If we wish to reflect on the common challenge inherent in the ongoing transformation of global politics, we would be wise to start by recognizing what I believe to be the three fundamental facts of the present era. First, global peace is threatened not by utopian fanaticism, as was the case during the 20th century, but by the turbulent complexity inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening. Second, comprehensive social progress is more enduringly attained by democratic participation than by authoritarian mobilization. Third, in our time global stability can be promoted only by larger-scale cooperation, not through the imperial domination prevalent in earlier historical epochs.
The 20th century was dominated by fanatical ideological efforts to recreate societies by brutal totalitarian methods on the basis of utopian blueprints. Europe knows best the human costs of such simplistic and arrogant ideological fanaticism. Fortunately, with the exception of some highly isolated cases such as North Korea, it is unlikely that new attempts at large-scale utopian social engineering will arise. That is largely so because in the 21st century, for the first time in human history, the entire world is now politically awakened. The peoples of the world are restless, they are interconnected, they are resentful of their relative social deprivations, and they increasingly reject authoritarian political mobilization.
It follows that democratic participation is in the longer-run the best guarantee both of social progress and political stability. In the global arena, however, rising populist aspirations and the difficulties inherent in shaping common global responses to political and economic crises combine to threaten international disorder to which no single country, no matter how powerful, wealthy or strategically located, can effectively respond. Indeed, potential global turmoil—coincidental with the appearance of novel threats to universal well-being and even to human survival—can be effectively addressed only within a larger cooperative framework based on more widely shared democratic values.
The basic fact, therefore, is that interdependence is not a slogan but a description of an increasingly insistent reality. America realizes that it needs Europe as a global ally; that its cooperation with Russia is of mutual and expanding benefit; that its economic and financial interdependence with a rapidly rising China has a special political sensitivity; and that its ties with Japan are important not only mutually but to the well-being of the Pacific region. Germany is committed to a more united Europe within the European Union and to close links across the Atlantic with America, and in that context it can more safely nurture mutually beneficial economic and political cooperation with Russia. Turkey, which almost a century ago launched its social and national modernization with Europe largely as its model, is assuming a greater regional role as an economically dynamic and politically democratic state, as well as a member of the Atlantic alliance and Russia’s good neighbor. And Russia, recognizing that its modernization and democratization are mutually reinforcing and vital to its important world role, also aspires to a broader collaboration with Europe, with America and, quite naturally, with its dynamic neighbor to the east, China.
The time is thus ripe for translating the values and interests that bind us together into more comprehensive ties. That requires the promotion of genuine reconciliation between historically conflicting peoples. The European Union would not exist today if it were not for the deliberate effort made by France and Germany—not only among officials but especially their publics—to foster a genuine and deeply rooted national reconciliation. The European Union could not have embraced central Europe if a similar but more recent and ongoing effort had not been pursued between the Germans and the Poles. Turkey and Russia, though enemies in the past, are now good neighbors, and Turkey and the European Union are engaged in complicated negotiations regarding a mutually beneficial relationship.
An even more interconnected Europe, however, cannot come into being without a similar and broadly gauged reconciliation between the Poles and the Russians. And America and Russia can expand their collaboration, taking advantage of the fact that on the people-to-people level there has never been any truly intense animus between Americans and Russians.
In the decades ahead, larger scale cooperation among regions will be essential to global well-being. Dynamic and populated Asian states continue to emerge as major players: most notably China, earlier Japan, and soon India and Indonesia. Increasingly close Asian inter-state organizations also demonstrate the advantages of large-scale cooperation among the world’s regions. Moreover, the more regional cooperation in Asia itself, the less likely is Asia to repeat Europe’s painful 20th-century history, and more likely is broader cooperation between the new East and the old West.
The potential for such cooperation also suggests that, if new major conflicts are averted, in the decades ahead the politically awakened people of the world may eventually share a universal political culture in which global cooperation will be reinforced (though with some inevitable local variations) by constitutionally based democratic principles. Japan, South Korea and India provide examples of the global potential for cross-cultural democratic universality. It is timely to make note of that more hopeful prospect, especially in the face of the current inclination to engage in historical pessimism.
It is also time to think concretely in geopolitical terms of how we can patiently, incrementally advance and institutionalize this more promising future. The promise before us requires a sense of historical and geopolitical direction not only from governments but also from peoples. Governments, by necessity, have to focus on more immediate dilemmas, disagreements and conflicts. Even if guided by a shared vision of the future, their time horizon is limited by the need to address contentious issues.
That is why an eventually wide-ranging accommodation that creates a more interconnected and increasingly shared democratic space could be attained through a collective effort by a team of respected private citizens. Such a team, drawn primarily from the European Union, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and America, could conceptualize a flexible timetable—pointed toward 2050—for a step-by-step, decade-by-decade, implementation of the oft-cited slogan about a cooperative community whose geographical swath starts in Vancouver and reaches east.
To be meaningful, such a non-official initiative will need to be ambitious and yet practical. The obstacles to its mission are deeply rooted in competing geopolitical interests and bitter historical memories. It will take joint as well as patient efforts to overcome residual national fears and suspicions. Flexible and evolving arrangements for eventually widening the European Union may help, in addition to some deliberate upgrading of the existing transcontinental and Transatlantic frameworks. Difficulties will persist, but Europe and the Atlantic community would not be what they have become today had it not been for the fact that, for many years, visionaries on both sides engaged in protracted, patient and persistent advocacy. We could learn from that experience to launch at some point in the not-too-distant future a similar non-official initiative to plan the architecture for wider and deeper Transatlantic and trans-Eurasian cooperation.