Visions for Europe

2 February 2011

Robert Cooper, European External Action Service Counsellor, former Director-General for External and Politico-Military Affairs at the European Council, began by saying the past is more interesting than the future. As someone engaged in foreign affairs he felt lucky to have lived through an era of two important changes - the end of the Cold War in Europe, and the rise of China. These two things, together with other trends, like destatification and technological revolutions, led to globalisation.

Globalisation is still the governing event in the world, bringing with it much greater interdependence between countries, and much greater interconnectivity. The growing prosperity of the world means that it is pressing against its limits, seen, for example, in the problems of climate. Interconnectivity means that things which seem to be separate impact on one another, like industry and agriculture, which also together impact on the climate.

The world is now a much more closed system, where things that happen in one area in a geographical or foreign policy sense also have an impact elsewhere. We live in a world which still has the normal chaos, troubles, wars, and rumours of wars. It is still a world of violence, risks and danger. This is the puzzle of the age - in the midst of these opportunities for trouble there is not the slightest smell of great-power conflict.

Mr Cooper suggested three possible explanations:

  • US supremacy. Maybe we don't have great-power conflict because the US is so far ahead of everybody. That might not last for ever;
  • nuclear weapons. The great-powers know about the difficulty of stopping war before it gets to the nuclear phrase - there are no winners so they don't start;
  • globalisation. The world is now so interdependent that the costs of war would be gigantic.

This poses two questions:

  • How are we going to deal with a world in which we have increasingly global problems, and needs for global rules and management, when politics is becoming more local?
  • How do you organise a world in which you don't expect there to be much in the way of wars - what does power, influence and leadership look like in a world where war between the great powers is not going to happen, and where does Europe fit in?

He said that the most important foreign policy priorities for the European Union are the neighbourhood, and the United States. It's worth spending an infinite amount of time and trouble, and occasionally money in the neighbourhood.