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Trend #9: The European Crack Up

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.

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  • Kenny

    Let’s imagine something, Mr. Mead.

    Given Europe’s finances and social structure, just imagine if the U.S. military pulled out of Europe.

    That is, imagine what would happen socially in Europe if America stopped subsidizing Europe’s defense.

    It would literally be lights out.

  • ErisGuy

    “Der Spiegel fantasized about a post-American world in which China formed an alliance with the European Union based on ‘green’ technologies; ”

    Gales of riotous laughter. I hope the EU gets exactly what it wants. I hope the German, French, etc. governments commit trillions of Euros to closing down coal, oil, and nuclear in favor of green technologies. They wish for it, they want it, they will it. Let it be!

    I don’t understand. The war in Iraq is over and we’re leaving. How long ago did WW2 end? And the Cold War? And we’re still there. Obama is coward: let him announce we’re leaving NATO.

  • Tom Richards

    ErisGuy: Gary Johnson has a pretty rational policy in this area, and I imagine Paul does too. Anyone else, no so much.

  • J R Yankovic

    Recalls a previous – and excellent – Via Meadia post,

    “While the Fifth Reich often looks down on the humble, unassuming Fourth Reich of the Cold War era, it is worth noting that Konrad Adenauer’s republic was the only German state in modern history to enjoy the friendship and respect of its neighbors. Men like Adenauer and Brandt were more successful than Frederick the Great and Otto von Bismarck and they left Germany far better positioned than earlier rulers had done.”

    Dead-on. Very good assessment of the REAL achievements of Adenauer, as contrasted with the opposite-momentum sort of “gains” posted by Frederick and Bismarck. Some, of course, would argue that in politics respect is infinitely more important than friendship, or even that the two are at inverse proportions. But there is one problem with according TOO MUCH respect to those who already think – or worse, know – that they’re superior to everybody else (e.g., Germany in the course of the 19th century): The need for it can be become insatiable, to the point where the respectED is satisfied with nothing less than the most abject fawning or submission. Maybe modern Germany should be grateful for such post-war friendship as it has managed to secure with neighbors (and which it may already be fast losing)?

    Must admit I also like the term “Fourth Reich” for the Bonn Republic. It suggests that there other, much more influential and rewarding kinds of “empire” than the military or political – or even that of the economic bully.

  • LarryD

    We kept troops in Europe after WWII to keep Europe from starting WWIII, it worked.

    We kept troops in Korea after the shooting died down (the Korean War has never actually ended, both sides just agreed to stop shooting) to keep the North Koreans from starting the shooting match up again. This has also worked.

    This is what is necessary when you don’t crush the enemy, troops have to remain in place to enforce the peace, indefinably. In Europe, we did crush Germany, we were worried that someone else in Europe might start the next war.

    Why us. Because there is no one else who could do the job, after WWII and Korea. And even now, who would you trust? China? Russia? Europe?

    We’re pulling out of the ME. I predict shooting war there again in under ten years.

  • J R Yankovic

    “Why us. Because there is no one else who could do the job, after WWII and Korea. And even now, who would you trust? China? Russia? Europe?”

    Good questions, Larry.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I believe the Europeans are more culturally advanced than the Asians, and after adjusting to the demise of the Blue Model and the Welfare State, will bounce back strongly while the Asians are still learning the lessons of Democracy, Free Enterprise, and the Rule of Law.
    Cultures learn at glacial speeds, and the Asian cultures are still poor and undeveloped.
    Japan is trapped in a deflationary depression, caused by their export model economy, and faces a demographic wall.
    China faces a similar demographic wall.
    Australia has a population of 21 million.
    There are a few small bright points, but the vast majority of Asians are still culturally backward, poor, and undeveloped.
    I believe the Asians will need at least 2 or 3 generations to make up the distance between them and where the Europeans are now, and the Europeans aren’t going to be standing still.

  • Luke Lea

    I wager Europe will re-emerge stronger than ever after the euromess is cleaned up, and that China’s economic miracle will come to grief for lack of the political, legal, and commercial infrastructure necessary to develope a complex, free-enterprise economy at home that serves the interests of all the people. An export led growth strategy is unsustainable and therefore unrealistic in a state of 1.3 billion people:

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