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Joschka Fischer Argues Global Powers
Holding a 20 euro note, Joschka Fischer tells UCLA audience that currency means more than a medium of exchange. More than 200 people attended the April 24 lecture and discussion. (Photos by Jonathan Friedlander and Kevin Matthews)

Joschka Fischer Argues Global Powers 'Condemned to Cooperation'

In talk at UCLA, former German foreign minister sees no future for 'balance-of-powers' geopolitics, defends European expansion within bounds, urges US not to give up on 'the West.' Fischer calls Iranian nuclear program biggest threat in troubled Middle East.

I don't believe the 'coalition of the willing' is a fitting structure in the 21st century.


In an April, 24, 2006, talk at UCLA before an audience of more than 200, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer held up European integration as a model for a global politics based on cooperation and inclusion. A globalized world that faces threats from climate change, economic inequality, and the spread of nuclear arms is "condemned to cooperation," Fischer said, warning against any attempt "to create a new world order on the basis of a balance-of-powers system." Such arrangements have a history of collapse and are spectacularly inadequate in a world of seven billion people, Fischer concluded.

At the same time, Europe's future will be determined on its eastern and southeastern extremes, Fischer said, noting that the shape of those boundaries remains an open question. He lent strong support to the proposed inclusion of Turkey in the European Union. The public lecture, attended by diplomats from Los Angeles' foreign consulates and other distinguished guests, was sponsored by the UCLA Center for European and Eurasian Studies, the International Institute, and the Villa Aurora Foundation for European-American Relations.

With the influence of China and India sure to expand, and with "challenges" coming from Russia and the Middle East, "my mind is not big enough to understand how this [balance-of-powers scenario] will work," Fischer said. He aimed some remarks directly at unilateral impulses in U.S. foreign policy. "I don't believe the 'coalition of the willing' is a fitting structure in the 21st century," he said, alluding to the Bush administration's term for countries that aided the United States and Britain in the invasion of Iraq. "From my view," he said, "it will be very important whether the West will have a future or not." With apologies to allies in the Pacific, Fischer explained that by "the West" he meant the United States and Europe.

As UCLA political scientist Ron Rogowski, interim vice provost and dean of the International Institute, explained in his introduction of Fischer, polls indicate that the former Green Party member of parliament has been Germany's most popular leader "over the long term." Fischer is known for an irreverent and confrontational style, on display at a February 2003 security meeting in Munich. "Excuse me, I'm not convinced," he said to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld of the case for war against Iraq.

At the lecture he urged "a second try" to reform the United Nations in the wake of divisions over Iraq, and called for a "greener," "more social" World Trade Organization.

'One Europe' Principle

A high-school drop-out, largely self-taught, Fischer said that his reading of history had convinced him early on of two imperatives: never again to the Holocaust, never again to war. The twin injunctions did not come into conflict, he said, until the Balkan wars of the 1990s. At that time, Fischer insisted on NATO and EU intervention in Kosovo and eventually won both battles, as Rogowski pointed out in the introduction.

The long-term solution to Europe's long history of warfare, Fischer said, is integration. With the establishment and expansion of the European Union, he said, it is "impossible" to imagine the 25 member states fighting one another. Along with the United States' strategic decision to keep troops deployed in Europe after the Second World War, he said, this process of integration represented one of the best developments in Europe in the twentieth century.

Brandishing a 20 euro note as his exhibit, Fischer said that the EU and the European Common Market were "revolutionary" developments that had guaranteed stability in a broad, extraordinarily diverse territory in spite of strong nationalistic tendencies. He credited EU integration with economic turnarounds in Ireland and other countries.

The key remaining regional challenges, he said, were to overcome the setbacks of the French and Dutch votes against a European constitution and to organize all of Europe on "one principle," so that the presence of outlying countries such as Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova would not lead to competition between "different political systems" in the region. In these three cases, "Europe must keep its door open, not more, not less," he said. Although the outcome of the countries' own political processes was uncertain, he said, "if we accept a shadow Europe between Russia and the European Union, this will be always a source of terrible trouble to everyone." Fischer distinguished the European approach of "self-determination" for these nations from what he said appeared to be a reversion by Russia to a model of "zones of influence."

However, Fischer said that it had been clear to him since Sept. 11, 2001, that the main threats to Europe in the 21st century would be "based in the Middle East." The terrorist attacks on the United States, he said, convinced him of the need to bring the Turkish state into the EU; his support for the idea had previously hovered around "51 percent," he said. Fischer added that Europe had been extending an invitation to Turkey for decades and would be "foolish" now to rescind it. In response to an audience member's question, he said that he would not wish to make similar commitments in the future.

The Middle East's problems had become so grave, Fischer said, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now ranked third on his own list of concerns about the region, right behind the ongoing fighting in Iraq. Topping the list, he said, was Iran's nuclear program. "A nuclearized Iran will be seen by Israel as an existential threat," he said. "This is a fact you must deal with whether you like it or not."

Fischer, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and four other former foreign ministers recently signed an op-ed urging direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations.