The Concert of Europe, Interrupted
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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"(Plan for establishing) an economic organization ...
through mutual customs agreements ... including France, Belgium, Holland,
Denmark, Austria, Poland, and perhaps Italy, Sweden, and Norway".
(The German "September Plan" to impose an economic union on the vanquished nations of Europe following a military victory, 1914)
Europe spent the first half of the 19th century (following the 1815 Congress of Vienna) containing France. The trauma of the Napoleonic wars was the last in a medley of conflicts with an increasingly menacing France stretching back to the times of Louis XIV. The Concert of Europe was specifically designed to reflect the interests of the Big Powers, establish their borders of expansion in Europe, and create a continental "balance of deterrence". For a few decades it proved to be a success.
The rise of a unified, industrially mighty and narcissistic Germany erased most of these achievements. By closely monitoring France, the Big Powers were fighting the last war - instead of the three next ones. Following two ineffably ruinous world wars, Europe now shifted its geopolitical sights from France to Germany. In an effort to prevent a repeat of Hitler, the Big Powers of the West, led by France, established an "ever closer" European Union. Germany was (inadvertently) split and sandwiched and, thus, restrained. To its East, it faced a military-economic union (the Warsaw Pact) cum eastern empire (the late USSR). To its West, it was surrounded by a military union (NATO) cum emerging Western economic supranational structure (the EU). The Cold War was fought all over the world - but in Europe it was about Germany.
The collapse of the eastern flank (the Soviet - "evil" - Empire) of this implicit anti-German containment geo-strategy led to the re-emergence of a united Germany. Furthermore, Germany is in the process of obtaining hegemony over the EU by applying the political weight commensurate with its economic and demographic might. It is a natural and historical leader of central Europe - the EU's and NATO's future lebensraum and the target of their expansionary predilections ("integration"). Thus, virtually overnight, Germany came to dominate the Western component of the anti-German containment master plan - while the Eastern component has chaotically disintegrated.
The EU - notably France - is reacting by trying to assume the role formerly played by the USSR. EU integration is an attempt to assimilate former Soviet satellites and dilute Germany's power by re-jigging rules of voting and representation. If successful, this strategy will prevent Germany from bidding yet again for a position of hegemony in Europe by establishing a "German Union" separate from the EU. It is all still the same tiresome and antiquated game of continental Big Powers. Even Britain maintains its Victorian position of "splendid isolation".
The exclusion of both Turkey and Russia from these re-alignments is also a direct descendant of the politics of the last two centuries. Both are likely to gradually drift away from European (and Western) structures and seek their fortunes in the geopolitical twilight zones of the world. The USA is unlikely to be of much help to Europe as it reasserts the Monroe doctrine and attends to its growing Pacific preoccupations. It will assist the EU to cope with Russian (and to a lesser extent, Turkish) designs in the tremulously tectonic regions of the Caucasus, oil-rich and China-bordering Central Asia, and the Middle East. But it will not do so in Central Europe, in the Baltic, and in the Balkan.
Of these three spots, the Balkan is by far the most ominous. Russia - as it has proved in 1877-8 - has historical claims there which it is willing to back militarily. Many of the nations of the Balkan are far closer to Russia than to the West and tend to regard the latter with suspicion and hostility. Turkey, if it so chooses, can easily assume the role of the protector of Balkan Moslems - sure to provoke Greek ire. A military conflict among two NATO members will constitute a body blow to the credibility and prestige of this alliance in search of an enemy. Moreover, Turkey is the prefect staging ground for operations in the Middle East, Central Asia and China. It constitutes a vital American interest and the pivot of NATO's southern flank. But it is derided by the EU, its NATO membership notwithstanding.
It is here, in the Balkan, that the New World Order and the End of History hypothesis are being tested. A new European balance of the Big Powers will emerge here. But hitherto, alas, this particular concert of Europe has been quite a cacophony.