A net assessment of Europe
by George Friedman
Europe is undergoing two interconnected crises. The first is the crisis of the European Union. The second crisis rests in the strategic structure of Europe.
Last week I began this series with a Net Assessment of the World, in which I focused on the growing destabilization of the Eurasian land mass. This week I continue the series, which will ultimately analyze each region in detail, with an analysis of Europe. I start here, rather than in the Middle East, because while the increasing successes of the Islamic State are significant, the region itself is secondary to Europe in the broader perspective. The Middle East matters, but Europe is as economically productive as the United States and, for the past 500 years, has been the force that has reshaped the world. The Middle East matters a great deal; European crises can destabilize the world. What happens between Greece and Germany, for example, can have consequences in multiple directions. Therefore, since we have to start somewhere, let me start with Europe.
Europe is undergoing two interconnected crises. The first is the crisis of the European Union. The bloc began as a system of economic integration, but it was also intended to be more than that: It was to be an institution that would create Europeans. The national distinctions between European nations is real and has proved destabilizing, since Europe has been filled with nations with diverging interests and historical grudges. The EU project did not intend to abolish these nations; the distinctions and tensions were too deep. Rather it was intended to overlay national identities with a European identity. There would be nations and they would retain ultimate sovereignty, but the citizens of these nations would increasingly come to see themselves as Europeans. That European identity would both create a common culture and diminish the particularity of states. The inducement to all of Europe was prosperity and peace. The European Union would create ongoing prosperity, which would eliminate the danger of conflict. The challenge to Europe in this sense was that prosperity is at best cyclical, and it is regional. Europe is struggling with integration because without general prosperity, the seduction of Europeans away from the parochial allure of nations will fail. Therefore, the crisis of the European Union, focused on the European Peninsula, is one of the destabilizing forces.
I use the term European Peninsula to denote the region that lies to the west of a line drawn from St. Petersburg to Rostov-on-Don, becoming increasingly narrow until it reaches Iberia and the Atlantic Ocean. France, Germany and Italy are on the peninsula, with its river systems of the Danube and Rhine. To the line’s east is Russia. Whereas the peninsula is intimately connected with the oceans and is therefore engaged in global trade, Russia is landlocked. It is very much land constrained, with its distant ports on the Pacific, the Turkish straits its only outlet to the Mediterranean, and its Baltic and Arctic access hampered by ice and weather. On the peninsula, particularly as you move west, no one is more than a few hundred miles from the sea. Russia, reliant upon land transportation, which is more difficult and expensive than maritime trade, tends to be substantially poorer than the peninsula.
The second crisis rests in the strategic structure of Europe and is less tractable than the first. Leaving aside the outlying islands and other peninsulas that make up Europe, the Continent’s primordial issue is the relationship between the largely unified but poorer mainland, dominated by Russia, and the wealthier but much more fragmented peninsula. Between Russia and the peninsula lies a borderland that at times as has been under the control of Russia or a peninsular power or, more often, divided. This borderland is occasionally independent and sovereign, but this is rare. More often, even in sovereignty, it is embedded in the spheres of influence of other countries.
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