Euro Crisis

Mitt Romney is Right, War in Europe is Inconceivable


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. 

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  1. Matt makes the case that war in Europe isn’t imminent.

    However, economic and social collapse are certainly in the cards, if not actually underway, and while it may take a few years (and perhaps a change of government or two), I would hardly rule out the possibility of war in Europe over the medium term.

    We’re not just talking about a country or three leaving the Euro and having a different currency. We’re talking about massive indebtedness which cannot be paid off or defaulted on without Very Bad Things happening. Very Bad Things, then, are inevitable in Europe at this juncture. The kinds of things that extremists, nationalists, and their ilk are very good at exploiting.

    1. I’m still not seeing any of that leading to one country fighting another. Civil unrest: maybe, and that might spread across borders. Apparently the Swiss are adding four new military police battalions to the army with this possibility in mind.

      All this reminds my of Jeremy Rifkin’s long-ago prediction that the euro would lead to Europe overtaking the US economically. Right again, Jeremy.

      (Attention server squirrels: “Preview” STILL DOES NOT WORK on OS X 10.6.8 and Safari 5.1.7.)

      1. I’m still not seeing any of that leading to one country fighting another.

        Take a little longer view.

        Its not at all unusual for wars to be rooted in social and economic collapse of the aggressor nation. I’m not saying its going to happen in the near term. I’m saying the failure of the European transnational experiment is (a) assured and (b) will lead to the kinds of conditions that make war (much?) more likely.

        1. Or just fight over some dumb disputed island, like Japan and China are on the verge of.

          1. And the UK and Argentina. Yeah, I don’t get it either.

      2. Firefox and Chrome have versions compatible with Sno-Lep.

        1. I use Firefox when I have to, but I should be able to use Safari. It’s a common, standards-compliant browser, so the H+R commenting system should be able to work with it. By now.

    2. “”The kinds of things that extremists, nationalists, and their ilk are very good at exploiting.””‘

      The kind of thing that the EU is already exploiting, “give us more money and power or the economy will crash”

      1. Yeah, and when the economy crashes anyway, something’s gotta give.

    3. But is there a fundamentally productive country that has fallen on hard financial times that might allow a power mad populist to come to power, scapegoating some ethnic minority while secretly building up a powerful war machine?

      France comes to mind.

      1. Or just give them a few more generations and they’ll have a Muslim majority with access to nukes.

      2. Also, um, America?

    4. Yeah in 2000 if you told me that our government would in 2007 start a similar program to FDR’s of massive debt in the hopes of starting a Keynesian recovery i would have told you were mad.

      If you told me that it would continue until 2012 i would have just walked away from you.

      Now i have to agree that repeating western civilizations past mistakes is definitely a possibility….

  2. What would they wage war with? The American troops stationed there?

  3. War indusries employ lots of people. Armies give otherwise idle and troublesome young men a place to go. That could solve a lot of domestic problems in short order.

    Will it happen overnight? No, it won’t. Is it inconceivable? I’d say history suggests otherwise. Not saying it is inevitable, mind you, but extreme economic duress led to WW2.

    1. Problem is that, aside from the UK and Russia, all those countries are about 30-40 years behind the leading military powers in the world.

      Israel could probably take over a wide swath of Mediterranean Europe if they had a mind to. (yes, obviously this is RISK fantasyland, but it’s true)

    2. But those countries also have loads of civilian bureaucrats, no shortage of gov’t employment. Why would they raise armies now? That’d make sense only if the popul’n hadn’t already supported the maintenance of a large gov’t sector.

  4. Failure of the European experiment in one world government will not be tolerated.

    1. We’ll send in UN Peacekeepers. It worked so well in war-torn Bosnia.

    2. Sad thing is, they would probably have been fine if they hadn’t gone to a single currency.

  5. Aside from the UK and Russia, no European country has a strong 21st century military. So it would either involve mercenaries or be a slap fight.

    1. But let’s suppose it was a slap fight between small military establishments. If they were well matched, or even if not, that’d still allow them to devastate each other’s civilian facilities. Even if all you’ve got is a pointed stick, that’d still allow you to stab a lot of little old ladies.

  6. Fuck ’em. Let ’em fight.

    We’ve got our own problems.

  7. No Euro country could wage war since they can’t purchase soldiers and toys with funny money.

  8. Well I guess we’ll see. Two dinky little militaries from two dinky little bankrupt European countries could have a dinky little war.

  9. PLEASE/

    Greece and Spain are in no condition to launch a continental-wide conflagration and everyone else is too rich to be willing to die.

    THe spectre of war in europe is a fucking joke and a scare tactic for children.

  10. Has anyone Photoshopped a swastika on Merkel’s boobs yet?

  11. One scenario.

    Western Europe starts strong arming some of the former eastern block countries could push them to war. If Germany’s economy fails they are the logical place for Europe to go to for a handout….of course Russia with its energy supplies could enter the picture if Europe is in economic ruin. Don’t imagine them playing nice….or Europe playing nice in return.

    Also does anyone think in 5 years France will even have an economy anymore? 75% tax and no where for credit is going to destroy them. Who the fuck knows what will emerge from that wreckage.

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