W. Ischinger: Some wise opinions

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There is no need to argue that developments on the international scene are moving extremely rapidly today, in contrast to previous years. Since 2008, hence for almost a decade, since the Russia-Georgia war that was followed several months later by the global financial and economic crisis, the international system of state – as re-tailored at the end of the Cold War – has shown signs of fatigue, and the American hegemon has started to look for methods and to make moves meant to help it continue its role in this position. In the post-2008 years, the Obama administration tried to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to geopolitically shift the weight of its power to Asia.

The “Arab Spring” in the Middle East, which started in 2011, postponed this grand strategy move and the Syrian civil war increasingly captured American attention, the appearance of the so-called Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria, in 2014, compelling the consolidation of U.S. military presence in the region. On top of this, in the spring of 2014, a new extremely dangerous military conflict erupted in Eastern Europe, between Russia and Ukraine, a conflict that is slowly “freezing”, as Russia continues to behave assertively at the border of the former outer empire of the defunct USSR. A paradigm shift seemed necessary in these conditions, and China’s ever more consistent assertiveness on the global arena, matching its growing economic weight, called for the hastening of its imagining and implementation.

The over-the-top acceleration of international developments clearly shows the imperative for a new systemic development paradigm. After the UK abandoned the EU via referendum (Brexit, June 2016), and crises of diverse nature that nevertheless aim to disintegrate the construct of continental unity became interweaved in Europe – the waves of Southern immigrants in 2015, the growth of terrorism with the final throes of the Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2016-2017, but also the continuation of a financial austerity that generates domestic tensions within EU states – the Old Continent seems to be in one of the tensest period of its recent history.

Moreover, after the election of D. Trump as U.S. President and the voicing of its administration’s first positions on the external arena, the transatlantic relationship seems to be really deteriorating. What direction for Europe-U.S. relations? How will the South China Sea crisis evolve, a crisis that evinces a strange but dangerous link with the one growing on the Korean Peninsula? What about the endless crisis in the Mideast? The recent isolation of Qatar, where a U.S. military base that is important for Gulf stability is located, has shown the deep fault lines in the ranks of the Arab world, and the strategy recently adopted by the new American president in order to put an end to militant jihadism seems at risk. Will the map of the Mideast change? What will Iran’s reaction be to the fact that it has become the target of an alliance now forming? Etc. Etc.

In such circumstances, in an international system that is looking, at dazzling speed, for a different formula that would replace the old one or that would rapidly correct it where needed in order to impart stability and predictability – in short, to avoid a devastating war – there is the need for authorised voices, renowned experts in the long history of diplomacy, capable to offer solutions that are both visionary and synergetically intertwined in the systemic aggregate.

Because it is pointless in today’s world to identify solutions to dangerous developments while disregarding the systemic aggregate, globalisation – a process in existence since the end of the Cold War – being a trait that imparts new, much reduced dimensions to the whole planet. The world is not just a “global village” because of communications – as was said in the 1970s – but, because of globalisation, it is a nano-locality in which events in Africa impact all the other continents, geography bringing people together through trade, common fate (because of the perfected lethal weaponry usable in all environments: land, air, sea, outer space, cybernetics) and geopolitical dependency precisely because of great technological breakthroughs.

Such a voice is that of known German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, former German minister, Berlin’s ambassador to Washington and London, for years now organiser of the famous annual summit on global security, which takes place every February in Munich (MSC), the interlocutor, in the last three decades, of all the decision-making “stars” of the international system. At the MSC, heads of state and government, diplomats and MPs of the most important states of the system, heads of diplomatic chancelleries of old and imperial tradition, express their opinions and answer questions from the international audience. Hence, an almost unique decades-long experience in the field of international relations, with relevant opinions on all that is happening today and will happen tomorrow in Europe and the world.

In an interview for ‘The Economist’ at the end of last month, Ischinger presented his outlook on the international situation, naturally focusing on Europe and on its relationship with the U.S. Systemic interdependence prompted him not to leave any doubt about the significance that events happening here have for other regions of the planet, but the interview’s centre of gravity was the role of the West and the importance of its unity for the whole world.

Several opinions expressed on recent events surprised not so much through their novelty but through the outlook on their consequences. For instance, he states that Brexit makes possible – which was not the case before – the hastening of the integration of European defence. Similarly, to eliminate any misunderstanding of this opinion, he develops the thesis that this must take place in close connection with NATO, hence consolidating the transatlantic link. Thus, he very clearly states that Germany does not need nuclear weapons because it relies on the U.S. in this field. But the construction of a Europe of defence has global importance: “I think we could score significant points in Moscow, Washington and elsewhere around the world if we took strategic decisions along these lines to demonstrate that we intend to become a credible actor who can defend and pursue the strategic interests of 500m EU citizens.” Or, to give another example, Ischinger states that the solution to the Ukraine crisis is not in the hands of Europe alone, U.S. involvement being absolutely necessary. The German diplomat goes on to point out a possible solution to this worrisome crisis in Europe: “Trump (…) could, after discussing this with allies and with Kiev, tell the Russian president: ‘Look, let us both work to have a real cease fire. If you then get out of eastern Ukraine, we can implement the Minsk agreement together. So let’s get that out of the way, end the sanctions and start talking about real issues’.” On other points of view expressed by Ischinger – on the “re-writing” of the Franco-German alliance treaty (Elysee Treaty), signed by De Gaulle and K. Adenauer, or on the European nuclear weapon and who will hold its “button”, on Russia’s future behaviour, on Germany’s relation with the U.S. in the future and many other topics -, in the next article.