I am going to start off by looking at Europe, defined as the region under the influence of Western Christianity and/or the European Union (not Russia or Turkey, which will be covered in a later Eurasia Report).
The Big Questions
- Demographic problems: aging, low fertility and Eurabia?
- The unsustainability of the modern welfare state?
- Cultural decline & reaction against liberal rationalism?
- The return of Great Power politics? (e.g. Mearsheimer 1990), & the decline of the EU and growing centrality of Franco-German relations, – or will the EU survive, and if so in what form?
- National trends: a secure, “flourishing” France; a troubled but powerful Germany; Poland beset on two fronts; marginalized Britain, Spain & Italy, all in decline; Sweden as preeminent Baltic power; on the outskirts, both Russia and Turkey increase their power – realistic?
- The retreat into authoritarianism and militarism? Europe as a Black Continent?
Without much exaggeration, demography is Europe’s central issue for the foreseeable future. Just to keep the labor force constant, the EU needs 1.6mn immigrants annually (current population: 500mn); to maintain a 3:1 ratio of labor force to retirees, it will need 3.1mn immigrants yearly to offset the aging of the population. These kinds of numbers are probably unrealistic due to (justified?) European xenophobia, especially in the east and center.
The root explanation is Europe’s post-1970 fertility collapse, especially pronounced in Germania, the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, etc), and the Visegrad region (East-Central Europe). It is most severe in Germany and Austria (both TFR = 1.3), where the total fertility rate (TFR) fell below the replacement-level rate of 2.1 children per woman in the early 1970’s; since the Germans have not been reproducing themselves for a full generation now (and have no desire to start doing so, as even the desired TFR is at a low 1.8), they will inevitably fall into a death spiral.
The situation is similar in the Mediterranean nations and Visegrad (TFR around 1.3), with the exception that their fertility falls came a decade and two decades after Germany’s, respectively. However, much like Russia, Visegrad still has chances of effecting a demographic recovery, assuming their fertility collapse was primarily a result of “transition shock” instead of “social modernization”. Much better off are France (TFR = 2.0), the UK (TFR = 1.9), and the Nordic countries like Sweden (TFR = 1.7), whose fertility rates are all within a manageable distance of the replacement level rate.
However, conservatives who fear the coming of a Muslim Europe – “Eurabia” – are going to be happy. That theory rests on the assumptions that a) the size of the Muslim minority in Europe is severely underreported, b) the Muslim minority retains its extreme religiosity, c) “reversion” to Islam will increase, and that d) the high fertility rates of first-generation Muslims and e) high levels of Muslim immigration will continue indefinitely in the face of rising European xenophobia. All of these assumptions are very much open to question. The far likelier possibility is that the trans-European Muslim community will be scapegoated by a declining continent rediscovering its old geopolitical faultlines.
Napoleonic France introduced pensions for civil servants, Bismarck’s Germany invented the social security system, and Sweden developed the modern welfare state in the 1930’s – a system that reached its apogee on the European continent on the back of the post-war economic miracle and demographic expansion. Both have come to an end, and so too may the modern welfare state as we know it.
Due to their fertility crises, Europeans will find it increasingly difficult to maintain their generous welfare states. Sweden will likely soldier on with its “social-democratic welfare state”, given that it lies at the heart of its identity (social mobility, egalitarianism, progressivism); a (relatively) youthful France will also find it manageable to retain the extensive perks, privileges, and niceties of its dirigiste system. Though demographically healthy, Britain has an array of other critical problems that will force it to strip down the bloat and return to its traditionally minimal “liberal welfare state”. In low-fertility Europe, raising the retirement age and cutting down the “corporatist welfare state” to the spartan standards of the earlier 20th century is now the only realistic solution, the alternatives being one or two more decades of decay followed by fiscal and social collapse. The rightist wave sweeping the European elections of 2009 may be a subconscious realization that it’s time for taking responsibility.
