a group,” he insisted.

“The EU has done this longer than anyone else and that’s why the Chinese don’t like the EU and they want to slice you up”.

Saran also points out that, from an Indian perspective, Russia needs to be given more room in European thinking, so Moscow wouldn’t be pushed into the Chinese corner. “It would be a mistake to leave Russia no option but to partner with the Chinese, even if Russia’s neighbours may not find it palatable,” “We have to understand that Russia is not China, and that China is taking hegemony to a different level. Russia has a small economy and a huge military, there is an imbalance there; so we have to create economic incentives for the Russians, give them a stake in our common economic future.”