Drôle de Paix I – Lisbon’s Occident

November 21, 2010 at 7:36 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Portugal is the westernmost European state and it was also the country that brought forth the West’s global primacy. In 1415 Portugal became the first European kingdom to conquer territory outside of Europe and that date marks also the beginning of the Age of Discovery. Carthage, Rome and Byzantium, the Crusades and subsequent Mediterranean powers controlled territories in Africa and Asia but always in a regional pursuit for dominance. The Portuguese were first to bet on a global empire in pursuing their national interest and that mission began in the north-African city of Ceuta, marking its Christian dominance until today.

Portugal was not the first country to adopt a global strategy. Mongolia, China, the Caliphate did it first and Alexander tried it as well but managed only to turn the Hellenic community into Persia’s successor state. Portugal was two thousand years later, Europe’s pioneer in putting the teachings of the Renaissance to use on power projection beyond the ‘known world’.

Robert D. Kaplan calls the Indian Ocean the ‘hub of the twenty-first century world’ but the Indian Ocean rim has long been the best barometer of world power, from the Arab and Gujarati traders’ evangelisation to the Ming dynasty’s diplomatic armadas. The Portuguese though, were the first to export Europe’s technologies and values to a non-contiguous civilisation by establishing their ‘Estado da Índia’.

At the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon, the Portuguese PM referred to the Portuguese capital as a ‘safe haven’ from the EU’s troubles and he’d probably like to replicate just such an allegory with NATO. However just as Lisbon led the West into six centuries of global dominance so too today it seems to lead it to its twilight: the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon and NATO’s Lisbon Summit are the symbols of the Western civilisation’s fall from power. During the Pax Americana of the 90s and early 00s, America and Europe fought paid and nurtured the project of global liberal democracy. NATO’s and the European Union’s recent landmarks though are only meant to manage stagnation. The Treaty of Lisbon was an unambitious version of the aborted ‘Constitutional Treaty’ and even that will have to be amended very soon. Had the EU been less adamant on socially engineering a post-modern utopia, it might just have managed to convert some of its influence into hard-power. The euro-sceptic backlash that a normatively overbearing EU caused may just have pushed away further strategic cooperation and it is anyone’s guess how and when Europe will be rid of this crisis or the economic downturn. NATO in turn adopted Russia and became a more diffuse security mechanism. The missile shield is nice but for all intents and purposes NATO is becoming a more glorified OSCE; what else to call a military alliance that embraces the likeliest state to wage war – Russia – on the likeliest state to next join – Georgia – the organisation?

Lets be frank, the main security issues are not being tackled: border disputes in Europe are ‘crystallised conflicts’ – Cyprus, Gibraltar, Ceuta and Melilla, Olivença, South Tyrol, Kosovo, Belgium, etc – NATO or the EU refuse to touch the frozen conflicts – Karabakh, Georgia, Ukraine – and the hot spots are not working out that well – Iraq is falling under Iranian influence, the Afghan campaign is unsustainable. The only successes are unilateral or bilateral: the sanctions on Iran are the product of bilateral cooperation (5+1) and the missile shield is basically a US initiative with Russian acquiescence.

Then there’s the problem of Turkey, which in this summit seemed to be approached more as a NATO-Turkey Council than as an inner core NATO member. Certainly the Turks have valid reasons to object paying for a security structure which also serves the needs of an organisation (under the Berlin + agreement on burden-sharing) Turkey isn’t part of, i.e. the EU.

SAS Drakensberg - the South African Navy's ship on board which the new military cooperation protocols between Argentina and the RSA were signed, during the naval exercise ATLASUR VIII (this is also the ship dispatched to Ivoirian waters by the RSA, following the Ivoirian crisis of 2010-11)


As for the EU, if its apologists said that its successes were primarily in terms of soft power and cooperation, the rise of Germany shattered many europhiles’ delusions. This is not about Angela Merkel’s whims nor about a temporary lack of cooperation between the European capitals, this is about the same problem that drove Europe to the Great Wars: the emergence of a new power polity in the continent. This is structural, not cyclical. Russia and America kept Germany in check throughout the XX century in order to safe-keep their interests in a divided Europe. Now though, Russia is weak, America is waning and turning its attentions to Asia, and the traditional European powers have in the meantime been devoid of their colonial critical mass to be able to successfully counter-balance Berlin: Britain France and the western Europeans saw their grip on overseas possessions jointly subverted by the superpowers, Warsaw and Belgrade have been deprived of their Międzymorze and Yugosphere strategic depths and ditto for Vienna’s and Budapest’s Alpine-Carpathian dominions.

The German Empire never relied on Prussia or the eastern agricultural spaces for its strength, it was the industrial machine of the Rhein valley that drove them into hegemony and apart from the loss of Alsace-Lorraine they were allowed to retain it. Consequently the German population was always set to become primary in Europe. German reunification simply sealed the deal but it also destroyed the strategic balance between Germany and France which was at the origin of the European treaties.

It is ironic that after a century of American interventionism in Europe, the old continent will simply return to its old ways. In a way, just as Asia is reacquiring its role in the world, so is Europe falling back to its previous geopolitical configuration.

