Europe’s Destiny is Not Necessarily Shared by the US

Despite the election of Obama, Europe and the US are on diverging paths and very different tranjectories.

Recent commentary about our credit/financial crises assumes the rise of China, ignores  important demographic developments, and implicitly assumes that the  decline of Europe will be shared by the US.

The French philosopher August Comte   suggested in a now-famous formula that a society’s demographic inheritance can be a decisive factor in its fate. While demographic projections are of necessity inherently uncertain, ignoring likely demographic developments in predicting the future of Europe, the rise of China, or the decline of the US is  foolhardy.

Two recent papers issued by the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defence University in the US help clarify  these issues. While one can disagree with or challenge certain demographic assumptions and some assertions made in both papers, they are of interest in that they give a strategic and independent view on Europe’s likely position in the world based on an attempt to realistically assess its future .  Serious commentators and analysts in the US have seen the need for a strong Europe to help America achieve agreed aims worldwide for the last few years . These papers are a scholarly effort on the part of the US defence establishment , close to the Pentagon, to see how such cooperation would work, assuming Europe and the new President see eye to eye on most key issues.

The first paper: NATO’s Uncertain Future: Is Demography Destiny ? by Dr. Jeffrey Simon, concludes : ” Internal demographic factors and external global shifts increasingly will draw the attention of the United States away from its traditional European focus. Europe’s rapid demographic marginalisation and diminishing social, economic, and political weight will mean that it will no longer be the “center” of the world or of US attention.” Having pointed out that there is still time to address some of these issues he concludes that: “Without such concerted action, it is hard to foresee how demography will not prove to be NATO’s[ the European NATO countries]Achilles’ heel.”

The second paper – The Absence of Europe: Implications for International Security? by Dr. Stephen Kramer, concludes rather starkly: ” The problem is  Europe’s ability to work with (and influence) the United States is limited by its self-imposed weakness in international security and that this weakness is the logical consequence of the European Union’s political structure and worldview. In the future, America may have no choice but to turn to Asia for support if it wishes to remain an international arbiter. Perhaps a different kind of relationship with a more activist China and India will be needed to manage global instability. If so, the Euro-American age will have come to a close.”

Starting with the paper on demography, the medium and long-term weaknesses of Europe are broadly well-known while their implications are routinely ignored. The population of Europe, without significant action, will decline and age relatively rapidly. Countries such as Italy and Spain will suffer massive population declines — of 21% and 25% respectively by the year 2050. With the decrease in the population of young workers, the burden on the remaining workers of an ageing population will prove potentially disastrous. ( It is for this reason that many US commentators have been warning for a number of years that Europe’s welfare state cannot be sustained.) The current credit/financial crises are simply highlighting this issue at an earlier date than might have occurred. Immigration will primarily come from Muslim states, while on the borders of Europe a number of countries will have Muslim majority populations. Russia’s population will decline from approximately 145 million in 2005 to 104 million by 2050. At that stage Muslims will be almost a majority of the Russian population, while the population of the Ukraine will decline in that same period by 20 million to 29.9 million.

Of necessity , Simon’s analysis does not embrace China. As I’ve analysed in detail elsewhere                 (Innovation, the Irish Times, October 2007 ), China faces a disastrous demographic future. The combination of a declining population, a serious imbalance between men and women, and one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the world, means that China faces what one expert has called “a slow-motion humanitarian tragedy “. By contrast , Simon notes that the US population will grow by over 100 million by the year 2050. By the end of this century some estimates place the continuing growth in US population at such a level that it will amount to 50% of the population of India/China. Much more importantly its median age will only increase slightly in that period to 2050 from 35.5 to 36.2 years. This will make the US relatively unique amongst the major powers in having both a growing population and one that is not ageing significantly. The impact this will have on its economy, its financial strength, and its capacity to spend on armaments, aid etc is enormous and routinely almost totally ignored.

 Europe, in contrast, will be moving in every sense in exactly the opposite direction. This leads Simon to conclude that: “Some European allies actually may have to face the question of whether they will be able to maintain a viable military.” In addition Europe’s ability to intervene globally, currently at derisory levels, will decline even further because of the reduction in its absolute population and its rapid ageing. Even at  present, as Europe can only deploy 2.7% of all service personnel abroad on crisis management operations, this means that with a  NATO Europe defence establishment in 2008 of just under 2 million, Europe could  only deploy armed forces abroad totalling about 54,000 men! In all these circumstances  the argument deployed by some opposing the Lisbon Treaty about European imperialism is nonsense. The only imperialism Europe has to worry about is that of others.

