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Will Europe Be the World's Biggest Loser?

Russia's war against Ukraine, the Sino-American rivalry, and the rise of new middle powers is spurring a profound reorganization of the international order that will leave Europe at a distinct disadvantage. To thrive in a world dominated by large states with growing military budgets, Europe has no choice but to become a real power.

BERLIN – The post-1945 era of global stability is over and gone. From the bipolar world of the Cold War to the American-dominated unipolar world that replaced it, we have long benefited from a sense of strategic order. Though there were many smaller wars (and even some larger ones), from Korea and Vietnam to the Middle East and Afghanistan, the international system remained generally stable and intact.

Since the beginning of the new millennium, however, this stability has increasingly given way to a renewed rivalry between major powers, chief among them the United States and China. Moreover, it has long been clear that India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other emerging economies’ political and strategic influence will increase, as will their role within the global system. In the context of a deepening conflict between China and the US, these rising powers will have many opportunities to play one of the twenty-first century’s two superpowers off against the other. Indeed, many of these opportunities seem too good to miss.

In Russia, meanwhile, political elites have been consumed by fantasies of restoring the territorial reach and geopolitical heft of the Soviet Union – and of the Russian Empire before it. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russian policy has increasingly been aimed at reversing the legacy of the immediate post-Cold War era. By contrast, the West – meaning the US and the European Union, following its enlargement since 2004 – has adhered to the basic post-Cold War settlement in Europe. To that end, it has remained committed to defending basic values such as countries’ right to self-determination and the inviolability of internationally recognized borders.