Now more than ever the US needs regional allies. The white star navy will have to undergo cutbacks and new deployments will have to be made in order to reinforce the 7th and 5th fleets in the west Pacific and Indian Ocean respectively. This means that those countries in Europe and the Atlantic which can regionally provide America with reliable help will be preferred but it also means that America is no longer available to aid in the maintenance of balances of power. The West will require realignments and in Europe there are already four major power zones emerging: the continental hegemons Germany Italy and Russia – in a new Molotov-Ribbentrop dynamic – the Mediterranean hegemons Spain Italy and Turkey, the continental middle powers France, Britain and Poland and the Mediterranean middle powers France, Egypt, Israel and Greece. Basically, Europe will be picking up where it left off prior to WWII, with an anti German alliance. In the Mediterranean things may be trickier since the states that control the chokepoints seem to have a lot to gain from cooperating with each other leaving transit states such as France or Greece dependent on them. Russia has already chosen to bow to Turkish dominance of the eastern Med and the odds are not good that the Greece-Cyprus-Israel connection will be able to successfully counter Ankara’s ascendancy.

If the continental hegemons choose to partner with the Mediterranean hegemons though, only an outside power will be able to help London and Paris in keeping alive a balance of power. Will America be able to keep projecting some power into Europe? Will the Atlantic concert resort to new partners such as Brazil?

There is a strong anti-interventionist tendency in America which may be happier dismantling the United States’ global intervention infrastructure and simply relying on regional powers for ad hoc arrangements. The rise of the Tea Party, while not strictly a libertarian movement, may in time vindicate the views of the Paul dynasty. Simultaneously, in Brazil the Labour Party’s foreign policy is strongly third-worldist and seems determined to rally behind Brazil the developing ‘South’. These ‘autonomistas’ are less likely to partner with industrialised powers than the Brazilian right’s ‘institucionalistas pragmáticos’ and little cooperation will be seen between the southern hemisphere and Europe while the Lula legacy is in power, even if not all of the south Atlantic Ocean rim seems to agree with Brazil’s preeminence.


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  2. M. Silva said,

    STRATFOR: THE GEOPOLITICS OF FRANCE – Maintaining Its Influence in a Changing Europe

    Geographically, the continent of Europe is a busy place. It is riddled with features that impede the formation of any large political entity. Mountain ranges inhibit trade and armies alike while peninsulas and islands limit the ability of larger powers to intimidate or conquer smaller ones. Because of such features, it isn’t as much of a surprise that Europe has never united under a single government as it is that anyone has ever tried.

    That is because there are two other geographic features that push Europe together rather than pull it apart. The first is the North European Plain, an expansive stretch of lowland extending from the Russian steppe in the east to the Pyrenees in the west. This region is blessed with the densest concentration of navigable waterways in the world. The combination of a fertile, easily traversable coastal plain with seven major rivers guarantees both agricultural surpluses and the ability to move them easily and cheaply. The plain is textbook perfect for trade, communication and technology transfer— and from those activities the accumulation of massive amounts of capital. Consequently, Northern Europe is home to the densest concentration of wealth in the world.

    The second feature— the Mediterranean Sea — plays a similar role to the continent’s south. Maritime transport on the Mediterranean is far simpler than oceanic transport in Northern Europe; the North Sea is one of the world’s stormiest bodies of water. But mitigating that advantage is the simple fact that much of the southern side of the continent lacks a robust coastal plain. So while Southern Europe is still rich by global standards, it is a distant second by the high standards of Northern Europe. The two regions have very little to do with each other geographically, and their relative isolation has spawned a raft of differing political, social and economic cultures.

    Mix the geographic features that inhibit unification with the features that facilitate trade and communication and Europe becomes a very rich, very violent place. None of Europe’s rivers naturally interconnect, giving most European nations their own independent capital base. But these rivers are all close to each other, and most flow across the North European Plain to empty into the Atlantic, ensuring constant interaction. It is a recipe for wars of domination, a simple fact born out in centuries of European history.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read:

    Yet there are three places on the Continent where this pattern of fragmentation does not hold. The first are the Seine and Loire river valleys, whose upper reaches are so close together, separated by only a narrow stretch of very flat land, that the two have always been integrated— the only such multi-riverine system in Europe. The region therefore gains the economic and trade benefits of the North European Plain without suffering significant division.

    The second and third places where the fragmentation pattern does not hold are the Garonne and Rhone river valleys. The Garonne’s head of navigation is at Toulouse, only 150 kilometers from the Mediterranean, but the river flows west across the North European Plain to the Atlantic rather than east to the much closer Mediterranean. The Rhone is one of the relatively few European rivers that both empty into the Mediterranean and serve as a trade corridor to Northern Europe (the Danube empties into the geographically constricted Black Sea). As such, the Garonne and Rhone serve as the sole natural connections between the plain and the Mediterranean.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read:

    The one thing these three geographic exceptions have in common is that they all have long resided in the political entity known as France. Only France is both a Northern and Southern European power. It is the only European power — despite its seeming isolation near the Continent’s western end — that can attempt to project power in any portion of the European theater. But the key word here is “attempt.” While France stands out in its unique access, it lacks — especially today — the size to dominate. Consequently, France is nearly always engaged but is only rarely ascendant.

    The Geography of France

    France is bound by the Alps in the southeast and the Pyrenees in the southwest, the Mediterranean Sea in the south and the Atlantic in both the west and north. In the east, France is bound by the river Rhine and the low mountains of the Ardennes, Vosges and Jura.

    Mountain chains, rivers and seas therefore enclose France at all points save for one: the North European Plain. Access to the plain gives France its most important geographical feature. Because it is at the terminus of the plain — or its beginning, depending on one’s perspective — France has the advantage of having to defend itself only on one lowland front and from the sea. However, it is at the same time subjected to the same threats, opportunities and temptations that the North European Plain offers: It can be drawn into thinking that the road of conquest is clear ahead or to ignore the threats coming down it at its great cost.

