The Next Decade: What the World Will Look Like - George Friedman (2011)
Chapter 9. EUROPE’S RETURN TO HISTORY
Contemporary Europe is a search for an exit from hell. The first half of the twentieth century was a slaughterhouse, from Verdun to Auschwitz. The second half was lived under threat of a possible U.S.-Soviet nuclear war fought out on European soil. Exhausted by blood and turmoil, Europe began to imagine a world in which all conflicts were economic and bureaucrats in Brussels managed them. They even began to talk of “the end of history,” in the sense that all Hegelian conflicts of ideology had been resolved. For the twenty years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it appeared to them that they had found their utopia, but now the future is much less certain. Looking ahead to the next ten years, I do not see a return to trenches and concentration camps, but I do see geopolitical tensions on the continent growing, and with them the roots of more serious conflict.
Two problems make up the European dilemma for the decade ahead. The first is defining the kind of relationship Europe will have with a resurgent Russia. The second is determining the role that Germany, Europe’s most dynamic economy, will play. The paradox of Russia—weak economy and substantial military force—will persist, as will the dynamism of Germany. The remainder of the European states must define their relationship with these two powers as a prerequisite for defining their relationships with one another. The strain of this process will lead to the emergence of a very different sort of Europe in the next decade, and it will present a significant challenge to the United States. To understand what needs to be done in terms of U.S. policy, we first have to consider the history that has brought us to this juncture.
Europe has always been a bloody place. After 1492, when new discoveries fueled the competition for far-flung empires, the continent hosted a struggle for world domination involving Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, and Britain, countries that bordered either the Atlantic Ocean or the North Sea. Austria-Hungary and Russia were left out of the contest for colonial empires, while Germany and Italy remained clusters of feudal principalities, fragmented and impotent.
For the next two centuries Europe consisted of four regions—Atlantic Europe, Scandinavia, southeastern Europe, and Russia—with a buffer zone in the center running from Denmark to Sicily. This buffer was a region fragmented into tiny kingdoms and duchies, unable to defend itself but inadvertently providing Europe with a degree of stability.
Then Napoleon redefined Europe. When he pushed east into Germany and south into Italy, he wrecked the complex balance that had existed in those two inchoate nations. Worse, from his point of view, he energized Prussia, goading it into becoming a major European power. It was the Prussians, more than anyone, who engineered Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. A half century later, after a brief and successful war with France in 1871, Prussia united the rest of Germany into a cohesive state. The unification of Italy was by and large completed at about the same time.
Suddenly there was a new geopolitical reality from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Germany in particular was troublesome, because of its enormous productivity and rapid growth and also because its geography made it profoundly insecure. History had placed Germany on the north of the North European Plain, an area with a few rivers to serve as defenses, but some of the most productive parts of this new nation-state were on the opposite bank of the Rhine, completely unprotected. To the west was France. To the east was Russia. Both had enjoyed the centuries when Germany was fragmented and weak, but now there was a frightening new Germany, economically the most dynamic country in Europe, with a powerful military and with a deep sense of insecurity.
Germany in turn was frightened by its neighbors’ fears. Germany’s leaders knew their nation could not survive if it was attacked simultaneously by France and Russia. They also believed that at some point such an attack would come, because they understood how intimidating they appeared to their neighbors. Germany could not permit France and Russia to start a war at the time or place of their choosing, and thus Germany, driven by its own fear, devised a strategy of preemption coupled with alliances.
Europe in the twentieth century was defined by these fears, which, being imposed by geography, were both rational and unavoidable. To no one’s surprise, that same geography is in place today. The Europeans tried to abolish the consequences of geography by eliminating nationalism, but as we have already begun to see, nationalism is not easily suppressed, and geography must have its due. These issues remain particularly compelling in the case of Germany, which is once again, as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the economic engine of Europe, profoundly insecure and surrounded by nations with potentially divergent interests. The question going forward is whether the geopolitical logic that led to the wars of the past will have the same result or whether, in the years to come, Europe can pass the test of comity it failed so often before.
Both world wars were launched according to a single scenario: Germany, insecure because of its geographical position, swept across France in a lightning attack. The goal in both cases was to defeat France quickly, then deal with Russia. In 1914, the Germans failed to defeat France quickly, the troops dug in, and the conflict became a protracted war. The Germans found themselves fighting France, Britain, and Russia simultaneously in both the east and the west. At the same time that it appeared the Bolshevik revolution would save Germany by taking Russia out of the war, the United States sent troops to Europe, playing its first major role on the world stage and blocking German ambitions.
