Europe and the Rising Powers

KYIV – The world’s center of gravity is heading eastward so fast that we Europeans can almost feel the ground moving beneath our feet. Because almost all major actors on the international stage are redefining their roles in response to this tectonic shift, Europe must do the same. So it is right that the EU Council of Ministers is meeting to grapple with this challenge.

For decades, however, Europeans have been more concerned with unification and constitutional arrangements than with traditional diplomacy. Europe’s historic rivalries have, of course, been civilized into a political model that European diplomats often see as applicable across the international arena.

To be sure, consensus, compromise, and a pooling of sovereignty are the only ways to resolve many of the great issues – climate change, nuclear proliferation – that bedevil our world. But on the great issues of war, peace, and the balance of power, Europe seems trapped between an insufficiently cohesive foreign policy and uncertainty among individual countries about how to define and secure their national interests.

By contrast, the world’s rising powers – Brazil, China, India, and Russia – insist not only on the primacy of their national interests, but, as the failed climate negotiations in Copenhagen last December demonstrated, on sovereign freedom of action as well. To them, geopolitics is not anathema; it is the basis of all their external actions. Defending the national interest still rallies their publics; the exercise of power remains at the heart of their diplomatic calculations.