    The lowlands of the plain enter France at Flanders in the extreme northeast, where the Belgium-France border abuts the Atlantic. The plain then continues west past the Ardennes— the heavily forested hills at the southern border of France and Belgium— before curving southwestward via the Beauce gap, the aforementioned flat lands between the upper reaches of the Seine and Loire. Finally, the plain flows into the Aquitaine region in extreme southwestern France where it meets the Pyrenees Mountains, ending at the natural boundary of the Iberian Peninsula.

    Internally, aside from the Massif Central in the southeast, France is a country of relatively low-lying terrain with occasional hills. It is interspersed by a number of slow-flowing rivers, most of which are open to transportation with little or no modification and which historically have been connected by canals to facilitate commerce.

    The territory with the greatest of France’s advantages — navigable rivers, warm climate, sufficient rainfall, good drainage and fertile soils — is the Beauce region. The area’s limestone soil, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and thus providing natural fertilizer, and warm climate made possible by the North Atlantic Drift make it the most fertile land in Western Europe. It has been the basis of French agricultural power for centuries and holds nearly all of the country’s agricultural land. Today it is also the most integrated— via a robust transportation infrastructure— with the rest of Europe.

    The Beauce region is therefore the French core. At its extreme northern border, where the rivers Marne and Seine meet, lies Paris. Paris itself was founded on an island in the Seine, Ile de la Cite (the current location of the Notre Dame Cathedral), an easily defensible location that commands control over the land route between the last major curve of the Seine to the north and the river Marne to the south. Whoever controls Paris therefore controls transportation from the Beauce region to the rest of Europe via the North European Plain.

    Paris is also close enough to the Atlantic— connected by the Seine— to benefit from oceanic trade routes but far enough away to be insulated somewhat from a direct naval invasion. In fact, Paris is as far north as it is (the French at times flirted with moving the capital to southern Orleans, which is almost dead center in the Beauce) in order to keep a close eye on both Viking raids from the Atlantic and the once independence-minded Normandy and to complicate any English attempts to establish a permanent base of operations on the south side of the English Channel.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read:

    In comparison with its continental neighbors, France has almost always been at an economic advantage because of its geography. Germany has relatively poor agricultural land and paltry access to the Baltic Sea and is blocked from the Atlantic by the British Isles. Italy has the fertile Po valley but is blocked by the Alps to the north and trapped inside the Mediterranean. Spain suffers from mountainous terrain, poor agricultural land and relatively useless rivers. Russia lacks reliable maritime access all together as well as a reasonable climate. France has therefore been able to parlay its geography into enormous economic advantage, particularly in agricultural production. Prior to the advent of industrialization, this gave France enormous advantage over its continental rivals.

    The History of France

    Phase I: Centralization (843-1453)

    The Beauce region of France has always been the core of the French state because of its fertile land and strategic location on the North European Plain. Political power in the region only temporarily migrated southward during the time of Roman rule, but it quickly returned to the north when Franks invaded from the northeast. However, extending political power from Beauce to the rest of territory that is today France was a serious challenge, particularly for the fledgling Frankish kingdom that emerged following the Roman withdrawal.

    Early France faced two problems, both rooted in geography. The first dealt with the plains. The Umayyad Caliphate’s invasion of Europe in the 8th century had introduced heavy cavalry as the preeminent military technology of the time, particularly fitting in France because the lowlands of the North European Plain were quite conducive to charges of heavy horse. Ranks of Beauce infantry were easy pickings, although Charles Martel managed to hold the Muslim advance at the 732 Battle of Tours —only 200 kilometers from Paris — largely with highly trained heavy infantry. The solution to this military reality was feudalism. To spread the costs of training and maintaining cavalry, the king ceded land to his vassals, enabling them to maintain mounted knights.

    This ultimately held the Muslim forces at bay, but this “solution” nearly killed early France through decentralization. By granting feudal lords lands and rights the crown further entrenched a nobility that could also maintain military forces independent of the crown. Unsurprisingly, the region devolved into a political free-for-all following the dissolution of the empire of Charlemagne — Charles Martel’s grandson— in 843.

    And while the lowlands fractured into dozens of competing feudal realms with the crown looking on helplessly, central power weakened sufficiently so that the hills and mountains of the rest of the country could entrench and maintain their own distinctive identities. Modern French is based on the northern Langue d’oil of the Ile de France dialect dominant in the Beauce region. But southern regions used various Langue d’oc dialects, which had more in common with Catalan, Spanish and Italian. Meanwhile, the Rhone and Saone valleys retained a separate but related linguistic identity through the Franco-Provencal dialect. All this in regions that considered themselves ethnically French for the most part.

    The Bretagne population was of Celtic origin (Celtic refugees who fled Saxon invasions of Britain) while in Aquitaine the population was a mix of ethnic Basque and Galo-Roman. It took millennia of consolidation before all of these ethnic/linguistic differences were assimilated into what is now France. French, one of the Langue d’oil, did not become the official tongue until the 1500s, and linguistic unification was not completed until the 1800s.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read:

    This political (feudal) and ethnic (linguistic) disunity combined with France’s position as a north-south continental crossroads encouraged the intervention of outside powers. The most pertinent examples are the wars with England from the 11th until the 15th centuries. England considered continental France their playpen for much of the Middle Ages. In fact, the Norman leaders of England did not distinguish much between their French and English possessions; both were considered integral parts of their ancestral lands. The narrowness of the English Channel allowed England continually to threaten the French core in the Beauce, especially as long as it had continental footholds in Aquitaine, Burgundy and Normandy. The threat was so great that France was nearly destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), which almost resulted in the uniting of England and France under London’s control.

