The Crisis of Europe and European Nationalism

By George FriedmanThe Crisis of Europe and European Nationalism is repu­blished with permis­sion of STRATFOR.

When I visited Europe in 2008 and before, the idea that Europe was not going to emerge as one united poli­ti­cal entity was regar­ded as heresy by many leaders. The European enter­prise was seen as a work in progress moving inevi­ta­bly toward unifi­ca­tion — a group of nations commit­ted to a common fate. What was a core vision in 2008 is now gone. What was incon­ceiva­ble — the primacy of the tradi­tio­nal nation-state — is now commonly discus­sed, and steps to devolve Europe in part or in whole (such as ejec­ting Greece from the euro­zone) are being contem­pla­ted. This is not a trivial event.

Before 1492, Europe was a back­wa­ter of small natio­na­li­ties struggling over a rela­tively small piece of cold, rainy land. But one tech­no­lo­gi­cal change made Europe the center of the inter­na­tio­nal system: deep-water navi­ga­tion.

The ability to engage in long-range ship­ping safely allowed busi­nes­ses on the Continent’s various navi­gable rivers to inter­act easily with each other, magni­fy­ing the rivers’ capital-gene­ra­tion capa­city. Deep-water navi­ga­tion also allowed many of the European nations to conquer vast extra-European empires. And the close proxi­mity of those nations combi­ned with ever more wealth allowed for tech­no­lo­gi­cal inno­va­tion and advan­ce­ment at a pace theretofore unheard of anywhere on the planet. As a whole, Europe became very rich, became engaged in very far-flung empire-buil­ding that rede­fi­ned the human condi­tion and became very good at making war. In short order, Europe went from being a cultu­ral and econo­mic back­wa­ter to being the engine of the world.

At home, Europe’s growing econo­mic deve­lop­ment was excee­ded only by the growing fero­city of its conflicts. Abroad, Europe had achie­ved the ability to apply mili­tary force to achieve econo­mic aims — and vice versa. The brutal exploi­ta­tion of wealth from some places (South America in parti­cu­lar) and the thorough subju­ga­tion and imposed trading systems in others (East and South Asia in parti­cu­lar) created the foun­da­tion of the modern order. Such alter­na­ti­ons of tradi­tio­nal systems increa­sed the wealth of Europe drama­ti­cally.

But “engine” does not mean “united,” and Europe’s wealth was not spread evenly. Whichever country was bene­fiting had a decided advan­tage in that it had greater resour­ces to devote to mili­tary power and could incen­ti­vize other coun­tries to ally with it. The result ought to have been that the leading global empire would unite Europe under its flag. It never happened, although it was attemp­ted repeatedly. Europe remai­ned divided and at war with itself at the same time it was domi­na­ting and resha­ping the world.

The reasons for this paradox are complex. For me, the key has always been the English Channel. Domination of Europe requi­res a massive land force. Domination of the world requi­res a navy heavily orien­ted toward mari­time trade. No European power was opti­mi­zed to cross the channel, defeat England and force it into Europe. The Spanish Armada, the French navy at Trafalgar and the Luftwaffe over Britain all failed to create the condi­ti­ons for inva­sion and subju­ga­tion. Whatever happened in conti­nen­tal Europe, the English remai­ned an inde­pen­dent force with a power­ful navy of its own, able to mani­pu­late the balance of power in Europe to keep European powers focused on each other and not on England (most of the time). And after the defeat of Napoleon, the Royal Navy created the most power­ful empire Europe had seen, but it could not, by itself, domi­nate the Continent. (Other European geogra­phic features obviously make unifi­ca­tion of Europe diffi­cult, but all of them have, at one point or another, been over­come. Except for the channel.)

Underlying Tensions

The tensi­ons under­ly­ing Europe were brought to a head by German unifi­ca­tion in 1871 and the need to accom­mo­date Germany in the European system, of which Germany was both an inte­gral and indi­ges­ti­ble part. The result was two cata­stro­phic general wars in Europe that began in 1914 and ended in 1945 with the occupa­tion of Europe by the United States and the Soviet Union and the collapse of the European impe­rial system. Its economy shat­te­red and its public plunged into a crisis of morale and a lack of confi­dence in the elites. Europe had neither the inte­rest in nor appe­tite for empire.

Europe was exhausted not only by war but also by the inter­nal psycho­sis of two of its major compon­ents. Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union might well have extern­ally behaved accord­ing to predic­ta­ble laws of geopo­li­tics. Internally, these two coun­tries went mad, slaugh­te­ring both their own citi­zens and citi­zens of coun­tries they occu­pied for reasons that were barely compre­hen­si­ble, let alone ratio­nally expli­ca­ble. From my point of view, the pres­sure and slaugh­ter inflic­ted by two world wars on both coun­tries created a collec­tive mental break­down.

