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The West on the brink

01:14 AM October 12, 2016

BERLIN—This year and next, voters in leading Western democracies will make decisions that could fundamentally change the West—and the world. In fact, some of these decisions have already been made, the main example being the United Kingdom’s vote in June to leave the European Union.

The UK’s decision came amid growing internal and external pressure on the European order of peace based on integration, cooperation, a common market and jurisdiction. Internally, nationalism has been gaining strength in nearly all EU member states; externally, Russia is playing great-power politics and pushing for a “Eurasian Union”—a euphemism for renewed Russian dominance over Eastern Europe—as an alternative to the EU.

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Both of these forces threaten the EU’s structure of peace, and without the UK, the bloc’s traditional guarantor of stability, the EU will be weakened further. The weakening of EU, the linchpin of European-Western integration, could cause a European reorientation toward the East.

This outcome would become even more likely if Americans elect Donald Trump, who openly admires Russian President Vladimir Putin and would accommodate Russian great-power politics at the expense of European and transatlantic ties.

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Likewise, a victory for far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in France would signal that country’s rejection of Europe. Given France’s role as one of the EU’s critical foundation stones (along with Germany), Le Pen’s election would most likely mean the end of the EU itself.

In this scenario, many would look to Germany, Europe’s largest economy. But though Germany would pay the highest economic and political price if the EU collapsed—its interests are simply too interwoven with the EU’s—no one should hope for German renationalization. We all know what destruction and calamity that can bring to the continent.

Geopolitically, Germany would be consigned to an uncertain man-in-the-middle status. While France is clearly a Western, Atlantic and Mediterranean country, Germany, historically, has oscillated between East and West. In fact, this dynamic was long a constitutive element of the German Reich. The East-or-West question wasn’t finally decided until after Germany’s total defeat in 1945. Following the establishment of the Federal Republic in 1949, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer chose the West.

Adenauer considered the young Federal Republic’s ties with the West more important than German reunification. For him, Germany had to abandon its man-in-the-middle position, and thus its isolation, by integrating with Western security and economic institutions.

Germany’s geopolitical orientation will be a central underlying issue in next year’s general election. If German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own Christian Democratic Union ousts her because of her refugee policy, the party will likely tack to the right in an effort to win back voters it has lost to the anti-immigrant, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD).

But any move by the CDU to cooperate with the AfD, or to validate its arguments, would spell trouble. The AfD represents German right-wing nationalists (and worse) who want to return to the old man-in-the-middle position and forge a closer relationship with Russia. Cooperation between the CDU and AfD would betray Adenauer’s legacy and be tantamount to the end of the Bonn Republic.

Meanwhile, there is similar danger from the other side of the aisle: Any prospective CDU-AfD coalition would have to rely on Die Linke (the Left Party), some of whose leading members effectively want the same thing as the AfD: closer relations with Russia and looser or no integration with the West.

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One hopes we will be spared this tragic future, and that Merkel will retain her office beyond 2017. The future of Germany, Europe, and the West may depend on it.  Project Syndicate

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a leader of the German Green Party for almost 20 years.

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