Simon completes his analysis by showing the very different immigrant trends in the US leading to the conclusion that  different immigration patterns will in themselves lead to a divergence in worldview between Europe and the US. “This means that 38% of the US population will be either Hispanic or Asian in 2050, compared to only 4.1% in 1960.” The conclusion from this is that the cultural understanding and identification which has linked the US and Europe to date will change dramatically. Europe is likely to be much more inward focused and more sensitive to Muslim concerns, while the US would be much more focused on Asia and Central and Southern America  with its connections and contacts with Europe declining.

Kramer’s paper is an interesting independent view on where the EU is today. His conclusion is that “The EU model seems to have reached the end of its effectiveness, but it cannot be changed either.”Interestingly he attributes this failure to a variety of factors,  a core one being that Jean Monnet’s objective of a United States of Europe has not been achieved. He attributes this to the ambivalence of the founders of the EU — above all France — and not the countries on the periphery of Europe such as Ireland. He sees France and Germany now going their own way with disagreements between both  their leaders and other key leaders in Europe.[ in this he ignores, as almost all do, that there had to be a natural limit to the period when Franco/ German agreement on the future of Europe would last.]

 Other key reasons why Europe has run out of steam, according to Kramer, include enlargement failures and fatigue (including the failures on Cyprus and in Eastern Europe which have allowed Cyprus dictate EU policy on Turkey  and the entry of organised crime syndicates into the EU), the mess made of NATO enlargement leaving many countries feeling insecure and with a growing Russian threat, and the current structural weakness which now requires agreement between France, Germany, Poland, the UK and Spain at least before moving in any particular direction. He makes the usual points about the absence of will shown by the EU in Bosnia and  that the EU has lost its nerve about enlargement in general and particular with respect to Turkey , while noting that the absence of likely further enlargement in itself reduces Europe’s power. He does not see the Lisbon treaty changing any of these core underlying issues and concludes that with the current economic and financial issues the EU will be focused inwardly on its own financial, political  , economic and demographic issues for decades, and will have little time or interest or power to spend on international affairs.

There are issues, comments, and statistics in both papers that one could take issue with. However, unfortunately the broad parameters set out in these papers are likely to be accurate as far as Europe is concerned unless significant action is taken  very quickly. In the current climate that seems unlikely. What this means is that Europe which has relied heavily on soft power , will have much less such power available to it in future to achieve its aims. Even if the EU wished to use hard power the demographic evidence suggests that such will be impossible.

These papers are therefore likely to be broadly correct in that the power of Europe is now in a significant and potentially long-term decline. It may be the acceptance of this that has led the major powers in the EU, France Germany and Italy,  to do unilateral deals with Russia with respect to energy supply rather than through the vehicle of EU institutions. The core strategic threat of the energy weapon on the part of a declining Russia (explained in detail in my opinion piece-Russian energy monopoly a threat to divided EU states, Irish Times January 7, 2009) against the EU may be the first actual major manifestation of this decline.

A more intangible illustration of such and of the potential weaknesses of the EU structures may be evident in the reaction to the current financial/credit crises. To China and Russia such crises, threatening the stable continuation of improving domestic economic developments, are a direct threat to the regimes themselves. In the EU many states are extremely concerned about civil unrest  in their respective countries. Interestingly, the US, which is suffering most from these crises, does not seem unduly concerned with respect to social or civil unrest.

This raises the question as to whether the  EU institutions, based around a distant Brussels elite, are to  distant from the real  concerns of national populations in Europe? Kramer’s summary about how the Lisbon Treaty was generated may be part of the answer: “What was produced at the convention was less than a new founding document, far less than a real constitution. Nor did the document (not really a constitution but a compendium of treaties as modified) represent a people’s Europe. It was not achieved by popular means and would not be governed by them. Moreover, a system of European government that is not democratically elected will always suffer from a problem of legitimacy”.

Kramer is not the only one to make this point. Unfortunately protest action on the streets of the cities of Europe over the next few years may be the ultimate electoral view on Lisbon and proof one way or other whether the EU has reached a cul-de-sac.

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