I realize this is a woefully inade­quate answer. But consi­der Europe after World War II. First, it had gone through about 450 years of global adven­ture and increa­singly murde­rous wars, in the end squan­de­ring ever­y­thing it had won. Internally, Europe watched a country like Germany — in some ways the highest expres­sion of European civi­li­za­tion — plunge to levels of unpre­ce­den­ted barba­rism. Finally, Europe saw the United States move from the edges of history to assume the role of an occu­p­y­ing force. The United States became the envy of the Europeans: stable, wealthy, unified and able to impose its econo­mic, poli­ti­cal and mili­tary will on major powers on a diffe­rent conti­nent. (The Russians were part of Europe and could be explai­ned within the European para­digm. So while the Europeans may have disdai­ned the Russians, the Russians were still viewed as poor cousins, part of the family playing by more or less European rules.) New and unpre­ce­den­ted, the United States towered over Europe, which went from domi­nance to psycho­sis to mili­tary, poli­ti­cal and cultu­ral subju­ga­tion in a twin­kling of history’s eye.

Paradoxically, it was the United States that gave the first shape to Europe’s future, begin­ning with Western Europe. World War II’s outcome brought the United States and Soviet Union to the center of Germany, divi­ding it. A new war was possi­ble, and the reality and risks of the Cold War were obvious. The United States needed a united Western Europe to contain the Soviets. It created NATO to inte­grate Europe and the United States poli­ti­cally and mili­ta­rily. This created the principle of trans­na­tio­nal orga­ni­za­ti­ons inte­gra­ting Europe. The United States also encou­ra­ged econo­mic coope­ra­tion both within Europe and between North America and Europe — in stark contrast to the mercan­ti­list impe­ri­ums of recent history — giving rise to the European Union’s precur­sors. Over the decades of the Cold War, the Europeans commit­ted them­sel­ves to a trans­na­tio­nal project to create a united Europe of some sort in a way not fully defined.

There were two reasons for this thrust for unifi­ca­tion. The first was the Cold War and collec­tive defense. But the deeper reason was a hope for a European resur­rec­tion from the horrors of the 20th century. It was unders­tood that German unifi­ca­tion in 1871 created the conflicts and that the divi­sion of Germany in 1945 re-stabi­li­zed Europe. At the same time, Europe did not want to remain occu­pied or caught in an ongoing near-war situa­tion. The Europeans were sear­ching for a way to over­come their history.

One problem was the status of Germany. The deeper problem was natio­na­lism. Not only had Europe failed to unite under a single flag via conquest but also World War I had shat­te­red the major empires, crea­ting a series of smaller states that had been fighting to be free. The argu­ment was that it was natio­na­lism, and not just German natio­na­lism, that had created the 20th century. Europe’s task was there­fore to over­come natio­na­lism and create a struc­ture in which Europe united and retai­ned unique nations as cultu­ral pheno­mena and not poli­ti­cal or econo­mic enti­ties. At the same time, by embed­ding Germany in this process, the German problem would be solved as well.

A Means of Redemption

The European Union was desi­gned not simply to be a useful econo­mic tool but also to be a means of European redemp­tion. The focus on econo­mics was essen­tial. It did not want to be a mili­tary alli­ance, since such alli­an­ces were the foun­da­tion of Europe’s tragedy. By focu­sing on econo­mic matters while allo­wing mili­tary affairs to be linked to NATO and the United States, and by not crea­ting a meaning­ful joint-European force, the Europeans avoided the part of their history that terri­fied them while pursuing the part that enticed them: econo­mic prospe­rity. The idea was that free trade regu­la­ted by a central bureau­cracy would suppress natio­na­lism and create prospe­rity without aboli­shing natio­nal iden­tity. The common curr­ency — the euro — is the ulti­mate expres­sion of this hope. The Europeans hoped that the exis­tence of some Pan-European struc­ture could grant wealth without surren­de­ring the core of what it means to be French or Dutch or Italian.

Yet even during the post-World War II era of secu­rity and prospe­rity, some Europeans recoiled from the idea of a trans­fer of sover­eignty. The consen­sus that many in the long line of suppor­ters of European unifi­ca­tion belie­ved existed simply didn’t. And today’s euro crisis is the first serious crisis that Europe has faced in the years since, with natio­na­lism begin­ning to re-emerge in full force.

In the end, Germans are Germans and Greeks are Greeks. Germany and Greece are diffe­rent coun­tries in diffe­rent places with diffe­rent value systems and inte­rests. The idea of sacri­fi­cing for each other is a dubious concept. The idea of sacri­fi­cing for the European Union is a meaningless concept. The European Union has no moral claim on Europe beyond promi­sing prospe­rity and offe­ring a path to avoid conflict. These are not insi­gni­fi­cant goals, but when the prospe­rity stops, a large part of the justi­fi­ca­tion evapo­ra­tes and the aver­sion to conflict (at least poli­ti­cal discord) begins to dissolve.