In 1940 Germany succeeded in overrunning France, only to discover that it still could not defeat the Soviet Union. One reason for that was the second act of America’s dramatic emergence. The United States provided aid to the Soviets that kept them in the war until the Anglo-American invasion of France three years later could help destroy Germany for the second time in a quarter century.
Germany emerged from World War II humiliated by defeat but also morally humiliated by its unprecedented barbarism, having committed atrocities that had nothing to do with the necessities of geopolitics. Germany was divided and occupied by the victors.
Germany was physically devastated, but its actions had resulted in the devastation of something far more important. For five hundred years, Europe had dominated the world. Before the wave of self-destruction that began in August 1914, Europe directly controlled vast areas of Asia and Africa and indirectly dominated much of the rest of the planet. Tiny countries like Belgium and the Netherlands controlled areas as vast as the Congo or today’s Indonesia.
The wars that followed the creation of Germany destroyed these empires. In addition, the slaughter of the two wars, the destruction of generations of workers and extraordinary amounts of capital, left Europe exhausted. Its empires dissolved into fragments to be fought over by the only two countries that emerged from the conflict with the power and interest to compete for what was left, the United States and the Soviet Union. However, both primarily pursued the fragments of empire as a system of alliances and commercial relations rather than formal imperial domination.
Europe went from being the center of a world empire to being the potential battleground for a third world war. At the heart of the Cold War was the fear that the Soviets, having marched into the center of Germany, would seize the rest of the continent. For Western Europe, the danger was obvious. For the United States, the greatest threat was that Soviet manpower and resources would be combined with European industrialism and technology to create a power potentially greater than the U.S. Fearing the threat to its interests, the United States focused on containing the Soviet Union around its periphery, including Europe.
Two issues converged, setting the stage for the events that will be played out over the next ten years. The first was the question of Germany’s role in Europe, which ever since its nineteenth-century unification had been to trigger wars. The second was the shrinking of European power. By the end of the 1960s, not a single European country save the Soviet Union was genuinely global. All the rest had been reduced to regional powers, in a region where their collective power was dwarfed by the power of the Soviet Union and the United States. If Germany had to find a new place in Europe, Europe had to find its new place in the world.
The two World Wars and the dramatic reduction of status that followed had a profound psychological impact on Europe. Germany entered a period of deep self-loathing, and the rest of Europe seemed torn between nostalgia for its lost colonies and relief that the burdens of empire and even genuine sovereignty had been lifted from it. Along with European exhaustion came European weakness, but some of the trappings of great-power status remained, symbolized by permanent seats for Britain and France on the United Nations Security Council. But even the possession of nuclear weapons by some of these nations meant little. Europe was trapped in the force field created by the two superpowers.
The German response to its diminished position was in microcosm the European response: Germany recognized its fundamental problem as being that of an independent actor trapped between potentially hostile powers. The threat from the Soviet Union was fixed. However, if Germany could redefine its relationship with France, and through that with the rest of Europe, it would no longer be caught in the middle. For Germany, the solution was to become integrated with the rest of Europe, and particularly with France.
For Europe as a whole, integration was a foregone conclusion—in one sense imposed by the Soviet threat, in another by pressure from the United States. The American strategy for resisting the Soviets was to organize its European allies to defend themselves if necessary, all the while guaranteeing their security with troops already deployed to the continent. There was also the promise of more troops if war broke out, and ultimately the promise to use nuclear weapons if absolutely necessary. The nuclear weapons, however, would be kept under American control. Conventional forces would be organized into a joint command, within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This organization created a multilateral, unified defense force for Europe that was, in effect, controlled by the United States.
The Americans also had a vested interest in European prosperity. Through the Marshall Plan and other mechanisms, the United States created a favorable environment in which to revive the European economy while also creating the foundations for a European military capability. The more prosperity was generated through association with the United States, the more attractive membership in NATO became. The greater the contrast was between living conditions in the Soviet bloc and in Western Europe, the more likely that contrast was to generate unrest in the east. The United States believed ideologically and practically in free trade, but more than that, it wanted to see greater integration among the European economies, both for its own sake and to bind the potentially fractious alliance together.
