Whither Europe? In the aftermath of Brexit and the rise of the populist, anti-European Union (EU) right, the European order seems to be in crisis. Alone among Europe’s major states, Germany has been immune to the political turmoil. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition seems ensconced firmly in power ahead of the 2017 elections. Germany’s stock has never been higher: successful social welfare reforms, a healthy trade surplus, and an export-driven economy have made Germany the locus of power within the EU. Two recent books offer fresh insights on this new, confident Germany: Hans Kundnani’s The Paradox of German Power and Stephen F. Szabo’s Germany, Russia and the Rise of Geo-Economics.
Szabo’s work approaches the question of German foreign policy in the context of the present, drawing on the author’s knowledge of institutions and individuals shaping German foreign affairs today. His background and expertise in the field is very deep. Szabo is the executive director of the Transatlantic Academy in Washington D.C., a former professor of European Studies at Johns Hopkins SAIS, and an astute observer of German politics for decades. He is perhaps best known for his 2004 work, Parting Ways: The Crisis in German-American Relations, which explored how the Iraq War affected the German-U.S. relationship.
His new book seeks to understand the strategic principles governing German foreign policy as it finds itself in a dominant position within the European Union. The title is slightly misleading: his interest in Russia is peripheral to his analysis of Germany. He uses it as a case study to frame his view of Germany as a “geo-economic power.” Conceived by Edward Luttwak in a 1990 article, “geo-economics” is the concept that, in the post-modern world, economic competition would increasingly follow the geopolitical lines of the Cold War: “adversarial, zero-sum and paradoxical.”1 While the 1990s did not seem to follow Luttwak’s prediction, events in Europe since 2001 have vindicated some of his argument. Szabo maintains that less nimble states, such as the United States, have failed to understand this shift away from geopolitics and are being left behind by “successful contemporary geo-economic states,” of which Germany is the most pronounced example in the West.