The wealth, social solidarity, and geography of European nations means that overpopulation, pollution and climate change will not have quite the same critical impact as in other regions like the Middle East or China – though an inundating Holland, desertifying Spain and burning Greece may beg to differ. (This applies to the period until 2030; after that, all bets are off everywhere).
Germany has a robust industrial ecosystem manned by a well-educated population, powered by a triad of coal, natural gas and renewable sources of energy, and underpinned by advanced technologies and a potent machine-building sector. It constitutes Europe’s economic and commercial powerhouse. However, it is artificially reliant on exports to provide the savings needed for its rapidly aging population – short of a mortality crisis, an irreversible problem compounded by the most intractable demographic crisis of any major European nation. This reliance is dangerous, given the imminent waning of globalization. Facing a sub-par energy future, the loss of global export markets, and the rediscovery of a conservative nationalism bizarrely married to environmentalism, Berlin will again turn its baleful gaze to East-Central Europe.
In addition to the manifold soft power tools at its disposal, Germany is already beginning to unshackle itself from its post-WW2 military constraints. Though the Bundeswehr is of Cold War vintage with minimal power projection capabilities, Germany has the technologies and industrial potential to once again become a leading European land power. Its status as a “virtual nuclear weapons state” means it has the capability to develop and field a small arsenal of deliverable nuclear weapons within months of commencing a crash program. Thus, Germany has both the dormant potential and the incentives to return to the Reich, expanding into Visegrad to acquire captive markets and to guarantee Russian hydrocarbons supplies – and reigniting its old, paranoia-fueled duel with France for European hegemony.
Unlike in the first half of the 20th century, it is France that will be the more potent competitor this time around. Its fertility rates are the healthiest on the European continent – though its population of 62mn is smaller than Germany’s 82mn, it already has a higher number of annual births. Though they have a restive 10% Muslim minority in the deprived banlieues, French Muslims are culturally more integrated than their co-religionists in Germany or Britain. The French economy is versatile, productive, and robust, suffering little during the 2008 economic crash – though scolded for dirigisme and S&M business regulations that stymie employment, its dirigisme is arguably superior to Germany’s export dependency, the Mediterranean’s fiscal holes, and Britain’s bubble economy.
On the strategic level, France is a powerful independent actor. With 80% of its electricity generation coming from nuclear power, its industrial and residential infrastructure is invulnerable to gas disruptions – be it Russian “energy blackmail” or Ukrainian intransigence. The country is underpopulated relative to the rest of Western Europe. France possesses Europe’s sole fully-autonomous military-industrial complex, producing the whole panoply of weapon classes from helicopter carriers to fighter jets; it has substantial power projection capabilities; and its extensive nuclear infrastructure supports the world’s third largest strategic nuclear stockpile, the bulk of its 300 warheads mounted on MIRVed SLBM’s held on four ballistic missile submarines.
All these factors put it in good stead for a symbiosis with its former North African colonies. Algeria is a major oil and gas producer, while Morocco has 2/3 of the world’s rock phosphate reserves – “a critical component in global fertilizer supply”. Facing a demographic “youth bulge” and shrinking agricultural yields under the stress of global warming and an advancing Saharan desert, the Maghreb nations may feel compelled to offer energy & phosphate supply guarantees to France in exchange for its commitment to a high immigration quota and protection of Muslim rights. Further afield, it has a strong military and neo-colonial presence in energy-rich West Africa. Occupying an enviable geostrategic location from a position of immense strength – demographic, economic, and strategic – there can be little doubt that France will be the predominant European power of the next decades.
On the surface, Britain appears to be a strong contender for European preeminence in the coming decades. It has respectable demographic indicators and, at least so far, a relatively low level of sovereign debt. The island nation occupies the most strategically secure location on the European continent – it has never been successfully invaded since 1066, largely thanks to its efforts to maintain a continental balance of power, spoiling attacks on potential European hegemons, and as a last resort, the English Channel. The island nation hosts significant power projection capabilities and a robust SSBN-based nuclear deterrent (much like France); furthermore, it also maintains a “special relationship” with a United States that shares its fundamental goal of stymieing the rise of a European hegemon. At the same time, London is not averse to profiting from European markets and the pursuit of its neo-colonial interests further abroad, as befits the descendant of an empire on which the sun never set. As the sun sets on Pax Americana, could its British satrapy continue its legacy on the old continent?
