Friday, September 30, 2011

Could There Be a European War?

There are lots of things that the supporters of the Euro, and the Common Market, and the broader project of which both are a part, hope to get from increased European unification. But the one big thing is future peace. The first half of the 20th century featured two horrific wars, originating in and largely fought in Europe, largely between European states. Behind all the talk about the convenience of a common currency or the advantages of free trade within the EU is that memory, and a burning desire that it not happen again.

Which raises two interesting questions, to neither of which I can offer a confident answer:

1. If the EU dissolves, with countries going back to separate currencies and separate trade policies, is there any significant risk of a third major European war within, say, the next fifty years? My gut reaction is that there is not, but I do not have any real support for it.

2. If the EU is maintained and European integration increased, perhaps along the lines that the supporters of the Euro have been urging as necessary to save Greece, Italy, Ireland, and Spain, is there any significant risk of a third major European war within, say, the next fifty years? 

Before dismissing the possibility out of hand, it is worth considering what came out of the "integration" of the American states. I am not sure how much of a stretch it is to imagine a future where some of the countries, such as Germany, feel that they are being outvoted and exploited by others, such as Greece and Italy, through the institutions of a United States of Europe, with the tension eventually exploding into civil war. Each side would, of course, start out confident that once it was clear they were willing to fight the other would back down.

(Might make an interesting sf plot.)

Which suggests a third question: Does European integration make a major European war less likely, or more?

Comments welcome.


At 11:32 AM, September 30, 2011, Anonymous TJIC said...

I tend to believe that the concept of noise shaping is a useful analytical tool.

Systems that are open to continuous small deformations change in lots of small steps.

Systems that are more rigidly coupled can take large amounts of strain before they explosively react.

Thus, I think the EU is certainly tamping down lots of small disagreements...but at the risk of creating a much bigger one (see also: the Cold War vs. the post Cold War era).

At 11:36 AM, September 30, 2011, Blogger J Storrs Hall said...

It's probably worth pointing out that 100 years ago, the ruling class in Europe believed that they had made wars obsolete by an interlocking system of mutual-defense treaties. To our eyes they missed a key issue: tying the defense of each country to the larger collective probably prevented some smaller wars, but when push came to shove, it guaranteed that it would be a huge, all-inclusive war.
It seems to me that the financial situation in EU has been built with the same fallacy at its heart.
I don't expect physical war, but I wouldn't be surprised at some pretty "interesting times" economically.
I could imagine the belief that they have been the hard workers robbed to support the indolent could erase the collective guilt that Germany still to some extent feels today -- leading to a much more dynamic next generation there.

At 11:44 AM, September 30, 2011, Blogger Matt said...

I'd bet that unification makes an actual war more likely. The EU to date has basically been an attempt by the Germans to achieve their WW2 aims by nonviolent means. They've managed to figure out that ruling Europe, even if you can do it without firing a shot, is more hassle and more expense than it's worth. I very much doubt that a Europe in which national sovereignty were restored would find anyone else who really wanted to take on that job...which would be a prerequisite for a major war in Europe without the EU.

Whereas in Europe _with_ the EU, they're increasingly facing a situation in which there's a binary choice between "ignore all disagreements" and "TOTAL WAR!!!!". That sort of situation can look remarkably stable...until suddenly it all explodes at once, and millions of people die.

At 12:10 PM, September 30, 2011, Anonymous Kit said...

It is not too far fetched to see a French and German stabilizing force being deployed and puppet government being installed in Greece.

At 12:18 PM, September 30, 2011, Blogger Sigis said...

EU integration is a stabilizing force. Destabilizing force is Russia, and it plays EU countries against each other using natural gas card. Germany will do anything Russia asks for the sake of cheap gas and it leaves Central/Eastern Europe vulnerable.

At 1:05 PM, September 30, 2011, Blogger Dr William J McKibbin said...

Should the southern flank of Europe collapse into default, then Europe will be confronted with open-border challenges caused by economic refugees migrating north -- militarization of the borders would likely follow -- herein lies the "scary" problem for Europe -- watch and yoiu will see Northern Europe seeking to contain the economic default to the southern flank of Europe for self-protection...

At 1:51 PM, September 30, 2011, OpenID albert25 said...

What Sigis said. I see EU is a stabilizing force and Russia as a destabilizing force.

The symbiotic relationship that a single currency, visa permits, trade flows creates makes war less likely, despite unfairness sentiments among constituents.