The Americans saw a European economic union as a buttress for NATO. The Europeans saw it as a way not only to recover from the war but to find a place for themselves in a world that had reduced them to the status of regional powers at best. Power, if there was any to be regained, was to be found in some sort of federation. This was the only way to create a balance between Europe and the two superpowers. Such a federation would also solve the German problem by integrating Germany with Europe, making the extraordinary German economic machine a part of the European system. One of the key issues for the next ten years is whether the United States will continue to view European integration in the same way.
In 1992 the Maastricht Treaty established the European Union, but the concept was in fact an old European dream. Its antecedents reach back to the early 1950s and the European Steel and Coal Community, a narrowly focused entity whose leaders spoke of it even then as the foundation for a European federation.
It is coincidental but extremely important that while the EU idea originated during the Cold War, it emerged as a response to the Cold War’s end. In the west, the overwhelming presence of NATO and its controls over defense and foreign policy loosened dramatically. In the east, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union found sovereign nations coming out of the shadows. It was at this point that Europe regained the sovereignty it had lost but that it is now struggling to define.
The EU was envisioned to serve two purposes. The first was the integration of western Europe into a limited federation, solving the problem of Germany by binding it together with France, thereby limiting the threat of war. The second was the creation of a vehicle for the reintegration of eastern Europe into the European community. The EU turned from a Cold War institution serving western Europe in the context of east-west tensions into a post–Cold War institution designed to bind together both parts of Europe. In addition, it was seen as a step toward returning Europe to its prior position as global power—if not as individual nations, then as a collective equal to the United States. And it is in this ambition that the EU has run into trouble.
THE CRISIS OF THE EU
In the late eighteenth century, when thirteen newly liberated British colonies formed a North American confederation, it was as a practical solution to economic and political issues. But the United States of America, as that confederation came to be known, was also seen as a moral mission dedicated to higher truths, including the idea “that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” The United States was also rooted in the idea that with the benefits of liberal society came risks and obligations. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” In the United States, with such sentiments at its core, the themes of material comfort and moral purpose went hand in hand.
The United States was also created as a federation of what might be called independent countries, sharing a common language but profoundly different in other ways. When those differences led to secession, most of the remaining states of the United States waged war to preserve the Union. That willingness to sacrifice would have been impossible unless the United States was seen as a moral as well as a practical project.
In the United States, the Civil War established that the federal government was sovereign, and absolutely sovereign in foreign affairs. The federal victory put to rest the claims of the Confederate states that sovereignty rested with each of them individually.
In the European Union, by contrast, the confederate model is still in place, and sovereignty rests with each individual nation-state. Even at the level of its most basic premise, then, the European Union sets severe limits on its claims to authority and its right to command sacrifice. This union is stranger still, in that not all Europe is part of it. Some of its members share a currency; others don’t. There is no unified defense policy, much less a European army. Moreover, each of the constituent nations has its own history, unique identity, and individual relationship to the idea of sacrifice. The military authority to act internationally, an indispensable part of global power, is also retained by the individual states. The EU remains an elective relationship, created for the convenience of its members, and if it becomes inconvenient, nations can leave. There is no bar on withdrawal.
Fundamentally, the EU is an economic union, and economics, unlike defense, is a means for maximizing prosperity. This limitation means that sacrificing safety for a higher purpose is a contradiction in terms, because the European Union has conflated safety and well-being as its moral purpose. There is simply no basis for the kind of inspiring rhetoric that could induce anyone to fight and die to preserve the ideals of the European Union.
As we look toward the decade ahead, the delicate balance of power established to contain Germany is coming apart—not because Germany wants it to, but because circumstances have changed dramatically.
The dissolution started during the financial crisis of 2008. Germany had been one of the leading economic powers since the 1960s, when the western portion successfully emerged from the devastation of World War II. The collapse of communism in 1989 forced the prosperous west to assimilate the impoverished east, an economic liability. While this was painful, over the next decade Germany absorbed its poor remnant and remained the most powerful country in Europe, content with the economic and political arrangements of the EU. Germany was its leading power, yet still one of many. It had no appetite for further dominance, nor any need for it.
