Back at the start of the decade, Via Meadia predicted that “[t]he end of the Cold War combined with the rise of Asia will introduce the world to a new kind of reality: a post-European world order.” The past year has moved the world a long way down this path. The United States spent the year looking westward across the Pacific, and the State Department had a busy year not working in Europe. Instead, America opened a new base in Australia, announced plans to further integrate military operations with the Philippines and took steps toward mending relations with Myanmar. When pundits talk about the “special relationship” later this century, they may be talking about the U.S.-Australian alliance rather than the close historical association with Great Britain. Likewise, by 2050 the region formerly known as French Indochina might conceivably be more important to the United States than France itself.Europe may be trying to get on the Asian bandwagon too. Der Spiegel fantasized about a post-American world in which China formed an alliance with the European Union based on “green” technologies; given the track record for green dreams becoming reality, we won’t be holding our breath. After all, when Europe came to China looking for bailout, hat in hand, it got nothing more than a disappointing snub.Over the past year, however, the European Union’s own problems had as much to do with Europe’s decline as the rise of Asia. The financial crises in the PIIGS worsened as France and Germany, the pushmi-pullyu leading Europe’s train, took the continent precisely nowhere.
Europe’s sovereign debt crisis was all over the news back in 2010, but 2011 was the year we learned just how deep and intractable the core problems were. The real crisis in Europe was not financial but cultural. Whatever the future holds, Club Med is as likely to join the Fourth Reich as Germany is to get a Club Med Membership Card.European policy makers and opinion leaders spent the last decade discussing the decline of the United States, only to realize with a shock that Europe’s own problems threatened to relegate Europe to the world’s second division. A continent that began the new century discussing the post-American world spent 2011 nervously wondering if the US and China were about to set up a G-2.Europe is not yet a cipher; even with its economic and political problems it remains the world’s largest market and, potentially, a powerful force. Its wealth, its technological skill, its rich cultural heritage and its institutional foundations remain the envy of much of the world. In the Mediterranean, as the Great Loon of Libya discovered too late, Europe still counts for something — when the Americans give their OK. But in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Europe’s economic and political imprint continues to fade.Technically, it’s still possible to see how Europe could turn itself around. If it accepted the need for sweeping economic reforms, split the euro into two currency zones, doubled its defense spending, figured out how to assimilate immigrants, brought Turkey into the EU and started making more babies, the world would soon start talking about Europe’s revival.Sadly, none of this is likely to happen, and our ninth global trend for the decade is likely to be with us for some time to come.