According to certain sources, the US federal administration recently called a meeting of the heads of the country’s biggest companies to explain, in confidence, that when the war in Ukraine is over (and it will be, sooner or later), the time will have come to rebuild the country’s entire infrastructure; and that if we want to win these contracts, it’s urgent to prepare for the major projects that lie ahead. This will involve rebuilding, with American public funding, a large European country with a highly-educated and resilient population and considerable natural resources; a country destined, what’s more, to join the European Union and, one day, NATO.

So, as the officials explained to the industrialists, these would be risk-free markets, except that the member countries of the European Union might take offence at seeing these major markets on their continent slipping away from them, to be trusted by American companies. To avoid this risk, and to gain acceptance, the Federal Administration advised its companies to rush to buy European companies as quickly as possible, if possible in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Romania, Bulgaria, Moldavia, Poland and the Ukraine, which would serve as a front for their own reconstruction activities in the region. This clever, perfectly legal strategy explains why American industrialists and bankers have recently been flocking to these countries in search of public works, engineering, water, energy, digital, telecommunications, heating, electrical and architectural companies to buy up as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, Europeans are procrastinating: they believe that, when the time comes, they won’t be able to escape these markets, since they’ll be rebuilding one of their neighbors, and European funding will be available. In fact, no one in Europe is preparing for it. Nobody in Paris, Berlin or Brussels is preparing the big plan that will be needed. No one, not in Paris, Berlin or Brussels, is urging European companies to form consortia that would be prepared to respond to future calls for tender in a coherent, joint fashion. No one in Paris, Berlin or Brussels seems to be concerned about forging partnerships with SMEs in Central and Eastern Europe and the Ukraine, let alone protecting them from non-European covetousness.

If we allow this to happen, when the time comes, the absolutely necessary enlargement of the European Union to include Ukraine will only accelerate our Union’s economic, financial, technological and normative dependence on the United States. It will then have lost any chance of ever becoming a truly sovereign political entity.

This is just one particularly telling example of a much wider issue, which concerns not only the international strategy of nations, but also their domestic policy, corporate strategy and the behavior of each and every one of us: in any field, in a competitive situation, victory presupposes being able to foresee well in advance what is likely to happen, what the others are going to do, and to take the risk of striking the first blow. In many circumstances, this is even the condition for survival, in the face of partners, competitors or adversaries who would have been able to foresee and act in time.

For many people, it’s better to do nothing, so as not to be accused of having made the wrong decision. They forget that by deciding nothing, they can only make mistakes.

Strength always lies in the ability to anticipate future events and the reaction of others; and in the courage to take the risk of acting beforehand. Of course, you don’t learn all this at school or anywhere else. Except in real life. And, very often, that’s too late.

Image: credits to Yves Herman.