The answer is almost certainly not. Despite its ostensible strength and vigor, the United Kingdom faces a set of imminent, interlinked challenges – economic, fiscal, energy, and nationalities – that could not only preclude its rise to preeminence, but put at peril its very existence as a federated state.
Britain has seen accelerating deindustrialization since the neoliberal revolution of 1980’s Thatcherism, culminating in the false boom of the 2000’s driven by construction and finance. At the same time, government spending increased as Britain moved to implement a social-democratic welfare state – partly because of the need to satiate the emerging victims of market fundamentalism, and partly because of a general expansion of state power relative to the citizenry (surveillance, databases, etc). However, it should be noted that unlike in Scandinavia, this development did not lead to higher socio-economic mobility, which remains the lowest in Europe.
Even before the current crisis, government spending (purchases and transfers) was approaching 50% of GDP, with the figure rising to 56% in Scotland, 72% in Wales and 78% in Northern Ireland. With the discrediting of the neoliberal model, soaring budget deficits (12%+ of GDP), plummeting foreign investor confidence, and widespread indebtedness stymying a consumer-led recovery, Britain finds itself locked into a predicament, between the Scylla of inflationary fire and the Charybdis of a painful fiscal retrenchment and deflationary “debt trap”. Though on current trends the former seems to be the more prevalent, the likely triumph of the Conservatives in the 2010 elections may herald a sea change in favor of the fiscal restraint championed by their middle-England electoral base.
This fiscal predicament is compounded by its energy woes, in which the absence of a long-term energy policy, mindless liberalization, and above all the rapid depletion of the North Sea gas and oil fields, may see it enter a period of Third World-style blackouts by the mid-2010’s. Britain’s growing need for gas imports will necessitate costly investments in LNG terminals, put its current account further into the red, and even develop a German-style dependence on Russia. This could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back – forced into buying expensive energy supplies and suffering from power disruptions, the British economy will go into stagnation or outright decline. This cannot be squared with the level of requisitions needed to support the metastasizing British welfare state, and it will have to give.
Finally, Britain’s latent separatist pressures will come to the forefront – no one wants to remain on a sinking ship. Scotland is a viable nation with a substantial industrial base and still significant North Sea hydrocarbons deposits – given independence, it will resurrect its Auld Alliance with France. Similarly, there will be less enthusiasm for maintaining Northern Ireland on the English dole; once ditched, it will inevitably drift to the hearty embrace of the Republic of Eire. Only Wales is likely to remain within the new Republic of England & Wales (the Queen will have moved to Scotland). Though England will retain the vast bulk of the UK’s population, economic, and military assets, their general degradation during this time period will have relegated it to the status of a secondary European Great Power like Italy or Spain. However, its longer-term prospects are slightly brighter due to its relatively healthy (current) demography and preparedness for global warming.
Not even that can be said about the Mediterranean nations, however, which suffer from all the challenges facing Germany, France and the UK – collapsed fertility rates (TFR = 1.3), social immobility, sclerotic economies, unsustainable welfare states, debt traps, and imminent fiscal collapse thanks to the ECB depriving them of the ability to engineer a currency depreciation (their traditional solution to fiscal crises).
Italy is sinking back into political cronyism, the level of corruption is astounding for a First World nation, and its artisanal manufacturing is being destroyed by Chinese competition. There remain huge gaps between the advanced Nord and the Mafia-riddled, poverty-stricken Mezzogiorno – thus, opportunities for domestic tensions abound. As for Spain, it is facing an excruciating bust as the foreign credit flows pumping up its construction-fueled economy subside; furthermore, it faces an uncertain energy future (despite its impressive expansion into renewables, the scale is still far too small), exponentially-rising damage from global warming, and separatist tensions from the Basque region.