    But ironically this conflict— the one that nearly destroyed France— ultimately saved it. During the Hundred Years’ War, heavy cavalry proved to be vulnerable to fortifications, advanced archery and (eventually) gunpowder— all technologies that required a much greater centralization and coordination of resources than feudalism could provide. Only a strong monarchy could furnish the capital needed for the construction of massive castles and the production of guns and gunpowder on a proto-industrial scale while freeing up sufficient numbers of peasants to form units of archers. As in the conflict with the Muslims, it was a technological innovation that forced France’s political system to evolve, and this time the shift was toward centralization rather than decentralization. The result was the initial consolidation of what we now know as France and a steady increase in the coherence of the French state.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read:

    The combination of the political disasters of the feudal period and the success of consolidation in the battles with the English served as the formative period of the French psyche. The English taught the French— the hard way— the value of unity. Ever since, France has had the most centralized state in the Western world. Unlike Germany, the United Kingdom or the United States, France does not have a large and robust federal structure. There are no substantive regional governments. Instead, almost all power is vested in Paris and Paris alone. Having a foot in both Northern and Southern Europe and needing to maintain a navy to keep the English at bay as well as a large army to compete in Europe requires a wealth of resources and a high degree of central planning. Whether the leader is Louis XIV, Napoleon or Charles de Gaulle, a centralized government is in— and born of— French blood.

    Phase II: The Hapsburg Challenge and Balance of Power (1506-1700)

    Europe’s Hapsburg era was a dangerous time for the French. In addition to controlling Spain (and briefly Portugal) and the rising wealth of the New World, the Hapsburgs also commanded most of Italy and the trade center that was the Netherlands, threatening France in both European spheres. Paris in particular was endangered by the Hapsburg-Dutch connection, with little standing between the two powers on the North European Plain. With the English still in control of the English Channel, Paris understandably felt constrained from all sides.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read:

    Facing so many threats forced France to be flexible in its alliances. Scottish separatists were a favorite means of unbalancing the English. France allied with the Muslim Ottoman Empire against the fellow Catholic Hapsburg Empire during many of the engagements in Italy in the mid-16th century and with numerous Protestant German political entities during the Thirty Year War (1618-1648)— the latter when foreign policy was conducted by Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, a Catholic cardinal. France would do anything to prevent its enemies from massing forces in the Netherlands and Belgium and anything to avoid having to fight a land war on the North European Plain.

    But it was one thing to play the spoiler and quite another to rule. Well-crafted policy in Paris could prevent the Hapsburgs’ geographically far-flung possessions and overextended military from coalescing into a single dominating force that could uproot France, but as the Hapsburgs weakened, France found itself similarly unable to remake Europe in its own image. In three major wars— the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) and the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763, against Britain in North America) — France expended great financial resources in efforts to dominate one region or another, only to emerge at each war’s end with little to show for its efforts. Paris kept coming up against coalitions expressly designed to balance its power and prevent it from dominating. With the Hapsburg Empire waning in power, the rest of the European states well understood that France— and only France— could be the next to rule Europe.

    But French efforts were exhausting. The various global military entanglements of the 18th century bankrupted the state, severely infringing on Paris’ ability to maintain internal coherence and defend the North European Plain. There were two equally damning results. First, the depleted treasury led to a general breakdown in internal order, contributing to the French Revolution of 1789. Second, Paris’ distraction with England and Spain led it to miss the emergence of Prussia as a serious European power that began to first rival and ultimately superseded Hapsburg Austria for leadership among the cacophony of German kingdoms.

    Phase III: Nationalism and the Rise of Germany (1789-1945)

    One of the many unintended side effects of the French Revolution was the concept of nationalism, the idea that people of a relatively common origin and ancestry and speaking a common tongue shared a common destiny.

    From nationalism grew the nation-state, a political entity that harnesses all people sharing a similar ethnicity into a single governing unit. Combining nationalism, the nation-state and France’s already deep penchant for centralization begot a juggernaut that was republican France. Rather than having its energies split internally on various regional and class-based feuds, all of French power was pooled into a single government, completing the process that had begun at the end of the Hundred Years’ War against England. This unprecedented capture of a nation’s strengths was going to make France a powerhouse beyond imagining no matter who happened to rule the country, and it turned out it was Napoleon who would hold the reins.

    The result was the one near-unipolar moment in European history. Not only was France the only state to have embraced the concept of nationalism, but it also grafted the concept onto an already centralized system, allowing French power to pour forth across Europe and North Africa. France suddenly reversed its role on the North European Plain— that of a cautious power protecting its borders with fortifications and distraction— and used the plain to its own advantage, launching an all-out invasion of what was then, essentially, the entire Western world. The rest of Europe— fragmented among various royal families interconnected through marriage and inheritance and dependent on pseudo-feudal forms of allegiance— was simply unprepared for the onslaught launched upon them by a modern nation-state led by the brilliant military strategy of Napoleon Bonaparte. From 1803 to 1815, France nearly overwhelmed the rest of Europe before a coalition of nearly every major and minor power on the Continent combined forces to defeat her.

    The lesson was a simple one, again rooted in geography. Even when France is united and whole, even when she is not under siege, even when her foes are internally distracted and off balance, even when she is led by one of the greatest organizational and military minds in human history, even when she holds the advantage of nationalism— she still lacks the resources and manpower to rule Europe.

    The Napoleonic Wars were the highpoint of French power, made possible by a constellation of factors that are unlikely to be repeated. The English, Spanish, Dutch, Russians and Italians all recovered. Napoleon was exiled. But most of all the advantage of nationalism spread. Over the next few decades the political innovation of the nation-state spread throughout Europe and in time became a global phenomenon. The result was stronger governments, better able to marshal resources for everything from commerce to war. And no people benefited more — much to France’s chagrin — than the Germans.