When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, Germany suffered, as did others, but its economy was robust enough to roll with the shock. The first wave of devastation was most severe in eastern Europe, the region that had only recently emerged from Soviet domination. The banking system of many of the countries there had been created or acquired by western European countries, particularly banks in Austria, Sweden, and Italy, but also by some German banks. In one country, the Czech Republic, the banking system was 96 percent owned by other European countries. Given that the EU had accepted many of these countries—the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as the Baltic nation-states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia—there seemed to be no reason to be troubled by this. But although these eastern European countries were part of the EU, they still had their own currencies. Those currencies were not only weaker than the euro, they also had higher interest rates.
In an earlier chapter we discussed the problem created by the housing boom and eastern European mortgages denominated in euros, Swiss francs, and even yen. Banks in other EU countries owned many of the eastern European banks. Those banks in western Europe used euros and were under the financial oversight of the European Central Bank and the EU banking system. The eastern European countries were in the strange position of not owning their domestic banking systems. Rather than simply being supervised by their own governments, their banks were under foreign and EU supervision. A nation that doesn’t control its own financial system has gone a long way to losing its sovereignty. And this points to the future problem of the EU. The stronger members, like Germany, retained and enhanced their sovereignty during the financial crisis, while the weaker nations saw sovereignty decline. This imbalance will have to be addressed in the decade to come.
Given that the European Union was a single economic entity, and given the fact that the eastern European countries had few resources and limited control over their own banks, the expectation was that the European Union’s healthier countries would bail out the eastern banks. This was the expectation not only in the east, but also of the European countries who invested there. Germany had the strongest economy and banking system, so it was expected to take the lead.
But Germany balked. It did not want to underwrite the rescue of eastern Europe. There was far too much money involved, and Germany simply didn’t want to shoulder the burden. Instead, the Germans encouraged the eastern Europeans to go to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. This would reduce the German and European burden, diluting their responsibility with contributions from the Americans and other benefactors of the IMF.
This fallout from the 2008 crisis underscored just how far Europe was from being a single country. It also called attention to the fact that Germany was the prime decision-maker in Europe. If Germany had wanted a bailout, Europe would have had one.
But the financial ripples didn’t end there. As recession hit Europe, tax receipts fell and borrowing for social services rose. Some countries were caught in a tremendous squeeze, their troubles compounded by domestic political pressure. For those who used the euro, some of the basic tools for managing a problem like this didn’t exist. For example, a declining currency makes imports more expensive and exports cheaper and more competitive. That hurts on the consumption side but helps create jobs and increases tax revenue. Adjusting the value of your currency is a core mechanism for managing recession, but countries such as Greece didn’t control their own currency; they didn’t even have their own currency. Their asymmetry of power turned the EU into a battleground. Germany didn’t want the responsibility for bailing out weaker countries, but the weaker countries didn’t have full control over their economies so they couldn’t take control of their own destiny. The question going forward is whether the EU, especially in light of European history, can withstand this centrifugal force. The answer lies in part in whatever the Germans choose to do.
The euro serves a series of countries in different stages of development and in different parts of their business cycle, and the currency that helps one country doesn’t necessarily help another. Obviously, the European Central Bank is more worried about the condition of the German economy than about that of a smaller country, and that affects valuation decisions.
From its founding in 1993 until 2008, the EU enjoyed a period of unprecedented prosperity, and for a while that prosperity submerged all of the issues that had never been fully resolved. The measure of a political entity is how it handles adversity, and with the crisis of 2008, all the unresolved issues emerged, and with them the nationalism that the federation was intended to bury. At times this nationalism became quite powerful politically. The majority of Germans opposed help for Greece. A majority of Greeks preferred bankruptcy to submitting to EU terms, which they saw as German terms. The situation calmed down after the financial crisis eased, but in 2010 we got a glimpse of the forces churning and bubbling beneath the European calm.
The European Union will not disappear, certainly not within the next ten years. It was founded as a free trade zone and will remain one. But it will not evolve into a multinational state that can be a major player on the world stage. There is not enough common interest among the nations to share military power, and without military power Europe does not have what I have called “deep power.” The Europeans struggled between national sovereignty and a European solution to the economic crisis. The challenge that finances posed for European unity blocks military integration even more intensely. Ultimately, there is a European bureaucracy but no European state.
