In his speech today Mitt Romney said the following:
Statesmen like Marshall rallied our nation to rise to its responsibilities as the leader of the free world. We helped our friends to build and sustain free societies and free markets. We defended our friends, and ourselves, from our common enemies. We led. And though the path was long and uncertain, the thought of war in Europe is as inconceivable today as it seemed inevitable in the last century.
Because of Germany’s commitment to fiscal reform in the eurozone German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the German people more broadly, have been the target of protests that often use images and rhetoric from World War Two. In Greece, a country that suffered through Nazi occupation, Merkel has been portrayed as a Nazi in the press and swastikas have been seen at anti-austerity protests. Such blatant vitriol and the severity of the economic situation in the eurozone has led some to suggest that violence and war is possible in Europe. One-time French Prime Minister Alain Juppe warned late last year that the euro-crisis could lead to war:
This is an existential crisis for Europe that raises the spectre of a return to violent conflict on our continent.
This could call into question all that we have created, not only in the 20 years since the Maastricht Treaty, but since the foundation of the European community.
In that eventuality, everything becomes possible, even the worst. It could be the explosion of the European Union itself.
Angela Merkel has herself alluded to the possibility of war, saying:
No one should think a further half century of peace and prosperity is assured. It isn't..if the euro fails, Europe will fail.
The language from Juppe and Merkel indicates that there are at least a few European politicians that would disagree with Romney’s assessment. Although I am not fan of the Republican presidential nominee, on this issue he is right.
While the situation in Europe is far from ideal war is not a likely outcome of the euro fiasco. The most obvious argument against the possibility of war is that there are no likely candidates for the part of aggressor. Who do Juppe and Merkel think is going to invade whom? What possible reason would any European country that has a functioning military have to invade any other country in Europe? Most countries in Europe hardly have the ability to fully wage war, let alone afford such an endeavor.
Greece leaving the euro would no doubt lead to some internal unrest, but it would hardly be enough to motivate any of its neighbors (Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria) or its lenders (Germany, France) to invade or conduct air strikes, least of all for Greece to act as the instigator of any conflict. As Richard Wellings of the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs pointed out, it is possible to leave a currency without conflict:
In 1993 Czechoslovakia broke up and soon afterwards the Czech Republic and Slovakia began using their own currencies.
The new Slovakian currency was widely expected to be weaker than the Czech one, but the transaction was generally fairly smooth. It quickly enacted a programme of liberalisation, which led to economic growth that has outperformed that of the Czechs since their amiable divorce.
One of the reasons that many in the European establishment might want to bring up the possibility of war is that the European Union, and the post-World War Two European project more broadly, was motivated in part by the prevention of future conflict. Were the eurozone to break up or the European Union not to exist without war ensuing it would be a damning indictment on the mission to create a closer union among Europeans. If countries in Europe can reach economic prosperity and peace without pan-European organizations then the point of such organizations in the first place is hard to justify.
The irony is that the European Union has been bad for economic prosperity and stability. Were Greece allowed to leave the eurozone there would not be such tangible anti-German rhetoric in the country as there is now.
When Merkel visits Greece tomorrow there will probably be some strong anti-German sentiment on display. Though some will make allusions to the years of Nazism and the possibility of conflict war will remain, as Mitt Romney said, inconceivable.