Among the mutual recriminations ringing out between the U.S. and Europe regarding NATO's already stressed-out intervention in Libya, we have seen the usual raft of analyses regarding that military alliance's utility -- or lack thereof. As someone who has argued for close to a decade now that America will inevitably find that China, India and other rising powers make better and more appropriate allies for managing this world, I don't find such arguments surprising. You don't have to be a genius to do the math: Our primary allies aren't having enough babies and have chosen to shrink their defense budgets, while rising powers build up their forces and increasingly flex their muscles. In terms of future superpowers, beyond the "CIA" trio -- China, India and America -- nobody else is worth mentioning.
We can pretend that the trans-Atlantic bond will continue undiminished into the future, but it will not, because the alliance is no longer in either side's interest. When America looks at NATO, all it sees is Europe, and when Europe looks at NATO, all it sees is the United States. In other words, neither side perceives clear unity of purpose in the alliance anymore, but rather obligations based on outdated strategic calculations -- namely, the balancing of a Russia that continues on its pathway of steep decline.
But while the Eastward shift of geopolitical power makes NATO less relevant to America's global security calculus, the rise of two great powers in Asia also creates new triangulating possibilities for a Europe no longer tethered to a trans-Atlantic identity.
Europe is adept at the junior partner role, and in the future tripolar CIA world, it will logically expand its roster of senior partner relations to include the other two, while solidifying ties with a declining Russia to bolster its own attractiveness. Already we see this reorientation brewing in the foreign policy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Berlin increasingly displays a Eurasian mindset that plays much better in Moscow, New Delhi and Beijing. The reasons are simple enough: China will soon replace France as Germany's most important export market, with Russia and India close behind. And while France is enmeshed in the last great hurrah that is the Libyan operation, the same logic is on display in Paris, where President Nicolas Sarkozy has made closer ties with Moscow and New Delhi a priority of his presidency.
That's the economics, which typically are powerful enough to transform diplomatic mindsets. But the real change happens on a generational scale, and that is just what is taking place in Europe with the passing of the generation of leaders whose formative early years were shaped by their pre-détente Cold War experiences. What comes next is a generation of European strategic thinkers who, no longer wedded to the trans-Atlantic bond that grew out of that formative Cold War logic, lack the ideological sentimentality of their predecessors.
Such rational calculations were on full display in a recent International Grand Strategy Competition put on by Wikistrat, an online strategic community that doubles as a massively multiplayer consultancy. As Wikistrat's chief analyst, I had the privilege to act as head judge for the just-concluded contest, which involved roughly 30 teams of doctoral- and master-level students located at elite universities and think tanks from around the world. One of the top-performing teams throughout the four-week competition hailed from Oxford University. Playing the "European Union 2" team, this collection of next-generation grand strategists plotted a stunningly independent foreign policy for their multinational union over the next 20 years. I personally judge it to be the best capture of the EU's future strategic trajectory that I've ever come across.
The Oxford team's grand strategy consists of three prongs:
- "Housekeeping at home," that begins by preserving and deepening the European monetary union.
- A "zero problems in Eurasia" foreign policy -- hat tip to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu -- that seeks "deeper partnerships with Russia and China as a triangulation around the USA" (italics mine).
- A "go South" strategic initiative that will see Europe not only forge "unorthodox partnerships" with marginalized powers such as Iran, Venezuela and other U.S.-defined untouchables, but likewise offer its junior-partner military services, more in the nation-building mode, to powers other than the United States -- like China across Africa, India across South Asia or Brazil across South America.
Not exactly your father's Europe, is it?
The Oxford team's rationale was decidedly realistic:
The pursuit of deeper and wider Eurasian partnerships represents a pragmatic recognition that good politics and diplomacy moving into the 21st century requires a view to the East in addition to the West. An adversarial view toward Russia and China is not conducive to [expanding] EU influence. Rather, by engaging Russia, China, Pakistan and even Iran, the EU can demonstrate its ability to navigate complex relationships and emerge as a purveyor of key support services to traditionally peripheral states. Lastly, this strategy presents a careful hedge against overreliance on the U.S. in the long term. By carving its own important position on the Eurasian continent, the EU can take leadership on initiatives without constantly looking... for U.S. backing.
The "go South" push, explains the Oxford team, is in no way an attempt to compete head-to-head with Leviathan-like superpowers in peripheral states. Rather than attempting to carve out spheres of influence or impinge on existing and developing ones, the goal is "to provide the Global South with partnership alternatives" in a manner that both collaborates with, and competes against, what is being offered by the American and Asian superpowers. This allows the EU to "deploy its substantial soft power resources as the most successful regional bloc in the world today, serving as a mentor for similar projects in other regions."
The usual suspects in Washington will likely decry such a strategy as treachery, but this is exactly what a beleaguered United States needs from its oldest allies. Europe must figuratively "destroy" the trans-Atlantic bond in order to save what it represents: the engine behind the modern globalization project that animated first America's and then the West's grand strategy these past seven decades. Now it's time to break up this old gang of ours and move into globalization's consolidation phase as collaborating competitors.
The best grand strategies are attuned to future inevitabilities, and on that basis, they provide overarching guidance regarding today's choices and tactics. China, India and America are the inevitable superpowers of tomorrow, and an agile Europe will logically market its junior-partner capabilities to all future Leviathans on a competitive basis. Washington may not be able to fathom such a future landscape, but Oxford's best and brightest are already plotting Europe's preferred coordinates.
Thomas P.M. Barnett is chief analyst at Wikistrat and a contributing editor for Esquire magazine. His latest book is "Great Powers: America and the World After Bush" (2009). His weekly WPR column, The New Rules, appears every Monday. Reach him and his blog at thomaspmbarnett.com.