Over at the always interesting Small Wars Journal, Tony Corn has a stimulating piece on the implications of the European crisis for world politics. He sees a clueless German policy establishment recklessly moving toward an unsustainable quest for power reminiscent in too many ways of problems Germany has had in its past.
Germany, warns Corn, is planning to use its financial domination of Europe to remake the EU into an extension of German power — more or less the way that Prussia used the Zollverein to bring northern Germany under its control and then dominated the Bismarckian Reich through a rigged constitutional system. Once that is in place, he writes, the Germans will continue their policy of deepening relations with Russia at the expense of NATO and transatlantic ties, and end Europe’s embargo on arms sales to China.
As an analyst, Corn sometimes goes to what we more placid types at VM consider overexcited conclusions about Eurasian power realignments. Safely ensconced among the storied oaks and elms, gazebos, pergolas, ha-has, follies and deer parks surrounding the stately Mead manor in glamorous Queens, we tend to take a wait-and-see attitude toward organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which Russia and China have sometimes posited as a kind of embryonic counter-NATO. Corn, in our perhaps excessively complacent view, can be too quick to take vague Eurasian fantasies and aspirations about diplomatic revolutions as accomplished facts; it is easier to dream about firm Russian and Chinese anti-US cooperation than for those two countries to make it work. But that said, there is no doubt that Corn’s industry, historical grounding and sensitive, even over-sensitive nerve endings give him the ability to produce original and striking ideas.
It would be truly foolish to ignore the reality that in many world capitals there are intelligent people who are not in love with the American world system that now exists, and who spend a great deal of time and energy thinking about how to cripple it. Russia’s shrewd decision to invade Georgia in 2008 is an example of how, taking advantage of American preoccupation and Georgian overreach, a swift and limited Russian move was able to shift the regional power balance in its favor and catch the US off-guard.
Corn’s sensitivity to the possibility that actions Americans do not anticipate based on the very different priorities of policy makers in other parts of the world could radically reshape the global picture animates his article on Germany. He begins provocatively:
“If Clausewitz is right that “war is the continuation of policy by other means”, then Germany is again at war with Europe, at least in the sense that German policy is trying to achieve in Europe the characteristic objectives of war: the redrawing of international boundaries and the subjugation of foreign peoples….
A constitutionalization of the EU treaties, which would irreversibly institutionalize the current “correlation of forces,” and allow German hegemony in the 27-member European Union to approximate Prussian hegemony in the 27-member Bismarckian Reich.
This is much more exciting than the usual bland pap about European politics one reads in the US, and Corn’s analysis is deeply grounded in what serious people are thinking and writing in Paris, London and Berlin.
Corn goes on to analyze what this German Europe would mean for Russia and NATO:
In a not-too-subtle way, German pundits are today hinting that Germany would be better disposed economically toward Europe if Europe, in turn, was better disposed politically toward Germany’s Russia policy – more specifically toward the Meseberg process initiated (without prior consultation with the EU or NATO) by Angela Merkel in May 2010. The problem is, once you read the fine print, you discover that the Meseberg Memorandum calls for an EU-Russia Committee which would have greater powers than the NATO-Russia Council, would give Russia access to the EU decision-making process and, ultimately, would make NATO altogether irrelevant.
And on China?
Or take EU-China relations. Since Germany is responsible for 47 percent of EU exports to China, German pundits are now arguing, the rest of Europe should give Germany the lead in the formulation of the EU’s China policy. The problem is, for all the rhetoric about Berlin having long forsaken military power and become a “civilian power” (Zivilmacht), Germany in the past decade has overtaken Britain and France as Europe’s main arms exporter. Since the Berlin Republic now defines itself almost exclusively as a “geo-economic power,” there is no doubt that the first priority of a German-dominated EU China policy would be to lift the arms embargo in place since 1989. American taxpayers would thus continue to provide for the defense of the “civilianized” Germans (who spend only 1.3 percent of their GDP on defense) while Germany would be making money selling advanced military technology to America’s peer competitor.
So: is Germany planning to take over Europe, stab the US in the back and enter an entente with China and Russia?
Via Meadia thinks not, or at least not yet, though we don’t rule out some thoughts by some serious people in this general direction. Certainly former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder occasionally seems to have let his mind drift towards vague and ambitious eastern visions even before Gazprom bought him.
In any case it is clear that too many American policy makers and opinion makers live in a bubble of conventional wisdom, comfortable assumptions and complacent ignorance. Articles like this one are a useful corrective to that complacency, and even readers who end up thinking Corn goes a little over the top will appreciate the guided tour of European strategic analysis he provides.
The article also serves as a timely reminder that even in the Age of Asia, Europe still counts. The euro crisis is a foreign policy crisis and not just a financial headache. The future of the European Union matters deeply to the United States, and the level of US discussion about the implications of this crisis for the future evolution of the European project is depressingly low.