A European Future?

Parag Khanna has a monster screed – eight pages – in the NYT on the subject of “turning away from hegemony”. The hegemony concerned is that of the United States; the argument is that US power will decline relative to that of China, India, big second-tier powers, and Europe. This is a topic that cannot fail to elicit trolls; but it’s worth looking to, perhaps just for that reason alone.

Khanna, interestingly, bases part of the piece on demographics; Russian demographics. We’ve broached this before – it certainly looks like Russia is going to get more and more like one of the small Gulf states, an authoritarian petroleum exporter with a small population and a significant dependence on immigrants from a poor periphery. Further, we’ve also argued that Russian power is constrained by mutual dependence on the EU as a downstream market for energy and a source of investment; interestingly, a financial source of AFOE’s recently told us that he doubted the Russian sovereign-wealth fund spoke for anywhere near as much money as is sometimes claimed.

But the core of this row will probably be the US and Europe; it’s hard to imagine the US maintaining a hegemonic role in the world economy when it’s a massive importer of both goods and capital. Just as the UK’s financial hegemony didn’t make it past the First World War for the same reasons. Similarly, when Societe Generale had to dump the Kerviel overhang last week, they don’t seem to have bothered to tell the Federal Reserve; naturally, the French central bank and regulator were informed on day one (although Finance Minister Christine Lagarde seemed to deny she knew in advance on the BBC last week), and one presumes they clued-in the ECB.

Tony Karon calls it the Incredible Shrinking Davos Man. Well, their organisation is slipping; for the second year running, AFOE’s invite hasn’t turned up. But I’m not so sure, at least on the definition. If a multipolar world is going to work it’ll have to be more like, well, the European Union; all Khanna’s talk about playing by other people’s rules just drives home the point that they are rules, and rules mean institutions.

Institutions imply membership; which means the EU. Meanwhile, also at Karon’s, we see this in action. In Gaza, peaceful mass action to re-connect with the wider world has just capsized several world powers’ policy; the idea of locking up and refusing to engage with Gaza is now absurd, and it’s no surprise that it leads to concessions. If you can get out to the backbone, economically, suddenly all kinds of choices become available. It’s certainly very different from the days of George Habash, whose signature airline hijackings were directed precisely at separating from the rest of the world.

4 thoughts on “A European Future?

  1. Grand sweeping prediction articles of this sort have long been staple fare in the Times. I believe they’re called “thumb suckers.” It would be interesting to go back 20 or 25 years into the paper’s archives and see how many of the predictions made at the time have since come true. Just a guess, but my suspicion is that the success rate has not been good.

    Looking at the current article, I have a relatively hard time accepting all these claims about China’s impending superpower status. China has shown tremendous economic growth, but only for the past 30 years or so, and this growth followed centuries of decline. Things might really be different this time, and China’s growth is a more or less permanent thing, but it’s far too early to jump to that conclusion.

    It also seems noteworthy that for all its economic growth China remains wholly undemocratic, largely without even those most basic civil liberties we take for granted in the West. Economic growth without democratic growth just does not seem sustainable.

  2. The idea of Russian influence in the EU is going to expand, I think, especially in light of the pipeline and nuclear plant that Bulgaria and Russia are constructing together. Russia is increasing its part in European energy production, and this will influence EU attitudes (and the attitudes of the Member States) towards the autocratic government of Russia.

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