Friday, February 11, 2005

Europe's Crisis

Arthur Waldron has an article in the current issue of Commentary expressing guarded optimism about an eventual healing of the transatlantic rift. To simplify a bit, his thesis is that Europeans are waking up to the facts that

a) terrorism is not just a threat to the U.S. and its military allies (e.g. Theo van Gogh)
b) the U.S. is no longer strategically obligated to guarantee Europe's security.

To reduce matters to their most basic, the security of Europe is no longer an indispensable security requirement of the United States. Of course Americans have values and sympathies, which may eventually add up to interests, but in the most hard-headed strategic terms, now that the USSR is gone, and with a home-based American ability to destroy any target in the world, the details of what happens eight or nine hours east by air from Washington will usually turn out to be of far deeper concern to Europe than to the United States. If we were to wake up one morning and learn that the EU buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg had been destroyed, we would surely be shocked, but we would not in any way be under direct threat ourselves.

Waldron proposes that the European realization of this will lead to the economic reforms that will be necessary to support credible military capabilities. Waldron also points out that, as bad as the European economic mess is, Europe still has the building blocks of a dynamic economy (e.g., educational achievement, particularly in math and sciences, is stronger in Europe than the U.S.).

But while Waldron (very) briefly discusses European demographics (i.e., low fertility rates and massive immigration), he doesn't explore what impact those demographics would have on an attempt at European rebirth.

Despite unemployment rates that would be considered catastrophic in the U.S., the European welfare state has many constituents, and genuine reform would cause a lot of pain among them. Is Europe up to that task?

A strong (and expensive) military is not going to protect Europe from the likes of Mohammed Bouyeri (van Gogh's murderer). The only way to protect Europe from the threat of cultural and political erosion -- in my opinion a more serious and immediate threat to European security than anything of a more traditional military nature -- is to reassert confidence in European culture; in what has, for centuries, made Europe (and its former North American colony) the locus of power in the world. But wouldn't this kind of rebirth of confidence have to proceed painful economic reforms? Which European politicians are going to commit professional suicide by trying to institute painful reforms that will effectively disenfranchise large portions of their clientale electorate?

It may be too early to give up on Europe, but while the structural economic challenges facing Europe that Waldron addresses are undeniably serious, there may be more fundamental obstacles to a new renaissance on the Continent.


Blogger Mrs. Davis said...

Waldron's analysis is rational. The Europeans are not. After they start trading arms with China, the game may be over.

9:56 AM  

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