Josef Joffe Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Power and Culture in International Affairs; Conversation with Josef Joffe, editor and co-publisher of Die Zeit, 1/20/00 by Harry Kreisler.
Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 3 of 7

The Post - Cold War World

I would like to move into a substantive area and talk a little about today's world, and from there we can go to the United States' role in the world and Germany's role. As somebody who does diplomatic history, which you do quite well in your piece on Germany in the [Robert] Pastor book, which I guess is called ...

A Century's Journey? No, my piece?

The book is called A Century's Journey ...

My piece is "Germany: The Continuities from Frederick the Great to the Federal Republic."

Which is a tour de force discussion of modern German diplomatic history, and obviously you theorize about the history. So with that background, and as a journalist, what are the most important features of international politics today after the end of the Cold War?

The most important feature is the bifurcation, or segmentation if you wish, of the international system. I like to call one segment the Berlin-Berkeley Belt and the other the Belgrade-Baghdad-Beijing Belt. The first one is the blessed, pacified, prosperous, stable, democratic, liberal West, where in many if not all aspects, certain basic rules of international politics have been unhinged, above all the issue of security, which has driven so much conflict in the past. Security competition: I arm; which makes you afraid, then you counterarm, which provokes me ... So in this blessed plot that extends from Berlin or maybe from the Polish border to the Pacific here where we are sitting, a lot of the old nasty rules have been unhinged and a lot of good things have happened. Above all, the prediction of the Enlightenment seems to have come true, that democracies are not warlike nations. Or to put it the other way around, because we have no war, because the security issue has been taken care of, has been solved for us, we have become such nice democracies.

We should emphasize that in a more traditional view or in an earlier period, states had to worry about their survival and they could only really count on themselves.

Right. Self-help system, no authority, no adjudicator above us who can enforce contracts and promises and protect us against the bad consequences of our credulity, if you wish. So that's this benign, this blessed plot of the Berlin-Berkeley Belt.

Then there's the other belt which starts one hour from Munich by plane, this is Belgrade, where life is as vicious and Hobbesian and competitive and fear- and ambition-driven as international politics has been throughout the history of the state system. And that extends, of course, into some real pathological areas like the Middle East, where we've had the most, and the most dangerous, wars in the postwar period. There have been five or six wars between Israel and the Arabs plus lots of war between Islamic powers themselves, so it's not just an Israeli-Arab issue. Then you go into the nuclear competition between Pakistan and India. And you go all the way to Beijing, where you see a classic phenomenon which I would call the rising-power phenomenon. First you become rich and then rowdy. First there is affluence, then there's ambition. So following the pattern of the rise of Germany and Japan and America in the nineteenth century, here's China with enormous growth rates suggesting a similar pattern. And if a strategic threat were to reemerge, the Berlin-Berkeley and the Baghdad-Beijing Belts would meet there with another contest between the great status quo power, the United States, and the rising anti-status quo power, the Chinese.

Next page: The Power of the United States

© Copyright 2000, Regents of the University of California