The End of Europe as a world power?

Is Europe’s reign as dominant global power over after roughly 500 years? Richard Haass of the Financial Times looks at the state of the EU in the early 21st century and says it’s time to say goodbye (registration required):

Even before this economic crisis, Europe was weakened by a political crisis. Many Europeans have been preoccupied with revising European institutions, but repeated rejections of the Lisbon treaty demonstrate that a united Europe no longer captures the imagination of many of its residents. Lacklustre leadership of European organisations is both a cause and a result of this loss of momentum.

Behind this drift is the stark reality that Europeans have never quite committed to Europe, largely because of the continued pull of nationalism. If Europeans were serious about being a major power, they would trade the British and French United Nations Security Council seats for a European one. This is not about to happen.

Europe’s drift also manifests itself militarily. Few European states are willing to devote even 2 per cent of their budgets to defence; and what they spend their money on makes little sense. National politics and economics dictate expenditures, so there is much replication of what is not relevant and little investment in what is needed. The whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Afghanistan is a case in point. The European contribution there is substantial, with more than 30,000 soldiers from EU countries. But the involvement is uneven, with nearly a third of the troops coming from the UK. In many cases the roles are diluted by governmental “caveats” that limit missions, a lack of equipment and commitments of uncertain duration. European political culture has evolved in ways that make it harder to field militaries willing to bear the cost in blood; the US secretary of defence describes this as “the demilitarisation of Europe – where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it”. All this limits Nato’s future role, as Nato mostly makes sense as an expeditionary force in an unstable world, not as a standing army on a stable continent.

Time and demographics will not improve the situation. Europe’s population has levelled off at about 500m and is rapidly ageing. By mid-century the percentage of Europe’s adults who are older than 65 is projected to double. Fewer will be of military age; a smaller number will be working to support the retired.

Or, as Mark Steyn likes to say, demography is destiny.

One thing to bear in mind was the Europe’s extensive (and enervating) social-welfare state was made possible because the United States largely bore the cost of keeping the Russians from eventually rolling on to the Atlantic after World War II. At the time, it was necessary: Britain was bankrupt and Western Europe was largely flattened by the war. But the moral hazard created by having someone pay for their defense beyond the point their economies could afford to pay their own way let them instead buy social peace (and votes) through large-scale government welfare. This in turn lead to fewer children being born, and hence fewer people of working age to support the increasing number of elderly retired folks (who retired at ever-younger ages), until they hit they point they’re at now, when the state can no longer afford those promised benefits.

It’s hard to say what could have been done differently, however, given the geopolitical realities of the Cold War.

5 Responses to The End of Europe as a world power?

  1. Porkchop says:

    Once the growing Muslim populations in Europe reach the point that they have a dominant political voice, you may find that many of these things will change dramatically.

    Europe propped itself up with colonies for five hundred years, but that was all stripped away in the 20th century. Screw the rest: that’s what’s really made a difference.

  2. The current economic crisis, may well be the premier catalytic mechanism in which Europe power becomes overtly diluted. As Europe’s power has consistently being for the past 50 years its ability to speak in a relatively harmonious voice.

    The complex between indebted member states wanting what’s best for them tempered by stable member states refusal to be weighed down by these reckless states may be the impetuous for a radical overhaul of the composition of the Euro zone.

    The creation of a fractured E.U is a distinct possibility with the relative solvent in one corner and fiscally defunct in the other. The Budget review process being advocated at present by the E.U commission may be the catalyst to accelerate this dynamic and invariably bring about the beginning of the end of the European Dream.

  3. So, it was the loss of colonies–not the demographic dearth (loss of replacement-level bambinos) to help prop the Eurosocialist state–that is the kiss of death, Porkchop?

    Why Greece is on fire now, and the rest of Europe is about to hop into the coals?

    And the unaffordable entitlements and sumptuous handouts and pensions and government glop controlling the plupart of the economy had nothing to do with any of the foregoing slide into historical obscurity? Or, lack of interest in the frictions of the world beyond domestic goodies and the burning desires of the day like food regulation and sexual fulfillment on the dole of the secularist state, which in turn cuts Europeans off from any kind of cross-cultural purpose?

    I don’t get it. The colonies are gone, yes, and what is going on is immoral still. Yes. But the point is that Europe is STILL fleecing the Third World of labor and talent to try and make up for massive budgetary, pension, and other payout shortfalls that the New Jerusalem of Socialism was to provide cradle to grave. Yet they’re falling still.

    Europe is Woodstock gone bureaucratic and Nanny State. Live for today, put a flower in the hair, have some wine with your neighbor’s wife, celebrate diversity along with some latex-safe depravity, work 25 hours a week, retire at age 50. And all will be fine. The Lillies of the Valley toil not. Neither shall we.

    I love it.

    Reality is never mocked for long.

    Long live John Galt.

  4. Rob Prince says:

    I think you overstate the case…Europe has been involved in 65 years of restructuring. It’s hit many bumps. Frankly, there is much in the European model that makes more sense the kind of cowboy Capitalism we have here. Your example of its `weakness’ – its failure to deliver militarily that much in Afghanistan is hardly much of a standard to go by.

    Cheers. Rob Prince/Denver

  5. TheCanadianBritishAmerican says:

    If Europe’s sliding into obscurity, so is the US and they’ll drag Canada along with it.

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