On the other hand, it is not clear at all that many of the economic controls the EU has now will survive the decade. As the smaller countries discovered, those controls put them at a severe disadvantage. They are managed by a system that is in the control of larger countries. For citizens of the larger countries, working to build political coalitions to help other countries that run into trouble is a tough sell. Devaluing the currency is a much simpler way of making cheaper exports and more expensive imports and thus improving the economy. But once again, Greece, for example, didn’t have this option, because it didn’t have its own currency.
In the years immediately ahead, serious economic constraints will no doubt persist. The hardship will not be unprecedented or unmanageable, but it will remain a factor, posing different problems for different nations. Certainly economic stress will drive wedges among these nations and raise serious questions of the benefits of a single currency. I have no doubt that the EU will survive, but I would be very surprised if some members of the eurozone didn’t drop out, with others placing caveats on the degree to which they will cede control to the Brussels bureaucracy.
We have already seen the high-water mark of European integration. As the tide goes out over the ten years to come, what will be exposed above all else is the power of Germany.
THE REEMERGENCE OF GERMANY
Germany was born out of a war with France, and it was crushed twice after invading France. Its postwar resolution was to align itself closely with France economically and become the new axis of Europe. But while the German military impulse seems to have been set aside, the problem of the power dynamic persists. If France and Germany stand together, they remain the European center of gravity. If Germany and France collide, that collision rips apart the fabric of Europe, leaving the federated nations to divide and realign in some new configuration.
I’m leaving Britain out of this equation for historical, geographical, and economic reasons. The English Channel has always allowed Britain to step back and engage Europe selectively. But beyond this geographical reality, from the Spanish Armada to the German Blitz, Britain has viewed continental powers as a threat to its survival and has chosen to stand apart. Part of its drive for empire was the desire to avoid being entirely dependent on Europe. Britain normally didn’t build a wall against Europe (although it did in extreme cases), but it limited its involvement. Geography made this possible.
While Europe as a whole remains Britain’s largest trading partner, its largest export target among nations is the United States. When Britain is drawn deeply into Europe, the cause is more often war than economics. British strategy has always been to block a unified Europe as a threat to its national security, not least because the idea of a Europe militarily dominated by France and Germany is intolerable. For Britain to be the junior partner in such an alignment is neither prudent nor necessary.
For all these reasons, British grand strategy is incompatible with an open-ended commitment to Europe. Rather, the British strategy has been to align militarily with the United States. Britain never had the weight to block the Soviets by itself, nor to manage events in Europe. Its alignment with the United States allows it to influence the major imperial power at relatively low cost. Over the next decade, Britain will continue to hedge its bets on all sides, while tilting, as the French and Germans say, to the Anglo-Saxon bloc and culture.
The Franco-German alignment has its own problems. There are two areas of tension today between France and Germany, and the first one is economic. Germany is much more disciplined fiscally than France, which means that the two countries are rarely in sync when it comes to financial cooperation. The second tension revolves around defense policy. The French, and particular the Gaullists, have always seen a united Europe as a counter to the United States, and this would require European defense integration, which inevitably would mean a force under Franco-German control.
The Germans of course value what integration with France and Europe brings, but they have no desire to take on either France’s economic problems or the creation of a European military force set against the Americans. They simply don’t want the potential burdens of the former or the risks of the latter.
Another problem facing the Germans is that once again, owing largely to the financial crisis and the U.S. war in Iraq, their relations with the United States have declined. Germany is an exporting country, and the United States is a major non-European customer. The Obama administration created a stimulus package to get the American economy out of recession, but the Germans took no such measures. Instead they relied on the American stimulus to generate demand for German products. This meant that the United States went into debt to jump-start its economy while (at least from the American point of view) the Germans got a free ride. The Germans also wanted the Americans to participate in the bailout of European countries through the IMF. But beyond these substantial economic disagreements between the two countries, there was a real geopolitical split. The Americans, as we’ve seen, have significant issues with the Russians, but Germans wanted nothing to do with U.S. efforts to contain them. Beyond their aversion to encouraging another Cold War, the Germans, as we’ve already seen, depend on Russia for a large part of their energy needs. In fact, they need Russian energy more than the Russians need German money.
U.S. relations with both Russia and Germany will vary over the next ten years, but we can anticipate a fundamental shift. Whatever the atmospherics, Russia’s growing presence to the east of the European peninsula threatens American interests. Similarly, the more the United States sees its global interests dragging it into wars in places like Afghanistan, the more Germany is going to want to distance itself from its Cold War ally. The greater the U.S. level of concern about Russia, the greater the distance between the Germans and the United States. The sixty-five-year relationship that began at the end of World War II will not survive the decade ahead unchanged.
