Co-authored with Matt Dabrowski

The great British geographer Halford Mackinder invented the term “geopolitics” over 100 years ago. He painted a grand vision of international relations that revolved around one fear: dominance of what he called the “Heartland” of Eurasia. Mackinder believed the road to dominance ran through Eastern Europe. His ideas have remained influential ever since, for as long as the West has concerned itself about the impact of Eurasia on world affairs.

For two decades after the end of the Cold War, the old Warsaw Pact nations rushed to link up with the European Union and NATO. Arguably the chief beneficiary of this push for Europe has been Germany.

Germany became the indispensable actor in Europe, due to its critical role both in the establishment of the eurozone and as the dominant player in the EU’s response to the Global Financial Crisis. Meanwhile, traditional Western players are looking away from Europe. America’s pivot to Asia and the United Kingdom’s upcoming ‘Brexit’ referendum have given Germany something its generals never could: hegemony on the continent.

Yet Germany is a flawed regional hegemon. A few short years ago, then-Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski surprised many by suggesting that he was more fearful of German inaction than German action. Germany’s austerity-based economic model has limited the options of policymakers in tackling the eurozone crisis. What’s the result? German policy creates surpluses in the trade and current accounts and asks its partners to run deficits. Also telling, Finland has supplanted Greece as the European laggard in GDP growth.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be among the most impressive leaders of our generation, but she has not delivered prosperity or safety. Since German leadership has not guaranteed prosperity in the EU, German leadership now finds itself unwelcome in Eastern Europe.

This year, geopolitics is back with a vengeance around the world. But compared to events in the Middle East or East Asia, Eastern Europe’s re-emergence as a geopolitical battleground remains underappreciated. It’s not just about Ukraine. Viktor Orban’s Hungary has traveled an illiberal path for six years. Romania and Moldova have been crippled by civic protest. Upstart populists control a third of the Czech parliament.

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