    The shock to France of a unified Germany was palpable. Not only was the German empire directly unified through war against France, Germany also made sure to conduct the 1871 unification ceremony and coronation of the German emperor at Versailles Palace during its brief occupation of France.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read:

    While the 100 miles of border between France and Belgium always represented the main threat to the French core, prior to Germany’s consolidation that threat was somewhat manageable. But the unification of Germany created a just as populous and more industrialized state hard by France’s most vulnerable point. Instead of France being able to use various German principalities as proxies, all of them save Luxembourg were now united against France, with Germany’s Chancellor Otto von Bismarck crafting a careful diplomatic policy throughout the late 19th century whose sole purpose was to isolate France.

    Post-1871 France battled a united Germany with the same strategies its monarchist predecessors used against Hapsburg Spain and England. In 1907, it cobbled together a complex web of military alliances that eschewed historical precedent or ideology in the form of the Triple Entente, which included colonial rival the United Kingdom and ideological nemesis Imperial Russia. Additional French-inspired alliances encircled Germany after World War I with a band of weaker states— the so-called Little Entente alliance of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia in the 1920s.

    It didn’t work. France knew from the Napoleonic era that even at its height it could not rule Europe. It soon was driven home how indefensible the North European Plain border with Germany was and how much more powerful Germany was when France was not the only player embracing nationalism. Berlin simply was able to adopt tenets of the modern nation-state with greater efficiency— in large part because its precarious geographic position in the middle of Europe required efficiency— and then fuel them with much larger natural and demographic resources than France ever could. The culmination of this dichotomy was the events of May-June 1940, when the French military crumbled in less than six weeks. The defeat was by no means solely the result of geopolitical forces, but it sprang from the fundamental imbalance of power between France and a unified Germany.

    Phase IV: Managing Germany

    Most historians break the modern era into the Cold War and post-Cold War periods. At least as far as France is concerned, however, STRATFOR views the entire post-World War II era as a single chapter in French history that has yet to come to a conclusion. In this phase, France is attempting to find a means to live with Germany, a task greatly complicated by recent shifts in the global political geography.

    From the French point of view, the difference between World War II’s beginning and end was stunning. In mid-1940, France was fighting for its life and losing so badly that Germany, in essence, swallowed it whole, Five years later, Germany was not just shattered but also occupied— in part by none other than France herself. In mid-1940, the threat on the North European Plain spelled doom for Paris. Five years later, that threat had evaporated and the American nuclear umbrella made the thought of hostile military action against France on the North European Plain highly unlikely. Far from being a threat, post-war Germany was France’s new Maginot Line.

    And far from being exposed and vulnerable, France found itself facing the most congenial constellation of forces in its history. The United Kingdom was exhausted and had returned home to lick its wounds, pay down its war debts and deal with decolonization. Spain languished under Franco’s dictatorship. The Low Countries had been leveled in the war’s final year. Italy and Austria were essentially under the control of occupied powers. And the Soviets had sealed off all of Central Europe along with the eastern portion of Germany behind the Iron Curtain.

    Military options were off the table, but politically and economically there was nothing standing between France and Western European domination. And so France quite easily was able to coax the Low Countries into an economic and political partnership, while Italy and Germany were simply forced to join. The European Coal and Steel Community— precursor to the European Economic Community (EEC) and today’s European Union — was born only six years after the war ended.

    The stated gains of the EEC/EU have always been economic and political, but the deeper truth is that the European project has always been about French geopolitical fear and ambition. Fear in that so long as Germany is subsumed into an alliance that it does not control, then Paris need not fear another German invasion— or any invasion, for that matter. Ambition in that a France that can harness German strength is a France that does not need to burn resources guarding against Germany and a France that can become— once again— a global power.

    It was a solid plan, taking full advantage of the American occupation of Germany, and it worked in part. During the Cold War, France was able to plot a middle course between the Soviets and Americans (much to the Americans’ annoyance) and focus on deepening economic links to both Europe and its former colonies. It pursued an independent nuclear deterrent and a relationship with the second and third worlds largely unrestrained by its membership in the Western alliance. Life was good.

    But it didn’t last. Eventually the Cold War ended, and the Soviet collapse was perceived very differently in France. While most of the free world celebrated, the French fretted. France was not a front-line state during the Cold War, so the French never saw the Soviet Union as a great threat. However, the Soviet collapse led to the reunification of Germany— and that was a top-tier issue.

    No longer could France consider Germany a non-entity content to be harnessed for someone else’s ends. The French knew from their disastrous firsthand experiences in the late 19th century that Germany would claw back to its position as the premier power in Europe and attempt to remake Europe in its image— with more resources and thus likely more success than the French had after World War II.

    France’s solution was as creative as ever: ensure that continued German membership in European institutions remained in Germany’s interest. When it became apparent that German reunification was imminent, France rushed negotiations of the EU’s Maastricht Treaty on Monetary Union —essentially handing over Europe’s economic policy to the Germans (the European Central Bank is, for all intents and purposes, the German Bundesbank writ large). Twenty years on, Germany cannot abandon the European Union without triggering massive internal economic dislocations because of the economic evolutions Maastricht has wrought.