The performance of their education systems (both basic and tertiary), spending on R&D, and levels of corruption, are all far behind their north European neighbors. Too preoccupied with their manifold domestic challenges and isolated by the Alps and the Pyrenees from the North European Plain, these two nations have neither the incentive nor the capability to play a major role in future European power politics. They are likely to succumb to an accelerating, self-reinforcing decay, eventually culminating in the emigration of millions of young Spaniards and southern Italians to France and the US (being whites, xenophobia will not play a big role).
Finally, there are two European nations that are currently marginal, but may assume a much more prominent role in future decades – Poland and Sweden. Let us start with the former. Poland has a balanced, protected, and fast-growing economy that was little affected by the 2008 crisis (relatively speaking); a strong sense of national unity; and although it suffered from a sharp fall in fertility from the early 1990’s along with the rest of the socialist bloc, it may have a chance of recovery for the same reasons as Russia, i.e. because there is evidence to suggest its demographic decline was a result of the “transition shock”, i.e. not permanent. However, the likelihood of that occuring is smaller because a) its desired fertility (around 2.1) correlates with those of the low-fertility Med nations, whereas Russia’s is higher (around 2.5), and b) its transition shock was much less pronounced than Russia’s, but unlike Russia from 2006 it has yet to see any firm signs of demographic recovery. And although it does not have Russia’s mortality crisis, the main impact of that will be to put more pressure on the Polish pensions system, on which it already spends more than 10% of GDP (i.e. a figure similar to the rest of “old Europe”).
As such, it is hard to give credence to credence to George Friedman’s (Stratfor) prediction that Poland will become a Great Power any time soon. That said, as the strongest barrier between Germany and Russia – and hence a bulwark against the emergence of a European hegemon – much of the rest of the continent, especially France, England, and Sweden, as well as the US, will find it in their interests to extend technical and military aid. And should the resurgent Russia Empire collapse and wither back into its Muscovite heartlands, the recreation of a modern Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, encompassing much of Visegrad and western Ukraine, beckons.
With its cold climate and poor internal communication lines, the Scandinavian Peninsula’s population was always concentrated along the southern coasts. This is where Sweden first emerged as a maritime Power based on riverine trade within the Hanseatic / Baltic region – and that is where its modern interests lie. It naturally dominates energy-rich Norway and its maritime traditions enable a flexible military posture in Europe, while Finland serves as an excellent buffer against Russian expansionism. Sweden exerts financial domination over the Baltic nations, maintains friendly relations with NATO, and hosts an advanced military-industrial complex. As such, Swedish power is incommensurate with its small population, though overall it remains, and will remain, a minor player. Global warming will open up more of its lands to sustainable settlement, which coupled with its respectable demography and immigration from climatically-stricken zones from Europe and farther abroad will ensure the continued growth of its relative power. Finding a natural ally in Poland to contain German ambitions and Russian revanchism, the two could prove to be a potent combination.
Above is a rough table summarizing my view of the current relative strengths (mostly 1-5) and future prospects (+ and -) of the current European Powers in population / demographic structure; economic-technological strength; energy reserves, sustainability and/or security of supply; climate effects; and overall hard power. For obvious reasons these are very rough estimates and subject to a wide degree of error.
Having outlined the general trends and regional idiosyncrasies of the European continent, I am now going to try to bring it all together and paint a picture of how European geopolitics and metapolitics are going to develop in the decades ahead.
First, a word about the European Union. It is the quintessential “end of history” project – as Fukuyama himself noted, its “attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a “post-historical” world than the Americans’ continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military”. This utopian pursuit is, however, dependent on social stability, which is what underpins Europe’s historically recent embrace of liberal democracy and rules-based mechanism for resolving disputes.
