Germany’s rise to power before World War I from a Chinese persective, and the geopolitical lessons for today.
A series of solemn anniversary events have marked the centenary of World War I. Could history repeat itself in today’s geopolitics? Now, as then, a land power with a growing economy and a maritime power with global commitments are the two leading states in the international system. Most ominously, the outbreak of war in 1914 is a stark reminder that nations cannot rely on economic interdependence and ongoing diplomacy to keep the peace.
In Fragile Rise, Xu Qiyu offers a Chinese perspective on the course of German grand strategy in the decades before World War I. Xu shows how Germany’s diplomatic blunders turned its growing power into a liability instead of an asset. Bismarck’s successors provoked tension and conflict with the other European great powers. Germany’s attempts to build a powerful navy alienated Britain. Fearing an assertive Germany, France and Russia formed an alliance, leaving the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire as Germany’s only major ally.
Xu’s account demonstrates that better strategy and statesmanship could have made a difference—for Germany and Europe. His analysis offers important lessons for the leaders of China and other countries. Fragile Rise reminds us that the emergence of a new great power creates risks that can be managed only by adroit diplomats, including the leaders of the emerging power. In the twenty-first century, another great war may not be inevitable. Heeding the lessons of Fragile Rise could make it even less likely.