    Considering the tools at hand, it is as tight a cage as the French were able to weave, but that leaves the French with two long-term concerns. First, the cage breaks, Germany goes its own way and attempts to remake Europe to suit its purposes. The details of this scenario are impossible to predict, but in theme, it would be 1914 all over again. Second, the cage holds, but it constrains France more than Germany. With the Germans ever more in control of their own policies, the French can no longer take for granted their undisputed leadership of the European Union as they did during the Cold War. Germany’s recent aggressiveness in seeking a German solution to the current financial crisis is an excellent case in point as to how Germany is moving beyond what France hoped would be a co-leadership structure. And then there is the simple fact of direct competition. Paris fears that the outright Franco-German economic competition that the European Union allows could end as badly for France as the direct Franco-German military competition did 70 years ago. It is probably correct. On at least one level, France in 2010 is in an even more uncomfortable situation than it was in 1871 because this time France is in the cage with Germany.

    The hope in Paris is that Germany will come to the same conclusion that France has: that it lacks the geopolitical gifts and positioning to rule Europe by itself and that it needs a partner. So long as that is the case— and so long as Germany chooses France as that partner— France can breathe more easily. But the fact remains that this is a decision that will be made in Berlin, not Paris. And with that renewed cognizance in Berlin, France’s strategy of managing Germany is already beginning to fail.

    Geopolitical Imperatives

    1. Secure a larger hinterland.
    2. Always look east.
    3. Maintain influence in regions beyond Europe.
    4. Be flexible.

    Secure a Larger Hinterland

    France is the only country on the North European Plain that has an option for expansion into useful territories beyond its core without directly clashing with another major power. This begins with expanding down the plain to the Pyrenees, but many other pieces of real estate are worth the time: the Rhone valley, the Mediterranean coast between the Pyrenees and the Alps, the Cotentin and Brittany Peninsulas, and even the Massif Central. While none of these areas can compare with the fertility and capital-generation capacity of the Beauce, all are valuable pieces of real estate in their own right and most grant Paris influence in regions beyond the North European Plain.

    Assimilating those regions— populated with Bretons, Basques and Galo-Romans— was not a simple task. Linguistic and ethnic differences require centuries to grind away. But unlike most of the similar regions in Europe, in France there are no other powers that are well-positioned to interfere with this process. The Scots and Sicilians could be reached via the sea, the Serbs and Bulgarians by any number of routes. But the minorities of France could only be accessed through France itself, making France uniquely able to centralize not only government but also identity.

    Always Look East

    Being situated at the western end of the North European Plain makes France the only country on the plain that has only one land approach to defend against. Paris must be ever vigilant of developments elsewhere down the plain and be prepared to intervene on any stretch of the plain it can reach in order to forestall or hamstring potential threats.

    As France discovered that it must centralize, the Beauce became even more important and— due to its position on the plain— more vulnerable. It became quite clear to its rivals that making a run for Paris and thus knocking out the nerve center of France was a simple means of taking over the entire country. The Maginot Line is simply the 20th century incarnation of a series of fortresses that were first built in the 17th century in an attempt to forestall a military conquest.

    In other eras the French were more proactive, sometimes occupying portions of the Netherlands or Germany as France did near the end of the Hapsburg era, sometimes carving out buffer states as it did with Belgium in the 19th century.

    Maintain Influence in Regions Beyond Western Europe

    Unlike the United Kingdom, whose expansion into empire was a natural step in its evolution as a naval power, France’s overseas empire was almost wholly artificial. The empire did not exist to expand Paris’ power per se but to grant the French an eye and hand in far off places to complicate the doings of others. North African colonies could be used to disrupt Italy, North American and Southeast Asian colonies to cause heartburn for the English. It did not so much matter that these colonies were profitable (most were not) so long as a French presence in them complicated the lives of France’s foes. This strategy continued throughout the Cold War as France used a long list of third-world leaders to complicate American, British, Soviet and German policies globally (roughly in that order).

    These colonial assets served one more critical role for Paris: They were disposable. Because they were not designed to be profitable, it did not unduly harm France when they were lost or traded away. After all, France’s primary concern is the North European Plain. If a piece of the empire needed to be used as a chip on the poker table that is Europe, so be it. Louisiana was sold for loose change in order to fund the Napoleonic wars, while Algeria was ultimately abandoned— despite being home to some 1 million ethnic French— so that Charles de Gaulle could focus attention on more important matters at home and in the rest of Europe.

    Be Flexible

    Geopolitics is not ideological or personal, although few countries have the discipline to understand that. To survive, nation-states regularly need to ally with powers they find less than ideal. For example, the United States sided with Soviet Russia during World War II and Maoist China during the Cold War to gain advantage over its rivals.

    But France takes this concept to new heights. France’s position on the western end of the North European Plain and sitting astride the only reliable connections between Northern and Southern Europe make it remarkably exposed to European and North African developments. France does possess a great deal of arable land and navigable waterways, but these are not sufficient resources to deal with the multiple challenges that its neighborhood constantly poses from many directions.

    Consequently, France makes these kinds of less-than-ideal alliances far more often than other states. Luckily, its penchant for obtaining influence on a global scale (its third imperative) provides it with no end of potential partners. Throughout France’s history, it has allied not only with the Ottoman Empire against its fellow Western Europeans but also with Protestant German states against fellow Catholic states during Europe’s religious wars.

    Challenges Ahead

    Today, France is faced with a Germany that is still tied to Paris via the European Union and NATO but is beginning to think for itself. It will take all of Paris’ diplomatic flexibility, acumen and influence to maintain France’s position as one of the world’s premier powers. It will have to make itself indispensable to Berlin’s control of Europe while making sure that it has Germany outmaneuvered on the global stage. It is a difficult challenge, but France has a 1,000-year history of diplomatic intrigue and Machiavellian politics from which to draw.

