by Charles Gave via Gavekal Dragonomics
This weekend has seen the European Union do a stitch-up deal so that arch-federalist Jean-Claude Juncker became Commission president. To be honest, who gets to play eurocrat in chief is of no great interest to me, but the manner of the appointment tells us lots about the changing nature of power in Europe. Governments from Stockholm to Rome reportedly opposed Juncker, but ultimately none would defy Berlin. Also this weekend, it is worth noting some ostensibly bland comments by Vladimir Putin at a German-Russian official function: “We value the accumulated potential of Russian-German relations and the high level of trade and economic cooperation. Germany, one of the European Union leaders, is our most important partner in enhancing peace, global and regional security.”
I would contend that we are seeing a decisive shift in the political character of Eurasia. History tells us that long wars have tended to be fought between maritime empires and continental empires. Think of Athens vs. Sparta, Carthage vs. Rome or Britain vs. Napoleonic France. The last big fight was between the US and the Soviet Union ended in favor of the maritime empire. As a result, since 1989 we have lived in an order ultimately run by the US military. But after some unpleasantness playing the role of global policeman, that maritime empire is in retreat.
The consequence of this move toward isolation is that a bunch of ‘continental empires’ are starting to challenge the monopoly of “legal” international violence that the US has exercised for the last 25 years. The most obvious challengers can be seen in the shape of Sunni Muslims across the Middle East, or in East Asia where a more confident and assertive China is stating its case for preeminence. Such struggles have the potential to become major regional problems, but what worries me more is the emerging continental alliance between Russia and Germany. Preventing such a partnership has for centuries been an idée fixe for French diplomacy, and for good reason. A combination of German industrial might and Russian raw materials and military strength would instantly create a colossus. The Poles, who have been perennial victims of engagements between Germany and Russia, are already visibly panicking, as they should be.
Historically, Paris has tended to ally with the Russians, not because it liked them but to prevent Germany from doing the same. The problem is that France has nothing to offer Russia (save some nice holiday homes and mooring berths for tycoons on its Mediterranean coast) and is, in any case, more focused on perfecting its own political and economic suicide.
This leaves the UK as the only shield against an alliance in the east. But this weekend we saw a clear statement of where Berlin sees its interests. Soothing words of “don’t go” may have been offered to London after the Juncker vote, but the incident has confirmed that the landscape has shifted from a European Germany to a German Europe.
The UK now seems set on a path to leave the EU within four years. The chances of London achieving the kind of root-and-branch treaty change that would keep it in the EU must rank as being close to nil. And as Winston Churchill said: “England does not belong to Europe, it belongs to the seas.” As was the case in the mid-20th century, the UK is unlikely to join a continental empire as a junior member and, when decision time arrives, it will stay allied with the US-led maritime empire.
In the old system, Europe was a kind of protectorate of the US maritime empire, a set-up that worked reasonably well. The challenge to the status quo comes from the east where Vladimir Putin has the clear goal of creating a new Russian/German alliance whose fief will run through Eastern Europe. If he succeeds, this will be a major loss for the maritime empire, especially if the UK has removed itself as an EU player.
There will be major political repercussions in the US from such a political carve up. The question will not only be how did “we” come to lose Asia and the Middle East, but also “our” most reliable and pliable ally—Europe.
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