Joschka Fischer's new world order

With an eye to repairing the damage caused by disagreements over Iraq, Germany's foreign minister offers a rosy view of future U.S.-European relations.

Published October 21, 2004 2:07PM (EDT)

Joschka Fischer is the man with the alternative view. As a Frankfurt taxi driver, militant street activist, and then leader of the German Greens, he built a career studying maps, looking for new and different ways forward.

As foreign minister and vice-chancellor of Germany, Fischer is still exploring the path ahead. And in a speech before a packed audience of 1,000 in London this week, he showed again why he is one of Europe's most appealing politicians.

To a world beset by an unending "war on terror," insecurity and cultural strife, and lacking agreed political direction, Fischer offers a positive vision for the 21st century. His formula is both simple and seductive -- or, to his critics, naive. While others peddle fear, Fischer offers hope. Far from dwelling on the bitter schism between Germany and the Bush administration over Iraq, Fischer stresses the importance of the transatlantic relationship to both Europe and the U.S.

"There cannot be world order without the U.S. It is the only country that can project global power," he told a meeting hosted by the London School of Economics and the Center for European Reform. "But neither the U.S. nor Europe alone can defend against the totalitarian threat of terrorism. The West must ... find a way to create a strategic consensus."

America has been struggling in the face of ramifying global challenges, he said. Others have been struggling to create counterbalances to U.S. power -- an apparent reference to French President Jacques Chirac's attempts to sustain the concept of multipolarity. But this debate is out of date, Fischer suggested. Globalization, economic interdependence, limited resources, increased mobility, and the mass media and information technology revolutions are binding countries ever more closely together. Military confrontation will increasingly be perceived as inimical to a state's national interest, he suggested. "If conflicts happen in the 21st century, the winner will also be the loser." Rather, the common threat is that posed by non-state terrorism, failing states and WMD proliferation.

A "second pillar" must be erected alongside U.S. power, Fischer said, underpinning the new strategic consensus and constructed round a reformed, revitalized United Nations. The U.N. alone creates legitimacy. And legitimacy, not brute power, will be the "hard currency" of the coming century.

Afghanistan, where Germany is heavily committed, showed what can be achieved if countries act in concert, Fischer said. His view of Europe and the European Union is every bit as rosy -- and again, integration is the key word. He does not envisage a European superstate, he said; every country wants to retain its own identity, its own cultural differences -- and so it should. But a balance must be struck between the demands of nationality and stronger European institutions; thus ratification of the new constitution is of vital importance in fortifying the E.U.

For Fischer the E.U. is another success story. Enlargement is now a reality, he said; countries are queuing up to join. And the E.U. is becoming a global player. But to be effective and efficient, its members need to integrate, to pool sovereignty and find the tools jointly to deal with security threats emanating from the Middle East, particularly from Iran and the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as challenges such as the U.N.'s millennium development goals.

Fischer is no idealist, and nobody's fool. He has fought on both sides of the barricades, he says, and learned realism and pragmatism. There is no guarantee his map reading is accurate and that his ideas will work. But he remains an optimist for all that. In these dark days, a little hope goes a long way.

By Simon Tisdall

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