  3. M. Silva said,

    Germany’s Choice: Part 2

    By Peter Zeihan and Marko Papic

    Seventeen months ago, STRATFOR described how the future of Europe was bound to the decision-making processes in Germany. Throughout the post-World War II era, other European countries treated Germany as a feeding trough, bleeding the country for resources (primarily financial) in order to smooth over the rougher portions of their systems. Considering the carnage wrought in World War II, most Europeans — and even many Germans — considered this perfectly reasonable right up to the current decade. Germany dutifully followed the orders of the others, most notably the French, and wrote check after check to underwrite European solidarity.

    However, with the end of the Cold War and German reunification, the Germans began to stand up for themselves once again. Europe’s contemporary financial crisis can be as complicated as one wants to make it, but strip away all the talk of bonds, defaults and credit-default swaps and the core of the matter consists of these three points:

    Europe cannot function as a unified entity unless someone is in control.
    At present, Germany is the only country with a large enough economy and population to achieve that control.
    Being in control comes with a cost: It requires deep and ongoing financial support for the European Union’s weaker members.
    What happened since STRATFOR published Germany’s Choice was a debate within Germany about how central the European Union was to German interests and how much the Germans were willing to pay to keep it intact. With their July 22 approval of a new bailout mechanism — from which the Greeks immediately received another 109 billion euros — the Germans made clear their answers to those questions, and with that decision, Europe enters a new era.

    The Origins of the Eurozone

    The foundations of the European Union were laid in the early post-World War II years, but the critical event happened in 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty on Monetary Union. In that treaty, the Europeans committed themselves to a common currency and monetary system while scrupulously maintaining national control of fiscal policy, finance and banking. They would share capital but not banks, interest rates but not tax policy. They would also share a currency but none of the political mechanisms required to manage an economy. One of the many inevitable consequences of this was that governments and investors alike assumed that Germany’s support for the new common currency was total, that the Germans would back any government that participated fully in Maastricht. As a result, the ability of weaker eurozone members to borrow was drastically improved. In Greece in particular, the rate on government bonds dropped from an 18 percentage-point premium over German bonds to less than 1 percentage point in less than a decade. To put that into context, borrowers of $200,000 mortgages would see their monthly payments drop by $2,500.

    Faced with unprecedentedly low capital costs, parts of Europe that had not been economically dynamic in centuries — in some cases, millennia — sprang to life. Ireland, Greece, Iberia and southern Italy all experienced the strongest growth they had known in generations. But they were not borrowing money generated locally — they were not even borrowing against their own income potential. Such borrowing was not simply a government affair. Local banks that normally faced steep financing costs could now access capital as if they were headquartered in Frankfurt and servicing Germans. The cheap credit flooded every corner of the eurozone. It was a subprime mortgage frenzy on a multinational scale, and the party couldn’t last forever. The 2008 global financial crisis forced a reckoning all over the world, and in the traditionally poorer parts of Europe the process unearthed the political-financial disconnects of Maastricht.

    The investment community has been driving the issue ever since. Once investors perceived that there was no direct link between the German government and Greek debt, they started to again think of Greece on its own merits. The rate charged for Greece to borrow started creeping up again, breaking 16 percent at its height. To extend the mortgage comparison, the Greek “house” now cost an extra $2,000 a month to maintain compared to the mid-2000s. A default was not just inevitable but imminent, and all eyes turned to the Germans.

    A Temporary Solution

    It is easy to see why the Germans did not simply immediately write a check. Doing that for the Greeks (and others) would have merely sent more money into the same system that generated the crisis in the first place. That said, the Germans couldn’t simply let the Greeks sink. Despite its flaws, the system that currently manages Europe has granted Germany economic wealth of global reach without costing a single German life. Given the horrors of World War II, this was not something to be breezily discarded. No country in Europe has benefited more from the eurozone than Germany. For the German elite, the eurozone was an easy means of making Germany matter on a global stage without the sort of military revitalization that would have spawned panic across Europe and the former Soviet Union. And it also made the Germans rich.

    But this was not obvious to the average German voter. From this voter’s point of view, Germany had already picked up the tab for Europe three times: first in paying for European institutions throughout the history of the union, second in paying for all of the costs of German reunification and third in accepting a mismatched deutschemark-euro conversion rate when the euro was launched while most other EU states hardwired in a currency advantage. To compensate for those sacrifices, the Germans have been forced to partially dismantle their much-loved welfare state while the Greeks (and others) have taken advantage of German credit to expand theirs.

    Germany’s choice was not a pleasant one: Either let the structures of the past two generations fall apart and write off the possibility of Europe becoming a great power or salvage the eurozone by underwriting two trillion euros of debt issued by eurozone governments every year.

    Beset with such a weighty decision, the Germans dealt with the immediate Greek problem of early 2010 by dithering. Even the bailout fund known as the European Financial Security Facility (EFSF) — was at best a temporary patch. The German leadership had to balance messages and plans while they decided what they really wanted. That meant reassuring the other eurozone states that Berlin still cared while assuaging investor fears and pandering to a large and angry anti-bailout constituency at home. With so many audiences to speak to, it is not at all surprising that Berlin chose a solution that was sub-optimal throughout the crisis.

