Jan 10, 2024

Europe’s Geostrategic Turn

2024 should be the year that sees both Brussels and Berlin start merging geopolitics with strategic thinking.

An Illustration of the European continent
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Over the past weeks and months, I conducted an experiment. In informal chats and background talks with contacts from the chancellery, the foreign office, the defense ministry, and others, I always threw in one particular question into the conversations: “Are you also working on counterstrategies? Does geostrategy play a role in your thinking?”

The uniform reaction was a baffled look.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, German foreign policy has not been used to work against anyone or anything. Even two years after President Vladimir Putin’s Russia brutally attacked its neighbor Ukraine in an all-out war, Berlin continues to prefer working for something—currently it is on the lookout for “global partners” such as India, Brazil, or Mexico in order to shore up a rules-based global order that the United States no longer seems willing to underwrite on its own and that countries like Russia, China, and Iran are weakening and undermining, and not without success.

What is missing is the realization that this is not enough. Germany and Europe will need to get into the business of actively countering those who seek to destroy the order on which the Germany and the EU’s very models depend. The averseness to think about our world as it is today, and the situation Europe finds itself in, also in geostrategic terms explains in part why Germany’s effort to support Ukraine still feels half-baked.

In fact, the very term “geostrategy,” as a key part of “geopolitics,” is enough to produce kneejerk negative reactions—even though “Geopolitik” has seen a revival in recent years. Karl Haushofer (1868-1946), the former general and professor who propagated the term in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, was at one point friends with Adolf Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess, and his writings influenced Nazi thought on how to brutally colonize Eastern Europe and try to dominate the Eurasian super-continent. Less well known, perhaps, is the fact that Haushofer’s son Albrecht was arrested in connection with the attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20, 1944, and was murdered by the SS in April 1945, only weeks before the end of World War II. Karl Haushofer was also persecuted and incarcerated for a month in Dachau concentration camp. He committed suicide the following year. In post-war Germany, “geostrategy” was simply “forgotten.” Best not to think about it.

Our Winter 2024 issue is not about making historical arguments, though. Rather, it focuses on Europe’s need to become “more geostrategic” if it wants to hold its own in a world that, as Romana Vlahutin writes in our cover section, is moving into a new “age of security.” The former Special EU Envoy for Connectivity (a term, one could argue, that is “EU speak” for geostrategy) argues that “the EU has no chance but to change” and needs to rediscover its lost “strategic instincts.” It’s an area where the EU-ex-member the United Kingdom is arguably a step ahead. James Rogers makes the case that recent British geostrategic (re)thinking offers a blueprint for Germany and the EU on how to best defend Europe.

Meanwhile, Stefan Meister, explains Russia’s geostrategic shifts and asks how a country with a GDP equal to Spain’s (and thus only a fraction of the EU’s whole) is able to run rings around the EU. Francesca Ghiretti looks at China’s geostrategic approach to Europe, which is focused on securing access to port infrastructure in particular, in an attempt, she argues, to make the Chinese economy more resilient. Sinem Adar assesses Turkey’s geostrategy (a mixed bag) and explains how the EU should respond.

Geostrategy, Zbigniew Brzezinksi, the Polish-born national security advisor to former US President Jimmy Carter, wrote, “merges strategic considerations with geopolitical ones.” At its most basic level, therefore, it is about conducting geopolitics in a strategic way. This is what Brussels, not to mention Berlin, is still a long way away from doing. 2024 should be the year that sees both start catching up.

Henning Hoff is Executive Editor of INTERNATIONALE POLITIK QUARTERLY.

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