Germany can afford to distance itself from America, in part because its traditional problem of being squeezed from both sides is gone and it has a close and friendly relationship with France. Germany no longer borders Russia but now has Poland as a buffer. Germany needs natural gas, which the Russians have in abundance, and the Russians need technology and expertise, both of which Germany has to spare.
In addition, significant population decline will soon affect Germany’s industrial plant, as a labor shortage, combined with an aging population, creates a formula for economic disaster. Even with its own decline, Russia will still have a surplus of labor that Germany can utilize, both by importing Russian workers and by moving production to Russia. The only way to counteract population decline is by encouraging immigration, but immigration and national identity in Europe are at odds.
If Germany doesn’t want to bring workers to its factories, it can move its factories to where the workers are. Russia is also undergoing a decline in population, but because it has such a weak economy focused on primary commodities, it still has a surplus workforce, meaning people who are unemployed or underemployed. If the Russians want to move beyond simply exporting energy and grain and develop a modern industrial economy, they need technology and capital, and the Germans have both of those. The Germans want workers to man their factories and natural resources to fuel their economy. German businesses of all sizes are already deeply involved in Russia, adding to the new reality of a Moscow-Berlin relationship that soon will be the pivot of Europe, more dynamic if not more significant than the other relationships each country has.
With France at Germany’s back—tied there by economic interests—Russia will move closer to the European core, setting off a new dynamic in the EU. Tension between the core and the periphery is already rife. The core is Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium, the advanced industrial heartland of Europe. The periphery is Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and eastern Europe. Still in the early stages of economic development, these smaller countries need looser monetary policies than their more advanced neighbors and will have wider economic swings, so they will be more vulnerable to instability.
Meanwhile, France has hedged its bets, positioning itself as both a northern European power and a Mediterranean power, even to the point of considering the formation of a Mediterranean Union alongside the EU. In French thinking, this would include southern European countries, North African countries, Israel, and Turkey. This is an attractive idea in the abstract, but in reality the difference in developmental stages between Libya and Italy is so profound that it dwarfs the difference between Germany and Greece. Still, we can expect the French to dabble in the Mediterranean, trying to compensate for being Germany’s junior partner in the north.
Germany is uncomfortable in the role that was pressed on it during the 2008–2010 crises. As the Germans reconsider their interest in the EU periphery, the peripheral countries raise questions about the economic benefit of integrating with the Germans. They resent losing control over vast areas of their economies, such as the banking sector, especially when they are expected to stand on their own if a crisis occurs. That those on the periphery are expected to sustain their economies with a monetary policy designed for the core adds to the pressure on both sides.
The old periphery, from Greece to Ireland, is firmly focused on economics. The new periphery, the Intermarium—and Poland in particular—is deeply concerned about Russia. And as we have seen, Poland is especially uneasy over being a neutral buffer between Germany and Russia, a role that historically has never ended well for it.
Also uncomfortable with this alignment is Britain. The UK could live with a Paris-Berlin axis as long as it was countered by the United States, with Britain as the balance point midway. But including Moscow puts too much weight on the European mainland, posing a challenge to British commercial and strategic interests.
As the next decade unfolds, Germany will resume its place on the North European Plain, but allied this time with its historic enemies, France and Russia. Britain will move even closer to the United States. Countries on the old periphery will be left to sort their way through the complexities, but it will be the new periphery—eastern Europe—that will be the focus of activity. The European Union will continue to function, as will the euro, but it will be difficult for the EU to be the organizing principle of Europe when there are so many centrifugal forces.
THE AMERICAN STRATEGY
A fairly extraordinary policy lapse since the collapse of communism is that the United States has never developed a strategy toward Europe. This will soon change. During the 1990s, the United States simply assumed a commonality of interests with the Europeans, but that assumption was never tested during the benign conditions of that decade. The emergence of the EU was never seen as a challenge to the United States, but simply as a natural evolution that posed no problem. Whereas the United States once proceeded out of habit, the decade ahead will require focused rethinking and planning.
