As one of the co-initiators of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), Mark Leonard ranks among the top members of the transatlantic think-tank. The Englishman is in high demand as a political advisor and member of important international bodies – for example, Leonard served as Chairman of the Global Agenda Council on Geoeconomics at the World Economic Forum. When asked about the biggest milestones in his career, it is not surprising that he mentions the founding of the European Council on Foreign Relations in 2007 under the patronage of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But that’s not all.
“The second major milestone was my book ‘What does China think?’ published in 2008,” Leonard says. His intention: “I wanted to breathe life into many of the great debates in China that I had observed in the previous decade.” For his book, he traveled to the People’s Republic several times and followed the debates there over several years. “These not only changed China, they also had the potential to affect the world outside, but the West simply wasn’t familiar with them,” Leonard explains.
Curiosity is an important prerequisite
Leonard criticizes this indifference: “Sadly, one result after the end of the Cold War was that many Western think tanks actually believed we were not only at the end of history, but also at the end of geography, and that everyone was more or less on the same intellectual journey toward liberal democracy and free-market economics.” Many European and US institutions had looked out at the world and focused primarily on the extent to which other countries were failing to live up to the ideals they had set for themselves. “So this curiosity that existed during the Cold War was lost to a certain extent,” Leonard says.
But Leonard has never lost this curiosity, which is why he also helped found the European Council on Foreign Relations. “I think curiosity is very important. One reason why we often have problems is that we believe other people think the same way we do.” That was evident most recently, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many people had misjudged the Russian president, Leonard says.
More complicated than the Cold War
Leonard is a geopolitical all-rounder. Over the past six years, he has focused on globalization – always keeping the People’s Republic in mind. “One of the central themes of globalization revolves around the relationship between China and the United States,” Leonard says. He closely examines how this relationship, in his view, “is a structuring element of our world.” The juxtaposition of the People’s Republic and the United States, is extremely complicated – and far more complex than the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. That’s because China and the US are very deeply intertwined, Leonard said. The competition between Beijing and Washington could therefore be much more destabilizing for the world than the Cold War, Leonard analyzes. Constantin Eckner