Berlin, 19 June 2017 – “An Emerging New World Order? – Building Blocs, Drivers and Perspectives” was the title of a half-day conference at the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC). Experts on geopolicy from the US, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Austria met to discuss the global transformations that became apparent during the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, if not years earlier. As one would expect, the divide in narratives between Russia and the West didn’t take long to make itself manifest. John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago described the “liberal international order”, a rule-based system dominated by the most powerful country, the US, as one that, by and large, governed the planet from the end of the Cold War on. That is, until around 2014, when the unipolar system yielded to a multipolar one yet to acquire proper shape.
Mearsheimer’s prediction: Neither Russia, Germany, or Japan, all threatened by depopulation, will be able to mount any serious challenge to the incumbent US. The “peer competitor” will be China, assuming its economic and military growth continues unchecked. And the US, says Mearsheimer, does not like potential peer competitors. Even when challenged regarding his power-oriented methodological approach, he did not refrain from the prediction that military conflict between the two Pacific powers was not only possible but probable.
Mearsheimer’s Russian counterpart, Sergey Karaganov, head of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and a presidential advisor, did not contradict him on the imminent build-up towards China-US confrontation. Karaganov painted Russia’s present geopolitical state in bright colours. For the “first time since 1814” the country felt really good about itself. Mearsheimer’s claims regarding the “international liberal order” he denied part and parcel. Liberal it was not, because it was imposed on subjected societies. Likewise it was not an ‘order’ because of the blatant chaos in which the various US/Western military-political endeavours had resulted: as examples he gave Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria. He described the Russian-Western conflict as comparable to the political situation in the Europe of 1914 – were it not for nuclear deterrence, war would have been declared already. As to Russia’s future, Karaganov sees it as Eurasian, not European, and undoubtedly at China’s side in a China-US conflict. In his view, being a European fringe country, as initiated by Czar Peter I three centuries ago, was no longer in Russia’s best interest.
Adrian Pabst of the University of Kent presented a comprehensive critique of liberalism as it has historically developed. “Rampant individualism” has contributed to an erosion of the very basis of Western societies, as if they have been sawing off the branch on which they have sat. The political binary of left and right, established during the French revolution, he sees being replaced by a new binary with ultra-liberalism and non-liberalism as the antagonists, both claiming elements of what used to be left or right positions.
Inspite of individual nuances, the speakers – beside Mearsheimer, Karaganov, and Pabst – Richard Sakwa (University of Kent), Aleksey Gromyko (Institute of Europe, Moscow), Alexander Dubowy (Austrian National Defence Academy), DOC co-founder Walter Schwimmer (ex-Secretary General of the Council of Europe) and organisers Peter W. Schulze (University of Göttingen) and Alexey Malashenko (DOC Chief Researcher) – agreed that the world has experienced a sea change in international relations unlike anything since the fall of Communism. What exactly the shape of the future world order will look like, no-one was in a position to predict. All the more important is to respect others who decide on a different path of development, to keep conflicts from growing into war, and to keep the lines of communication and dialogue open at all times. For the world, that is a matter of life or death.