When the American response to September 11 opened up the first significant breach with the Franco-German bloc, it also revealed a serious split in Europe. The United States wanted far more direct military help in Afghanistan than it got, and it wanted at least political cover for the war in Iraq. On the votes taken by NATO—such as guaranteeing support for Turkey if it supported the U.S. in Iraq—the overwhelming majority of countries sided implicitly with the United States, but only four countries voted against that support: Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxemburg. It should be noted that any NATO action requires unanimity. Nonetheless, many of the nations that supported the resolution sent at least token forces to Iraq, while Britain made major contributions.
The geography of this support is extremely important. The European heartland, with the exception of the Netherlands, opposed the United States. Most of the periphery—the Intermarium countries in particular—supported the United States, at least initially. Many of the countries that fell in with the United States did so not because they genuinely endorsed the American action but because of uneasiness with the Franco-German bloc. They did not want to be merely subordinate members of Europe, and they saw the United States as an important counterweight to the French and Germans. There was a particularly interesting confrontation between French president Jacques Chirac and the representatives of the Intermarium countries, who had signed a letter rejecting the Franco-German stand and supporting the United States. When that letter appeared, Chirac scolded them for being, in his terms, “badly brought up.” At that point, the breach between these countries and France—and Germany, for that matter—could not have been deeper. The split in Europe over the Iraq war will, I think, become a rough framework for strategic disagreements in Europe, and will redefine U.S. alliances there in the decade ahead.
Tension between the United States and France has varied, but even after Barack Obama took office, the Germans were resolute on the subject of confrontation with Islam. They did not like Obama’s management of the conflict any more than they liked Bush’s, and they did not want to be drawn into it. As should be obvious by now, the United States and the Franco-German bloc simply have different interests.
It is difficult to imagine the Americans convincing the Germans to return to their prior relationship with the United States, or Germany convincing the United States to be indifferent to the rise of Russia. In the next ten years, an ideal solution from the American point of view would be to split the Franco-German bloc, and in fact the president should work to open as wide a breach as possible between the two countries. Still, this can’t be the foundation of his strategy. The United States has little to offer France, while its relationship with Germany provides that country both security and economic advantages.
The United States must focus on limiting the power of the center while simultaneously doing all it can to thwart a Russo-German entente. In other words, it must apply the principle of balance of power to Europe, much as Britain did. Ironically, the first phase of this U.S. strategy must be to retain its current relationship with Britain. The two countries share economic interests, and both are maritime nations dependent on the Atlantic. The geographical position that benefited Britain can now be used by the United States with continuing benefits for Britain. In return, Britain provides the United States with an ally inside the European Union, as well as a platform for influencing other countries on the Atlantic periphery, from Scandinavia to Iberia, where Britain has close trading and political ties. These would include Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. In the decade to come, American and British national strategies will coincide to a great extent.
This U.S. balancing act in Europe also requires that the United States cultivate its relationship with Turkey. As we discussed in the chapter on the Middle East, a strong alliance with Turkey gives the United States influence in the Black Sea and counters any Mediterranean strategy that France might wish to develop. One of the things that will aid this alliance will be European immigration policy. Europeans’ fear of Turkish immigration will cause them to block Turkey’s entrance into the EU. Turkey is certainly going to become stronger over the next decade, but it is not ready to operate on its own. The region around it is too unstable, and threats from Russia in the Caucasus will force it to maintain a strong relationship with the United States. This will not be entirely to the Turks’ liking, but they have little choice.
Whatever the United States does on the periphery of Europe, the question of Germany remains paramount and will dominate the foreign policy of many nations in the coming years. The United States must avoid the appearance of being hostile to Germany or indifferent to Europe. It must not abandon NATO, regardless of its ineffectiveness, but must treat all multilateral institutions with respect and all European countries as if they are significant powers. In other words, the United States must create a sense of normality in Europe, lest it stampede the periphery into the Franco-German camp. If the United States drives the relationship to a crisis too soon, it will only strengthen Germany’s hand in the region. The inherent tension between Germany (or France and Germany) and the other European countries will mature on its own. There is no need for the United States to rush things along, because it is Germany that is under pressure, not the Americans.