Germany and Greece each have explana­ti­ons for why the other is respon­si­ble for what has happened. For the Germans, it was the irre­spon­si­bi­lity of the Greek government in buying poli­ti­cal power with money it didn’t have to the point of falsi­fy­ing econo­mic data to obtain euro­zone membership. For the Greeks, the problem is the hijacking of Europe by the Germans. Germany controls the eurozone’s mone­tary policy and has built a regu­la­tory system that provi­des unfair privi­le­ges, so the Greeks believe, for Germany’s exports, econo­mic struc­ture and finan­cial system. Each nation belie­ves the other is taking advan­tage of the situa­tion.

Political leaders are seeking accom­mo­da­tion, but their ability to accom­mo­date each other is increa­singly limited by public opinion growing more hostile not only to the parti­cu­lars of the deal but to the principle of accom­mo­da­tion. The most important issue is not that Germany and Greece disagree (although they do, stron­gly) but that their publics are increa­singly viewing each other as natio­nals of a foreign power who are pursuing their own selfish inte­rests. Both sides say they want “more Europe,” but only if “more Europe” means more of what they want from the other.

Managing Sacrifice

Nationalism is the belief that your fate is bound up with your nation and your fellow citi­zens and you have an indif­fe­rence to the fate of others. What the Europeanists tried to do was create insti­tu­ti­ons that made choo­sing between your own and others unne­cessary. But they did this not with martial spirit or European myth, which horri­fied them. They made the argu­ment prudently: You will like Europe because it will be pros­pe­rous, and with all of Europe pros­pe­rous there will be no need to choose between your nation and other nations. Their grea­test claim was that Europe would not require sacri­fice. To a people who lived through the 20th century, the absence of sacri­fice was enor­mously seduc­tive.

But, of course, prospe­rity comes and goes, and as it goes sacri­fice is needed. And sacri­fice — like wealth — is always unevenly distri­bu­ted. That uneven distri­bu­tion is deter­mi­ned not only by neces­sity but also by those who have power and control over insti­tu­ti­ons. From a natio­nal point of view, it is Germany and France that have the power, with the British happy to be out of the main fray. The weak are the rest of Europe, those who surren­de­red core sover­eignty to the Germans and French and now face the burdens of mana­ging sacri­fice.

In the end, Europe will remain an enor­mously pros­pe­rous place. The net worth of Europe — its econo­mic base, its intel­lec­tual capital, its orga­ni­za­tio­nal capa­bi­li­ties — is stun­ning. Those quali­ties do not evapo­rate. But crisis resha­pes how they are managed, opera­ted and distri­bu­ted. This is now in ques­tion. Obviously, the future of the euro is now widely discus­sed. So the future of the free trade zone will come to the fore. Germany is a massive economy by itself, exporting more per year than the gross domestic products of most of the world’s other nation-states. Does Greece or Portugal really want to give Germany a blank check to export what it wants with it, or would they prefer managed trade under their control? Play this forward past the euro crisis and the foun­da­ti­ons of a unified Europe become ques­tion­able.

This is the stuff that banks and poli­ti­ci­ans need to worry about. The deeper worry is natio­na­lism. European natio­na­lism has always had a deeper engine than simply love of one’s own. It is also rooted in resent­ment of others. Europe is not necessa­rily unique in this, but it has expe­ri­en­ced some of the grea­test cata­stro­phes in history because of it. Historically, the Europeans have hated well. We are very early in the process of accu­mu­la­ting grie­van­ces and remem­be­ring how to hate, but we have entered the process. How this is played out, how the poli­ti­ci­ans, finan­ciers and media inter­pret these grie­van­ces, will have great impli­ca­ti­ons for Europe. Out of it may come a broader sense of natio­nal betra­yal, which was just what the European Union was suppo­sed to prevent.

Der wahre Deutsche?

Lesetipp: ein wunder­ba­rer Artikel bei NPD-BLOG.INFO über Fußball und Nazis, mit einem fantas­ti­schen Schluss:

Der wahre Deutsche jubelt also nur bei bestimm­ten Toren der Nationalmannschaft, schwenkt die schwarze Fahne des „Nationalen Widerstands” oder unter­stützt Ghana. In sich alles schlüs­sig, wenn man ein fana­ti­scher, völki­scher Ideologe ist.

Ergänzend verweise ich auf meinen Artikel vom 13. Juni: Der deut­sche WM-Kader. Oder: ist es gefähr­lich, für Deutschland zu jubeln?

Und ein Appell an die progres­sive Linke: schwenkt die schwarz-rot-goldene Flagge und feiert mit. Die mora­lin­saure Empörung über angeb­lich aufkei­men­den Nationalismus und „Party-Patriotismus” macht linke Ideen sicher­lich nicht attrak­ti­ver.

Abschließend lasse ich es mir nicht nehmen, mit einem fröh­li­chen „SCHLAAAAND!!!” zu schlie­ßen.

PS: Die Engländer werfen wir natür­lich im Elfmeterschießen aus dem Turnier, das ist ja wohl klar.

PPS: NPD-BLOG.INFO ist ein Anti-Nazi-Blog.