The war in Ukraine has upended common assumptions about global politics—consensus views shared among policy elites and the public in countries around the world about the balance of power that governs it. Ever since U.S. President Barack Obama declared a “pivot to Asia” in 2011, much American foreign policy and public attention turned to China, where Washington saw its primary security concerns. Meanwhile, in Europe, Germany led EU policies focused on building trade with Russia, trusting that commercial bonds would calm President Vladimir Putin’s territorial ambitions. NATO, the West’s most powerful security alliance, had been mostly dormant for the past 20 years, after a few missions in the Balkans in the 1990s and apart from airstrikes in Libya in 2011. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has scrambled all these priorities, relationships, and organizations. How are global dynamics changing?

Moisés Naím was Venezuela’s minister of trade and industry, the director of Venezuela’s Central Bank, and an executive director of the World Bank. Naím is now a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in Washington, D.C., and the author of The Revenge of Power. In his view, the war has changed the balance of power, primarily because of the newfound strength of Europe. The conflict has important economic consequences, Naím says, but the most significant outcome—and display of power—may be the sanctions imposed by Europe and the U.S. on Russia. As Naím sees it, the transatlantic relationship is again a central interest of the United States, and alliances around the world are reshuffling, but a few key questions will determine how long these changes last.

Michael Bluhm: What do you see being the biggest change to global politics from the war in Ukraine?

Moisés Naím: The single biggest change is that Europe discovered that it’s a superpower and didn’t know it. Unity meant a great enhancement of influence, and Europe became a top geopolitical protagonist, thanks to the willingness of its leaders and their supporters to move quickly in unprecedented ways to create a coalition we’d not seen before.

People used to laugh about Europe and NATO. Remember the comments from Donald Trump about how Europeans were not good allies? Well, it turns out they were a superpower.

The single most important variable is how sustainable this new superpower is. Will they start bickering again? Will they become another highly bureaucratized organization that can’t move and just decides on the lowest common denominator? Or will it maintain its new role?

Bluhm: Germany’s dramatic policy shifts seem especially striking?

Naím: In discovering that they were a superpower, Europeans did two unprecedented things. First is Berlin’s decision to boost annual defense spending to 2 percent of GDP. Two percent of one of the world’s largest economies is a lot of money. This means that, in a few years, German military capacities will be bigger than Russia’s. Germany returning as a military superpower is another surprise.


As with my caveat for your first question, the same question of sustainability applies to Germany. How sustainable is Germany’s commitment to becoming and remaining a military superpower?

This article is for members only

Join to read on and have access to The Signal‘s full library.

Join now Already have an account? Sign in