    That sub-optimal solution is the EFSF, a bailout mechanism whose bonds enjoyed full government guarantees from the healthy eurozone states, most notably Germany. Because of those guarantees, the EFSF was able to raise funds on the bond market and then funnel that capital to the distressed states in exchange for austerity programs. Unlike previous EU institutions (which the Germans strongly influence), the EFSF takes its orders from the Germans. The mechanism is not enshrined in EU treaties; it is instead a private bank, the director of which is German. The EFSF worked as a patch but eventually proved insufficient. All the EFSF bailouts did was buy a little time until investors could do the math and realize that even with bailouts the distressed states would never be able to grow out of their mountains of debt. These states had engorged themselves on cheap credit so much during the euro’s first decade that even 273 billion euros of bailouts was insufficient. This issue came to a boil over the past few weeks in Greece. Faced with the futility of yet another stopgap solution to the eurozone’s financial woes, the Germans finally made a tough decision.

    The New EFSF

    The result was an EFSF redesign. Under the new system the distressed states can now access — with German permission — all the capital they need from the fund without having to go back repeatedly to the EU Council of Ministers. The maturity on all such EFSF credit has been increased from 7.5 years to as much as 40 years, while the cost of that credit has been slashed to whatever the market charges the EFSF itself to raise it (right now that’s about 3.5 percent, far lower than what the peripheral — and even some not-so-peripheral — countries could access on the international bond markets). All outstanding debts, including the previous EFSF programs, can be reworked under the new rules. The EFSF has been granted the ability to participate directly in the bond market by buying the government debt of states that cannot find anyone else interested, or even act pre-emptively should future crises threaten, without needing to first negotiate a bailout program. The EFSF can even extend credit to states that were considering internal bailouts of their banking systems. It is a massive debt consolidation program for both private and public sectors. In order to get the money, distressed states merely have to do whatever Germany — the manager of the fund — wants. The decision-making occurs within the fund, not at the EU institutional level.

    In practical terms, these changes cause two major things to happen. First, they essentially remove any potential cap on the amount of money that the EFSF can raise, eliminating concerns that the fund is insufficiently stocked. Technically, the fund is still operating with a 440 billion-euro ceiling, but now that the Germans have fully committed themselves, that number is a mere technicality (it was German reticence before that kept the EFSF’s funding limit so “low”).

    Second, all of the distressed states’ outstanding bonds will be refinanced at lower rates over longer maturities, so there will no longer be very many “Greek” or “Portuguese” bonds. Under the EFSF all of this debt will in essence be a sort of “eurobond,” a new class of bond in Europe upon which the weak states utterly depend and which the Germans utterly control. For states that experience problems, almost all of their financial existence will now be wrapped up in the EFSF structure. Accepting EFSF assistance means accepting a surrender of financial autonomy to the German commanders of the EFSF. For now, that means accepting German-designed austerity programs, but there is nothing that forces the Germans to limit their conditions to the purely financial/fiscal.

    For all practical purposes, the next chapter of history has now opened in Europe. Regardless of intentions, Germany has just experienced an important development in its ability to influence fellow EU member states — particularly those experiencing financial troubles. It can now easily usurp huge amounts of national sovereignty. Rather than constraining Germany’s geopolitical potential, the European Union now enhances it; Germany is on the verge of once again becoming a great power. This hardly means that a regeneration of the Wehrmacht is imminent, but Germany’s re-emergence does force a radical rethinking of the European and Eurasian architectures.

    Reactions to the New Europe

    Every state will react to this new world differently. The French are both thrilled and terrified — thrilled that the Germans have finally agreed to commit the resources required to make the European Union work and terrified that Berlin has found a way to do it that preserves German control of those resources. The French realize that they are losing control of Europe, and fast. France designed the European Union to explicitly contain German power so it could never be harmed again while harnessing that power to fuel a French rise to greatness. The French nightmare scenario of an unrestrained Germany is now possible.

    The British are feeling extremely thoughtful. They have always been the outsiders in the European Union, joining primarily so that they can put up obstacles from time to time. With the Germans now asserting financial control outside of EU structures, the all-important U.K. veto is now largely useless. Just as the Germans are in need of a national debate about their role in the world, the British are in need of a national debate about their role in Europe. The Europe that was a cage for Germany is no more, which means that the United Kingdom is now a member of different sort of organization that may or may not serve its purposes.

    The Russians are feeling opportunistic. They have always been distrustful of the European Union, since it — like NATO — is an organization formed in part to keep them out. In recent years the union has farmed out its foreign policy to whatever state was most impacted by the issue in question, and in many cases these states has been former Soviet satellites in Central Europe, all of which have an axe to grind. With Germany rising to leadership, the Russians have just one decision-maker to deal with. Between Germany’s need for natural gas and Russia’s ample export capacity, a German-Russian partnership is blooming. It is not that the Russians are unconcerned about the possibilities of strong German power — the memories of the Great Patriotic War burn far too hot and bright for that — but now there is a belt of 12 countries between the two powers. The Russian-German bilateral relationship will not be perfect, but there is another chapter of history to be written before the Germans and Russians need to worry seriously about each other.

    Those 12 countries are trapped between rising German and consolidating Russian power. For all practical purposes, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova have already been reintegrated into the Russian sphere. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria are finding themselves under ever-stronger German influence but are fighting to retain their independence. As much as the nine distrust the Russians and Germans, however, they have no alternative at present.

    The obvious solution for these “Intermarium” states — as well as for the French — is sponsorship by the United States. But the Americans are distracted and contemplating a new period of isolationism, forcing the nine to consider other, less palatable, options. These include everything from a local Intermarium alliance that would be questionable at best to picking either the Russians or Germans and suing for terms. France’s nightmare scenario is on the horizon, but for these nine states — which labored under the Soviet lash only 22 years ago — it is front and center.

  4. M. Silva said,

    Libyan War Goes a Long Way to Improve the Pentagon’s View of France as an Ally

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