Also, Old people are less war-prone and Europe will age fast. I see a war in Asia MUCH more likely.

At 2:48 PM, September 30, 2011, Blogger burson said...

Sigis - thats even russia knows that they cannot play the gas card for much longer.and how is russia a destabilizing force?they even want a free trade zone with the EU and proposed a joint venture for the radars for the amies...without luck.the most destabilizing force on the planet is the US of A.not only via the fed, but NATO and WTO as well.
albert25 - symbiotic relationship?really?have you been following the news lately?i suppose you are not european.also, i think only idiots are doesnt have anything to do with age.

At 8:18 PM, September 30, 2011, Blogger Sigis said...

Burson, just 3 years ago Russia invaded, occupied, and de facto annexed parts of Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhasia).

Russia also has territorial claims to Crimea, has occupational army in part of Moldova (Transnistria), it occupied and annexed Chechnya after a genocidal war.

It's quite a bunch of European countries suffering from recent direct Russian military aggression.

Add to this Russian political, trade, propaganda, and bribery wars against the European neighbors to get full picture.

At 10:39 PM, September 30, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the EU collapses, I doubt there will be an EU wide war. I think civil war in any of the PIIGS is a possibility considering how bad conditions could get.

If the EU stays together, tensions will surely mount. However, I wouldn't expect an EU war so much as a war against an external foe. External enemies are an old tactic used by politicians to unite a divided population. I am sure it will occur to those leading the EU. It would also provide the necessary excuse for further political integration so apparently sought after by many politicians against the peoples will.

The only apparent difficulty is finding a scary enough opponent to unite the populace that doesn't also happen to have a large stockpile of nukes. Let's hope the politicians can't think of any means of accomplishing this.

At 12:25 AM, October 01, 2011, Anonymous Pf said...

In my more optimistic moments I think the EU welfare generations are too comfortable and lazy to fight for anything (possibly with the exception of the occasional looting), not to mention fighting a war.

At 1:40 AM, October 01, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a funny situation. Without anyone intending it, Germany has gained a commanding position over Europe. The Euro, which is effectively a German currency, has turned the periphery into beggar states, dependent on Germany. But this accidental imperialism isn't supported by any bloodthirsty ideology. The only reason to stop countries from leaving the Euro is profit, and profit isn't reason enough to go to war.

At 3:05 AM, October 01, 2011, Blogger Doc Merlin said...

As others have pointed out, Europe has had recent wars. There have been at-least three that I can think of off the top of my head in the last 20 years. I think you mean to say, can the EU-13 have a war.

I'm not sure of the answer, but I suspect the answer is no. They simply don't have enough young people.

At 7:43 AM, October 01, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There might be a currency war brewing already in Europe: "The Germans announce they are re-introducing the Deutschmark. They have already ordered the new currency and asked that the printers hurry up."

At 11:22 AM, October 01, 2011, Blogger burson said...

Sigis - ooh common. this will be longer so sorry, but give me a break. i am very much antiwar and by no means am i going to defend Russian foreign policy. you are right to a certain extent but you are exaggerating. I believe that there are far greater threats to europe than Russia. like rising numbers of nationalists. The Hungarians for instance, have repeatedly made claims on Slovakian territories. In grade school they have maps with the Hungarian empire. Also interesting, Belgium or pays Basque.
Russia invaded, occupied, and de facto annexed parts of Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhasia)
And, ooh what is your opinion on Kosovo, if you proclaim Ossetia Georgian territory so nonchalantly? The referendum was pretty clear in Ossetia.
Russia also has territorial claims to Crimea
Claims so important to start a war with NATO’s new toy? I think they are comfortable in the position of a tenant. It never openly expressed interest in criema.
has occupational army in part of Moldova
That is just not true. Actually, Moldova is also NATO’s vassal.
occupied and annexed Chechnya after a genocidal war
ok. that’s a strong claim. The truth is that a lot of people died in the wars. So if a lot of people of one nation (whatever that is) died, I guess you could consider it genocide. But I imagine it to be something evil and intended. And I don’t think that’s a ‘russian’ thing to do. so is genocide worse than just regular civilians? it sure sounds more evil.
It's quite a bunch of European countries suffering from recent direct Russian military aggression.
Name one. the above aren’t even in Europe.
Add to this Russian political, trade, propaganda, and bribery wars against the European neighbors to get full picture.
Ok that’s just ridiculous. Name me one country which doesn’t bribe and propaganda..iing against its neighbours. The EU parliament is basically a market where everybody bribes everybody. that’s basically the point of foreign policy and politics.

