Today, I attended a lecture Columbia University political scientist Jean Cohen gave at the annual congress of the German political science association. She made a long, complicated theoretic argument about the future of sovereignty in a global society to support her real point that the (alleged) American imperial project needs to be stopped.
Interestingly, on the eve of the first meeting of Chancellor Schroeder with the US President since 16 months, it was her, an American scholar, who was most critical of the current US administration’s politics. German political scientists, publicists, and politicians, who had earler participated in a panel discussion contemplating “the world post 9/11” were much more balanced in their assessment than her, and than I had expected.
So after Ms Cohen had finished outlining her case against the current American administration as a threat to international cooperation, I simply had to ask her about the merits of adapting yet another Henry Kissenger quote.
It was he who once claimed that the tragic European 20th century resulted to a large extent from the problem that Germany, as a nation state, was originally too big to be just another state among European equals but too small to dominate the continent on her own. For him, a European map of the early 20th century must have looked like a geostrategical trap bound to snap due to a fundamental asymmetry of power.
Assuming for a moment that the “model” Kissenger suggested were correct, what would it tell us about the world we’re living in today? Could it tell us that, on a global scale, the USA could be the 21st century’s Germany? A country too big not to influence every other state on this planet while being too small to actually dominate them, however benign intentions of global governance under a Pax Americana may be, whoever may be in charge in the West Wing.
And so I asked Ms Cohen if she was afraid there might be a 21st century Kissenger-trap out there. And she said yes, there might just be. But, on the other hand, she said in spite of her critical assessment, things do not need to turn out that way if others, Europe in particular, learned how to deal with the current power assymmetry and managed to rebuild a real partnership with the US.
She’s right: geostrategic prowess may create expansionary pressure, but history does not follow gravity-like rules – even if proposed by Henry Kissenger. The future is still in the making.