Does the EU Have a Future?

World War III & Other Scenarios

The European Union doesn’t know where it stands at the moment. NATO thinks it knows and is gambling. 

Does the EU have a future or has disintegration set in? The behavior of the Germans under their conservative government is taken by many to signal that the end is foreordained. On this view, Germany will reclaim its lost currency, the Deutschmark, intensify its productive and export capacities, and move forward in singular European primacy—although, as most of its exports are to neighbors in the EU that it supposedly will have renounced or abandoned—one would think isolation could only go so far. 

Moreover Germany’s highest value-added exports are the respected but banal heavy industrial goods, machine tools, chemicals, and, of course, automobiles—those rather boring and bourgeois limos used by foreign political functionaries and those numberless Mercedes taxicabs, plus reliable family cars from Volkswagon, Opel, and Ford, along with the tiny Smart Car, invented by a Swiss who convinced Mercedes to take it over when he couldn't make any money on the idea. 

Germany’s high-tech products are nearly all in industries where the French forced it to be—with the Germans complaining about the cost of projects like Airbus, or the European Space Agency, which operates the most successful commercial space industry in the world, or high-speed rail and, grudgingly, nuclear energy. It was slickers from the United States who smooth-talked German bankers into participating in the recent international financial catastrophe. 

How will all that be disentangled if Germany decides to readopt the Deutschmark and go it alone? The original members of the EU are so enmeshed with one another commercially, economically, and politically that trying to terminate the union would end in catastrophe. That is unimaginable (and it is in fact scarcely thinkable, given the political ramifications), and would additionally result in losing the remaining EU aspirants, formerly part of the Warsaw Pact or victims of the Yugoslav succession—all of whom are very worried about their futures.

Would Germany, even a post-Angela Merkel Germany, deliberately break with the EU? That seems unlikely. As Chancellor Merkel told Le Monde this week, “for Germany, the culture of stability is not negotiable.” What Germany might do, though, is stay in the EU and prove a spoiler, starting with currency. 

The more problematic issue is what happens to NATO, which involves guns rather than butter. Since the end of the cold war, the United States has wanted NATO to become an auxiliary of the U.S. military, largely under the sway of the Pentagon. On the whole that has happened, with France providing the only resistance—under Nicolas Sarkozy that is no longer the case. That is why the United States has so fiercely resisted the idea of independent European defense. Why should the Europeans pay twice for their defense? asked former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the NATO experts meeting on Monday.

I can think of one unspeakable but not unthinkable reason why they might wish to defend themselves. What if it should prove one day that the threat the Europeans need to defend themselves against were of American and Israeli origin?

Let me explain. The United States currently pursues a program of global security that NATO is expected to support, according to criteria defined by Washington. Without belaboring the matter, it has not gone unnoticed in Europe that this policy, supported by NATO members and intended to impose a benevolent international order, has destroyed Iraq, killing a substantial portion of its population and destroying its infrastructure, while leaving the country without an agreed-upon replacement government and inevitably under the influence of Iran. Not exactly what either Washington or NATO governments had in mind.

The United States is now carrying out a policy that is quite likely to produce similarly results in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and possibly among the rival ethnic nations that make up Afghanistan, as well as those of surrounding states—nearly all of them Muslims. Those nations make up the whole of western and central Asia, including Iran, with which some American and some Israeli hawks want a war.

Iran is the corridor uniting them all. If Israel or the United States were to go to war with Iran while the United States was losing the war in Afghanistan, Iran would be the convenient battlefield for a frustrated and determined U.S. effort to carry on a war against all the main regional Islamic powers resisting the United States, with Israel and Iraq providing the launching bases for an assault on and through Iran towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Hysterical geopolitical fantasy, no doubt. Although with a return to power in Washington of the same kind of people who served the George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations, this seems not entirely pure fantasy. You had possibly not thought of Samuel Huntington’s forecast of the “next world war” as a clash of those particular civilizations. (He was actually thinking of war with China and Arab Muslims.) I know of no one in Europe who has spoken of that possible turn of events. If they did, they might not see NATO membership as so reassuring. A European security pact might even be interesting. 

The theme at NATO headquarters in Brussels Monday was the need for NATO “willingness to operate and fight far from its borders.” A new report by NATO experts says NATO must maintain a nuclear deterrent “at the minimum level required by the prevailing security requirements”—rejecting European arguments that battlefield nuclear weapons be removed from Europe. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized that NATO must not fail in its battle with Europe’s enemies, the Taliban. “In today’s world we may have to go beyond our borders to defend our borders,” he said, thereby identifying Afghanistan as the beginning of Europe’s borders. 

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About the Author

William Pfaff, a former editor of Commonweal, is political columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. His most recent book is The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (Walker & Company).