Visions of Europe in 2030: A Postmodern Middle Ages

By Parag Khanna

In the future, globalization will further weaken the nation-state. A long transition process toward global government will be, like the Middle Ages, a time of great insecurity. But Europe's governance structure will prevail, even in the United States. It will buy its way to peace and its model will be copied across the globe.

Europe invented, named, and shaped all eras of history -- and will continue to do so in the future. The classical world is defined by the flourishing of Greece; the Middle Ages followed the sacking of Rome; the European Renaissance led to the formation of nation states that organized the world in their image; and in the 21st century, Europe is pioneering the post-nation state regionalism and corresponding postmodern governance that is also being adopted around the world. Already we can see hints of the world going Europe's way. Just consider the ongoing global financial crisis: ever more observers foresee the need for a balance between American capitalism and inflexible, overly managed statism. The right mix is European-style, social democratic capitalism.

First let us take a step back and see how the global landscape has already come to resemble a crucial period of European history, namely the Middle Ages. It was a long and uncertain period, and thus an ideal metaphor for our times. It was an age of plagues and progress, commercial revolutions, expanding empires, crusades, city-states, merchants, and universities. The new middle ages -- synonymous with our postmodern globalization age -- have already begun.

Particularly the city-state, the most prominent medieval political unit, will continue its resurrection. Today's list of "global cities" -- New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Sao Paulo, London, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo -- will also include Alexandria, Karachi, Istanbul, and others. Then as now, city-states are commercial hubs all but divorced from their national anchor, reminding that corporate actors will be paramount well into the future. Today's sovereign wealth funds, fused with city-state savvy, will be tomorrow's Hanseatic League, forming capital networks that radiate the newest technologies to those in their proximity. Hamburg and Dubai have just signed an agreement to boost bilateral trade and technical cooperation. City-states will pay for their protection as global security privatizes further into corporate hands, the knights, mercenaries, and condottieri of the 21st century.

The Middle Ages witnessed innovations from the cannon to the compass, all geared toward enhanced global exploration. So too will the speed of communication and transport bring us ever closer toward simultaneity. As the ranks of billionaires soars beyond Gates, Branson, and Ambani, mega-philanthropists will become the postmodern Medicis, financing explorations in outer space and the deep sea, governing territory and production like medieval princes.

The new Middle Ages will be as much multipolar with expanding empires on the Eurasian landmass as apolar with no single global leader. Charlemagne's efforts to resurrect the Holy Roman Empire have been succeeded over a millennium later by the multi-pronged armadas of Brussels Eurocrats steadily colonizing the Baltics, Balkans, and eventually Anatolia and the Caucasus. Their book is not the Bible but the "acquis communautaire," the 35 chapters of Lex Europea rebuilding European Union member states from the inside out.

Not only Ukraine and Turkey, but with any luck even depopulated, cantankerous Russia will be an EU member by 2030. Having already become one of Europe's main energy arteries, Turkey will also take on the role as a major trade and investment corridor to Central Asia and the Near East. The road networks linking Anatolia to the Caspian Sea will have been extended southward toward Syria, Iran, and Iraq as well, providing direct access to Mideast energy and export routes for high-end European products.

The Middle East will be integral to Europe's expanded sphere of influence in 2030. Though the Arab world will be more populous than Europe, its energy supply will be dwindling and its trade relationships ever more tied to European investment for large-scale production of manufactured goods from automobiles to solar-cells. Islam will remain a fractured faith, widely practiced, but also subdued by the impetus of economic development. Just as Europe bought off communism, it will purchase the reform of Islamism toward constructive, prosperous social democracy. North African Arab states will be ever more bound to Europe through natural gas pipelines, outsourced small-scale production, and agriculture. Sarkozy's present vision of a Mediterranean Union will indeed have blossomed into a resurrection of the Roman Empire -- with Brussels as its capital.

But this Europe of 2030 will not only be externally integrating its neighbors, but internally blending with them as well. The robust Ukrainian and Turkish populations will be ever more part of the European economic and social fabric, maintaining the empire's status as a manufacturing juggernaut. Arab migrants will remain a feature of Western European societies, but like the Turks of the late 20th century, become constructive diasporas advancing progressive social and micro-economic models through a free flow of capital and ideas with the West.

Russia's Path

The path for Russia will in fact be similar to that of Turkey. Initial restraint and reluctance combined with a strong desire to maintain a free hand in foreign policy, followed by gradual acceptance of the merits of coordination and shared leverage, and an insatiable appetite for high-quality European investment and generous subsidies. Russia will trade its insecure control over oil and gas supply and prices for the stability and reliability of trustworthy European consumers. It will settle for fair compensation, and learn how to spend it more wisely with the assistance of Brussels, Frankfurt, and London.

Other regions will similarly exhibit European-style hierarchies. China will have completed restoration of its ancient status as the "Middle Kingdom," presiding over half the world's population through its massive export volume, energy infrastructure feeding back to the core, and networks of Chinese diaspora. The world's third center of gravity will still be the United States, demographically stable but also more thoroughly blended with Latin America. A century after Kennedy's "Alliance for Progress," the United States will have rediscovered its southern counterparts, especially Brazil, as industrial partners to boost the hemisphere's competitiveness with Asia-and for energy independence from the Middle East.

The model of regional governance that the European Union represents in its most sophisticated form will be copied not only in North America and East Asia, but gradually in South America and Africa as well. Already Brazil speaks of a South American Union of economic integration and diplomatic stature under its benign leadership. The African Union, while lagging behind other regional blocs, will have developed its much needed peacekeeping force to stabilize its many festering conflicts, while trade barriers will have come down, allowing Africa's many land locked nations to bring their goods to regional and world markets.

Europe as Middleman

The European model for the United States thus applies on the levels of social democratic capitalism and federal governance mechanisms for regional institutions and markets -- but also in terms of foreign policy. Europe will have liberalized and modernized its periphery using the steady hand of governance reform and foreign investment, strategies America should see are the key to stabilizing Mexico and Central America. America's relations with China will hopefully be influenced by this psychology, transformed toward a focus on accountability with Chinese characteristics rather than American-style democracy.

Europe is well-positioned to be this ideological and cultural intermediary between East and West. Already Indian and Chinese artists are thriving in the European scene, while wealthy Asians (and Arabs) have become the prime purchasers of European impressionists and modernists. Similarly, in the field of education, more Chinese are already studying in European universities than American ones, learning the new social democratic ethos for the 21st century much as they learned Marxism and communism from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Even as European militaries consolidate into a formidable conventional force, this ground power will remain more useful for policing and ad hoc interventions than long-term war-fighting or occupations. But such a pan-European constabulary force will be necessary for the uncertainties of the new Middle Ages. Indeed, not much was certain in the Middle Ages, and an equal number of risk factors exist in the decades ahead. What of AIDS, malaria, SARS, and other diseases which could become plagues like the 14th century Black Death? And what impact will migratory hordes have, potentially unsettled by wars and environmental disasters? Who will be the next Mongols, small, concentrated hordes who violently establish peace, law, and order? Establishing a new global governance will take centuries, hence the uncertain leadership and complex landscape of the mid-21st century. The next Renaissance is still a long way off.

Parag Khanna directs the Global Governance Program at the New America Foundation in Washington.

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