If you were handing out Olympic medals for foreign policy over the past couple of decades, which major world power should get the gold? Some observers might say China, which has vastly expanded its economic and military power, increased its influence in key international institutions, and avoided the costly quagmires that the United States fell into repeatedly. But China has stumbled of late under Xi Jinping, and its increasingly heavy-handed approach at home and abroad has tarnished its image, alarmed its neighbors, and made others wary about its future intentions. An early medal favorite, China’s recent performance deserves no better than a bronze and might not earn a spot on the medal stand at all.
What about Russia? Vladimir Putin has played a weak hand well over the past 20 years, but his handling of foreign policy hasn’t made Russia safer—if it has, why is he so worried about Ukraine? Nor has he left Russia better equipped to compete effectively in the decades ahead. Russia’s leaders may crave recognition of their country as a great global power, but their governing model is of limited appeal, and other countries are going to shape the future more profoundly than Moscow is. Barring a rift between Beijing and Moscow (something the United States and others would be wise to encourage), Russia will be relegated mostly to a spoiler role as China’s junior partner.
Despite many enduring advantages, neither the United States nor United Kingdom can be regarded as serious medal contenders either. The United States has stumbled under Democrats and Republicans alike and so has Britain under both Labour and Conservative governments. Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to blindly follow the George W. Bush administration into Iraq in 2003 was an obvious own goal, and the Tory-led decision to exit the European Union has left Britain poorer, less influential, and in the hands of politicians whose mendacity far outstrips their competence.
Who’s left? Well, if I were awarding the medals, I’d hand the gold to Germany. If the primary goal of any country’s foreign policy is to increase its security and prosperity without doing too much damage to its expressed political values, then Germany’s performance over the past several decades is undeniably impressive. The conditions that made this strategy possible are now disappearing, however, and the big question—as newly-elected Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives in Washington to meet with President Joe Biden—is whether Germany can and will adjust.
Read the full article in Foreign Policy.