At 1:12 PM, October 01, 2011, Anonymous James Wilson said...

Two impulses toward war is 1) life is nasty, brutish, and short -- which was still the case for even most Europeans in the first half of the 20th century; 2) To capture natural resources, but trade is MUCH easier than colonization to achieve that end. Wars will (hopefully) be increasingly unlikely in the decades to come.

At 8:22 PM, October 01, 2011, Anonymous TFTHS said...

I just don't trust the Germans. I find the glee with which segments of their population demonstrate their beliefs to be unsettling. I wonder what would happen in the event of a prolonged depression. Oh, and don't forget about the religiosity. Apparently, most Germans like to follow stuff that doesn't make very much sense because it makes them feel better.

At 1:37 AM, October 02, 2011, Blogger Jonathan said...

My feeling is that European integration is not popular with ordinary Europeans, who have tolerated the amount of integration we've seen so far mainly out of passivity and powerlessness. I don't expect the EU to turn into a United States of Europe in the foreseeable future, and I certainly hope it doesn't.

I think I agree with TJIC that integration tends to discourage small wars while leaving the way open to large ones. As you mention yourself, this has been the experience of the USA.

At 3:05 AM, October 02, 2011, Anonymous K_ said...

Before WW I Europe already had quite some level of integration. You could travel around Europe without the need to carry a passport, there were hardly any limits on migration, trade was more or less free.
There was the Latin Monetary Union.
It didn't prevent WW I however.

What is however different this time is that none of the European countries have a surplus of young men of fighting age like they had in the beginning of the 20ieth century. War in the next 50 years is therefore unlikely, simply because there is nobody around to fight one.

At 11:10 AM, October 02, 2011, Blogger Sigis said...

Burson, check the map. All countries I mentioned are in Europe.

If referendum to join Russia is legit after ethnic cleansing using Russian arms, we are all in deep trouble.,,HRW,,OMN,4562d8cf2,48a425cc1a,0.html

At 2:07 PM, October 02, 2011, Blogger AIG said...

I don't follow the logic, or the particulars here. To have a war, you need armies. To have armies, you need money. (to have a war, you also need to have something to gain) No European country at the moment, or in the foreseeable future, possesses an army that can pose a threat to any other European army (of a major country. But even Greece has an army almost as powerful as Germany or France!)). None have the money to build up such a force, or the ambitions or means.

European armies were tailored as secondary defenses against a Soviet invasion. None maintained the ability for a first-strike or for offensive operations. Since then, they have been reduced in size and scope to mear peacekeeping forces. We see the performance of the European armies in Libya, where they did not have the first-strike capability which the US offered (by knocking down the Libyan air defenses, air force, C3 etc in the first night).

Simply put, none can manage more than a minor war (even Germany). Neither can Russia (its armies are in far poorer state than European armies).

Of course, maintaining peace in Europe, or even maintaining free trade, does not necessitate a joint currency or a joint bureaucracy. This is where the EU experiment went fatally wrong, and will unravel itself on. So even if the currency dissolves and even if the EU bureaucratic nightmarish dream dies out, that doesn't mean free trade will die out.

Building a large military and posturing for war with another European state also requires major cultural and societal shifts. European populations today are welfare populations with no appetite for militarism. Pre 1945, their "welfare" was the military state (which recruited them, trained them, fed them, housed them etc). Shifting back to that would require a couple of generations. (although David's point was for looking out 50 years)

PS: I'm from a "candidate" country for EU membership, and am personally pleased that the prospect of us joining this entity are looking slim. It was a bad idea then, and its a bad idea now.

At 2:23 PM, October 02, 2011, Blogger AIG said...

"In grade school they have maps with the Hungarian empire. "

Well, what's wrong with that? Are they not supposed to learn about the Austro-Hungarian Empire in history class?

E. Europe has its own dynamics, separate from those of Western Europe. But even in Eastern Europe, the prospects of ethnic wars have vanished, given that all countries in the region give wide freedoms to all ethnicities (of course, there are still exceptions). None of these, however, are relevant to the point of David's comment. None of these are also likely to explode into anything more than diplomatic wars (since none of these countries poses more than a glorified police force)

The "nationalism" apparent in some segments of society (small segments) has more to do with non-European immigration than anything else (for example, the Italians or Germans didn't complain so much about Albanian or Romanian or Polish immigration, but do so for African, Middle Eastern Turkish or Roma immigration). Again, not necessarily relevant to the point of the comments.

