Vague, cloudy and romantic dreams of Eurasian Weltmacht were the great curse of Germany during the 20th century. Now that the Fifth, Berlin-based Reich has replaced the old postwar Fourth Reich headquartered in Bonn, those dreams seem to be stirring once more. A recent article in German weekly Der Spiegel casts the humdrum Durban climate talks as a major crossroads for China, believed to be choosing between a wasteful “Chimerica” future or an environmentally responsible partnership with Europe:
Under the first scenario, China has become the largest economy in the world, due to a close trans-Pacific alliance with the US. The People’s Republic mainly generates its wealth by providing its American neighbor in the Far East with cheap money and cheap consumer goods. But the toll for this strategy is high: Chinese CO2 emissions are now higher than the emissions of all other nations combined. Per capita emissions have soared even above the levels of the United States. As droughts, floods and food shortages increasingly ravage the planet, billions of people perceive Beijing as the main culprit behind climate change. More than 100 nations, including the EU, have formed an official alliance against “Chimerica,” as the two superpowers threaten to destroy the biosphere. There are warnings of an impending “climate war.”Under the second scenario, China has become the largest economy in the world, due to a close Eurasian partnership with the EU and India. The People’s Republic mainly generates its wealth by developing and exporting green technologies. In collaboration with the EU, Beijing has put in place rules against excessive indebtedness, which apply both to financial and “ecological” debts. The cost to the environment is now integrated into how Eurasian nations calculate their gross domestic product. CO2 emissions are beginning to decline around the world, except in the United States. The former superpower is culturally incapable of modernizing itself ecologically and is losing its power due to its addiction to cheap oil. Eurasia has become the new superpower, with China as the dominant force.
It would be stretching the meaning of words to call this geopolitical thinking. Cloud cuckoo land, Wolkenkuckucksheim is the place where this kind of thinking is common, but if it is geopolitical nonsense it is of a very familiar kind. In the years before the Second World War, Germany was known for its dreams of global power and glory, but devastating losses in two consecutive world wars did much to temper them; the past half-century saw Germany adopt what many Fifth Reich thinkers now consider an almost Uriah Heepish, excessively-humble approach to international politics.But now the dreams are drifting back. Germany with its loyal third world friends can build a better, purer world than the Anglo-Saxons with their jangling, crash-prone, dog-eat-dog capitalism. Germany is a bigger power than it used to be, and as is natural among human societies, its ambitions grow with its might. For Germany, this has led to trouble before.While the Fifth Reich often looks down on the humble, unassuming Fourth Reich of the Cold War era, it is worth noting that Konrad Adenauer’s republic was the only German state in modern history to enjoy the friendship and respect of its neighbors. Men like Adenauer and Brandt were more successful than Frederick the Great and Otto von Bismarck and they left Germany far better positioned than earlier rulers had done.Cloud cuckoo land is appealing and romantic, but it holds nightmares as well as dreams. Germans might want to think twice about going back.