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Provincial Europe

BERLIN – Multitasking is not exactly the strong point of Europe’s current generation of leaders. They have rightly given the eurozone crisis – the central question bearing on the European Union’s future – top priority. But all other important issues – above all, a common foreign and security policy – have been almost completely ignored. And it is here – Europe’s external relations, an issue absolutely vital to the future of all EU citizens – that renationalization is rearing its ugly head again.

Today, we can recognize the outlines of a post-American international (dis)order – not only its emerging structures, but also its risks, threats, and conflicts, all of which are intensifying. For Europe – and for the rest of the world – the financial crisis has proven to be an accelerant of far-reaching changes.

In East Asia, the world’s most dynamic and dominant region in terms of future global economic development, confrontation is escalating between the key powers – China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan – over border issues, territorial claims, prestige, and unfinished historical business. Add to this the perennial crisis on the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan conflict, which could flare up again anytime.

East Asia’s regional powers operate almost without any multilateral framework, a state of affairs comparable to that of Europe toward the end of the nineteenth century. Only the United States’s military and political presence ensures regional stability. Yet, at least in the medium term, that presence implies a significant risk of inciting a global confrontation between China and the US. Moreover, Russia – which extends to East Asia, but, owing to its economic and political weakness, has been a background player there – would certainly seek to benefit from this development.