Small conflicts on the Eastern Edges of Europe are, of course, still possible. But a Germany vs France or Germany vs Greece war? What would be the point?

At 7:40 AM, October 03, 2011, Blogger neil craig said...

There is little for Europe to fight over.For at least a century countries have not become stronger by ciquering bits of their ne4ighbours but weaker because so much wealth production depends on the populace supporting it. Indeed you get far risher trading with your neighbours than you would not only if you conquered them but even if they weren't there.

The bad news is that the main cause of the cold war & WW1 - that both sides feared they had to get their retaliation in first applies more than ever today, because flight times are getting shorter, and more than that in Europe because we have developed countries adjoining each other.

In general I am optimistic because of the first reason - the US has not felt it worthwhile to conquer Canada and doesn't fear a Canadian pre-emptive strike.

I would be much more optimistic if NATO hadn't attacked Yugoslavia and grabbed most of the country in flagrant violation of the Helsinki treaty - signatories undertook "to take no action against the territorial integrity or unity" of each other. If somebody does something pre-emptively because they don't trust some other country's assurances of peaceful intent that will be why and it is impossible to see any cicumstances under which any assurance from any country in NATO can now be trusted.

At 8:13 AM, October 03, 2011, Blogger Sigis said...

Western/Central Europe is currently shielded from external aggression by NATO. If EU will not grow its military muscles and US goes broke, the risks will go up significantly. WW2 did not originate in the West only. Poland was invaded by Germany AND Russia. Military European integration is critical and, in my opinion, practically not achievable.

At 8:32 AM, October 03, 2011, Blogger AIG said...

"I would be much more optimistic if NATO hadn't attacked Yugoslavia and grabbed most of the country in flagrant violation of the Helsinki treaty - signatories undertook "to take no action against the territorial integrity or unity" of each other. If somebody does something pre-emptively because they don't trust some other country's assurances of peaceful intent that will be why and it is impossible to see any cicumstances under which any assurance from any country in NATO can now be trusted."

That makes no sense, historically, factually, or theoretically. NATO "grabbed" something, from whom? Yugoslavia? What's that? Peaceful intent? Whose peaceful intent?

Oh nevermind.

At 11:19 AM, October 03, 2011, Anonymous Allan Walstad said...

Well, that's two threads, two interesting topics, two interesting discussions. I'm going to drop by here more often.

At 8:03 AM, October 04, 2011, Blogger X said...

Just a few thoughts. Having the same currency doesn't ensure that there won't be war. I could easily imagine one nation, or a subset of the EU going to war with the rest of the EU from use of the euro to their own fiat money system.

That said, if the EU separates, history has taught us that war is possible, however unlikely (we might think. Of course, we thought WW1 was the one that would end the rest.)

I wonder if unified currencies isn't a red herring? Trade and mutual dependence, yet sovereignty may be much more important factors.

At 5:00 AM, October 06, 2011, Blogger ErisGuy said...

"is there any significant risk of a third major European war within, say, the next fifty years? "

All prior major EUropean wars: Napoleonic, WW1, WW2 involved Russia. The fourth war could be started by Russia to reimpose control on Poland and Germany, so, yes, a EUropean is a significant risk.

At 5:48 AM, October 06, 2011, Blogger neil craig said...

2 1/2 of those 3 were unarguably aggressions against Russia. The trend should be obvious except to somebody who says that 100% of muggings involve victims so that proves we should lock uop all these troublesome victims and then the muggers would be able to be peaceful.

At 5:50 AM, October 06, 2011, Blogger neil craig said...

They also all involved Luxemburg.

At 7:49 AM, October 08, 2011, Anonymous veganarchonomics said...

There is a critical difference between previous major European wars and the present and that is the presence of nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom, France, and Russia all have nuclear weapons so any war that involved any of these three countries on opposite sides could be potentially catastrophic. There still could, of course, be skirmishes between minor European countries, but these days I think that most of the major players will go to incredible lengths to avoid being on different sides of a conflict. The thought of London, Paris, or Moscow being annihilated should provide deterrence. I hope it does anyway.

At 6:23 AM, October 11, 2011, Anonymous martin said...


All prior major EUropean wars: Napoleonic, WW1, WW2 involved Russia.

The also all involved (among others) France, Germany and Great Britain, that's what makes them major wars...


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