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The EU in a Volatile New World: Challenge of Global Leadership

Author

Susanne Giesecke

Nov 29, 2022

by AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, Center for Innovation Systems and Policy

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has turned the post-cold war world order upside down, and we are witnessing new global power constellations, block-building, and uncertainties that affect not only issues of military, deterrence, and defense but also the global economy, prosperity, and the social situation of the people. In the midst of this turmoil, the EU is confronted with finding a proper position and redefining its policies, its foreign, as well as internal relations. There is a chance for a proactive new neighborhood policy. Will the EU seize the momentum?

In 2022, the post-cold war world order, which very much determined the inner state of European affairs as well as the EU’s position on the geopolitical scene, appears to be shaken by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A new divide is tearing the European continent apart: the EU and its allies in defense of democratic and pluralistic values on the one side and an authoritarian and autocratic regime threatening these values on the other. This disruption might even go beyond Europe if new international blocs and confrontations emerge. The threat concerns not only traditional values but also lives and material prosperity. Moreover, not only do these sudden changes push the EU to take a military stance by providing weapons to Ukraine and reconsidering its own defense capabilities but they must also be seen against the background of an accelerating climate crisis. While the impacts of climate change threaten many regions in the EU directly, they also put more indirect pressure on migration and the economy. The war in Ukraine is fueling the drivers of climate change, and therefore, many Europeans are torn between contradictory moods: indifference and solidarity; fragmentation and cohesion; empowerment and desperation.


Another factor that affects the EU greatly is the US foreign policy. Will the US continue its military dominance in Europe, delivering military weapons, personnel, and intelligence, as well as pursuing its own interests in Eastern Europe, or will it take a post-hegemonic position and withdraw from the European continent, leaving the conflicts to be solved by EU and the rest of NATO? Domestic developments in the US can have tremendous effects on geopolitics. This uncertainty feeds the fear of the future and gives rise to the weaponization of everything and the new geo-political realism: budget increases for deterrence and budget cuts on social-political topics. Accompanying energy shortages and reversing climate-neutral energy policies are contributing to an economic crisis and the social division of society.


The past months have turned many future visions and prospects upside down: those who had expected modern wars to be fought mainly with and against autonomous and AI-based weapon systems coupled with comprehensive disinformation campaigns were taught a lesson. While material battles wear out old-fashioned weapons systems and pointlessly cost human lives, cyber wars are fought at all fronts, and deep fake has become a fact with social media, thus instantiating the phenomenon of hybrid warfare, a term coined back in 2007.


A central question of the near and long-term future is: what will the geo-political power distribution look like? Will Europe succeed in the geopolitical struggle for agency? And if so, at what price? Are there any new global leaders in sight, and will they be able to guarantee global peace, democratic values, and economic prosperity? What will be the role of international institutions? Does diplomacy have a chance? What are the perspectives outside of the EU and Europe? Will there be future options for pathways to collaborate in order to avoid conflagration all over the planet? What can be the role of the EU? Will the EU be able to install an intelligent and strategic neighborhood policy to enlarge the belt of democracies around it through diplomatic, economic, and military ties? These and other questions were explored in our workshop following a 3-time-horizon foresight approach: the resulting four scenarios will be discussed in the upcoming blog posts. Meanwhile, we are looking forward to hearing your thoughts - please comment on these questions in the sections below!

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