Think Tank (July to August 2019)
Dr Volker Perthes (left) speaking at the lecture’s Q&A session


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Geopolitical Dynamics and International Order: A European Perspective
27 Aug 2019

Dr Volker Perthes, Distinguished Visitor, RSIS and Executive Chairman and Director of SWP (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik), German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin, Germany, spoke on “Geopolitical Dynamics and International Order: A European Perspective” at the S. T. Lee Distinguished Annual Lecture. The lecture was held on 27 August 2019 at the Sheraton Towers Singapore.

Dr Perthes observed the international order is suffering from the re-emergence of great-power rivalry dynamic and from other tensions, including attacks on sovereignty, the rise of nationalism, digitisation, and constant threats to post-war institutions. Great-power rivalry has been established as the main paradigm garnering “strategic attention,” therein marginalising attention to other issues such as development and sustainability, which are critical. He said that five dimensions form the “constellation” of Sino-US great-power rivalry: (i) balance of power and status; (ii) a security dilemma; (iii) an ideological contest; (iv) trade and technology-related competition; and (v) soft power. He was also clear that the multi-dimensional constellation should not be interpreted as a replay of the Cold War. Following his remarks on great-power rivalry, Dr Perthes cited respect for sovereignty, free trade, commitment to arms control and treaties, and compliance with international humanitarian laws as principles of the international order that are under threat.

Nationalism, digitisation, and the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia are among the factors that have awakened Europe to stop taking the pan-European order for granted. For Europe, standing up to or ignoring threats to the rules-based order is not a choice, but rather a vital interest. Europe is stepping up its role, particularly its hard-power contributions, to bolster its internal stability, protect against threats in its neighbourhood, and contribute to its alliances. Unless Europe builds its own capabilities and a degree of strategic autonomy, however, it will not be able to guarantee that their American partners maintain the strategic rationale to stay engaged in Europe.

Conceptually, Dr Perthes suggested that the rules-based order would have to adjust to deal with states that are not liberal democracies. To maintain and develop new rules, inclusiveness will be necessary, meaning authoritarian states such as China will also need to participate and comply, and measures will be needed to preserve the existing architecture. Dr Perthes concluded by calling for new rules and concrete measures to be developed with respect to climate change, cyberspace, autonomous weapons, artificial intelligence, and data protection.

Click here to watch the lecture podcast.

Quote from Dr Volker Perthes

“Re-emerging great-power rivalries, global uncertainties and increasing challenges to global and regional orders all call for an inclusive effort by like-minded powers to strengthen and defend a multilateral, rules-based international system.”

About the S. T. Lee Distinguished Annual Lecture

The S. T. Lee Distinguished Annual Lecture Series at RSIS was established in 2007. It is funded by an endowment established from a generous personal donation by Dr Lee Seng Tee, a well-known Singapore philanthropist, and a matching grant from the Singapore Government. Dr Lee is a well-known benefactor of educational establishments both local and overseas, including the Nanyang Technological University, which RSIS is a part of.  Income created from the S. T. Lee Distinguished Annual Lecture Endowment is used to invite renowned scholars and policymakers to speak to a Singapore-wide audience on key strategic issues of our time.

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