At the same time, the United States must, in this relatively friendly context, take the necessary steps to deal with the possibility of a Russo-German entente. To do this, the president must begin moving toward bilateral relations with some key European countries, and he must do so outside the usual framework of multilateral relations. The model to use is Britain, a part of NATO and the EU, yet with a robust relationship with the United States on its own. Over the next few years the United States must emphasize bilateral relations with countries on the periphery of Europe, bypassing NATO while paying lip service to it.
The choice of relationships can be somewhat random, serving as they do mostly to reinforce the image of the United States as benign and content with whatever Germany does. But some countries are genuinely important to American interests. Denmark controls access to the Atlantic for the Russians while providing access to the Baltic for the United States. Italy is a country that has both a substantial economy and a strategic position in the Mediterranean. Norway, always closer to Britain than to the rest of Europe, can provide strategic advantages for the United States, from military bases to the prospect of partnerships in the Norwegian oil industry. And of course a relationship with Turkey provides the United States with options in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Iran, and the Arab world. But the United States should not focus on these valuable countries by themselves. It should reach out to a range of countries, some of which might be much more a burden than an advantage. The Germans and French both look down on the United States as unsophisticated. The United States should take advantage of this in the next decade by making purposeful moves along with some that seem arbitrary. Everything must be done to lead the Germans and perhaps the French to a sense that the United States is unfocused in its actions.
These relationships are not ends in themselves—they are a cover for the crucial prize of Poland and the Intermarium (Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania), which provide the geography for containing Russia. And here the American strategy once again needs to be consciously deceptive. It must lull Europe into a sense that the United States is simply drawing closer to those countries that want to be drawn closer, and that among these countries are Poland, the rest of the Intermarium, and the Baltics. Any indication that the United States is directly seeking to block Germany or to create a crisis with Russia will generate a counterreaction in Europe that might drive the periphery back into the arms of the center. Europe as a whole does not want to be drawn into a confrontation. At the same time, the desire to have an alternative to a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis will be strong, and if the cost is low, the periphery will be attracted to the United States—or Britain—as that alternative. At all costs, the United States must prevent the geographical amalgamation of Russia and the European peninsula, because that would create a power the United States would be hard-pressed to contain.
Credibility will be the key point, particularly for Poland. The United States must make a twofold argument to overcome Poland’s historical scars. First, it must argue that the Poles deluded themselves in believing that the French and British could defend them against the Germans in 1939, which was geographically impossible. Second, the United States must offer the unpleasant reminder that the Poles did not resist long enough for anyone to come to their assistance—they collapsed in the first week of a German conquest that took only six weeks to complete. Poland, and the rest of the EU countries, cannot be helped if they can’t help themselves.
This is the challenge for the American president as we enter the next decade. He must move with misdirection in order not to create concern in Moscow or Berlin that might make those governments increase the intensity of their relationship before the United States can create a structure to limit it. At the same time, the United States must reassure Poland and other countries of the seriousness of its commitment to their interests. These things can be done, but success will require the studied lack of sophistication of a Ronald Reagan and the casual dishonesty of an FDR. The president must appear to be not very bright yet be able to lie convincingly. The target of this charade will not be future allies but potential enemies. The United States needs to buy time.
The ideal American strategy will be to supply aid to support the development of indigenous military power that can deter attackers, or that can at least hold out long enough for help to arrive. U.S. aid can also create an environment of economic growth, both by building the economy and by providing access to American markets. During the Cold War, this is how the United States induced West Germany, Japan, and South Korea, among others, to take the risk of resisting the Communists.
Whatever argument the United States makes to Poland in the next few years, the Poles’ willingness and ability to serve American purposes will depend on three things. The first is U.S. economic and technical support to build a native Polish military force. The second is the transfer of military technology to build up domestic industry, both in support of national defense and for civilian use. The third is to supply sufficient American forces in Poland to convince the Poles that the American stake in their country is entirely credible.
This relationship must focus on Poland but be extended to the other Intermarium countries, particularly Hungary and Romania. Both of these are critical to holding the Carpathian line, and both can respond effectively to the kinds of incentives the United States is making available to them. The Baltics represent a separate case. They are indefensible, but if war can be avoided, the Baltics make an attractive bone to place in the Russians’ throat.
In all of this maneuvering, the point is first to avoid a war and second to limit a relationship between Russia and Germany that could, in succeeding decades, create a power that could challenge American hegemony. The present intentions of the Russians and Germans would be much more modest than that, but the American president must focus not on what others think now but what they will think later, when circumstances change.