But considering the interlinked and growing economic, energetic, demographic, and climatic challenges to this social stability covered above – and bearing in mind that for all its pomp and splendor, the EU remains weak and peripheral relative to the twenty-seven European nation-states that will collectively decide its destiny – the EU’s disintegration, “withering away”, or “expansion into irrelevancy”, is almost inevitable. Powerful Eurosceptic elements in Britain, Poland and the small European states do not want to give away their national sovereignty and are suspicious of European federalism, which they perceive to be nothing more than a new, covert hegemonic project. Nor is it likely that it will be replaced by a “Europe of two speeds” based on accelerated Franco-German integration; the interests of these nation-states are simply too divergent for that to happen.
As for NATO, if it can be undermines by an issue as small as Afghanistan now – it has no chance of surviving the coming earthquakes in any meaningful form. Britain, France, and Poland will likely remain closely allied with the US, but beyond that the dominant paradigm will be a return to 19th century-like Great Power politics. Facing a subpar energy future, the loss of export markets in a more protectionist world, a rapid demographic decline, and an unprecedented fiscal crisis, Berlin will again look east, as it usually does in times of national stress. It is in its strategic interests to draw closer to Moscow, given the mutual desirability of setting up a bilateral relationship based on trading Russian commodities (natural gas) for German machine tools and technology, as occurred so often in the past. (For instance, in the Treaty of Rappallo (1922), the two international pariahs signed a peace agreement, forgave each other’s debts and signed a free trade accord. Russia also helped Germany circumvent the Treaty of Versailles by allowing Germany to use its territory to continue military-related R&D and weapons testing, far from the prying eyes of Western observers). Furthermore, Russia could make use of a neutral-to-friendly Germany as a shield to consolidate its power over the post-Soviet space.
Once again, Poland will stand in the way of this Russo-German relationship. Russia is interested in pushing American influence out of East-Central Europe, converting the region into a neutral buffer for its empire. Germany will be interested in 1) furthering its economic penetration of the region, given the losses of many of its other export markets, and 2) in preventively blocking Russia’s further expansion into Europe proper, which in the end would seriously endanger German national security. In addition, there’s also its traditional craving for Lebensraum.
The region of Visegrad will therefore become a vortex of geopolitical competition between Germania, Eurasia, Scandinavia, and the Atlanticists. Poland will be supported directly by France, which has a direct interest in guaranteeing Polish sovereignty in order to prevent the rise of a German-dominated Europe (or of a contiguous Russo-German bloc, which would amount to the same thing). Despite its likely retreat from active Eurasian power politics in the face of mounting domestic crises, the US too will likely contribute to Polish security, since preventing the rise of a Eurasian hegemon will still figure amongst Washington’s priorities. Interestingly, a weakened Britain (or England) will probably try to maintain neutrality and good relations with all sides: its desire to support France and Poland in order to preempt the rise of a united European hegemon will be partially counterbalanced by its growing energy dependence on Russia.
However, the alliance between Germany and Russia will be far from rock-solid, considering that it is based exclusively on shared interests. Germany does not want a Russia that is too strong, and as such will try to maintain a modicum of good relations with the Atlantic powers as a hedge, as well as making geopolitical inroads and alliances beyond Europe proper. Boxed in by seas to the north, a powerful France to the west, the Alps to the south, and an Atlanticist-supported Poland to the east, Germany will push its influence into the Balkans in conjunction with Turkey, a country with which it will resurrect its traditional alliance, and more importantly, a country that will be able to keep Russia’s attention diverted to its unstable south (the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Balkans – areas where Turkey already has substantial cultural and economic influence). Furthermore, Turkey would provide Germany with an additional supply of gas independent of Russian control sourced from Azerbaijan, Central Asia (if they remain outside Russia’s overt control) and possibly even Iran (if it reconciles with the West), and assuming that the necessary pipelines get built. In exchange, Germany will transfer the technologies Turkey needs to build a self-sufficient military-industrial complex that will complement its already formidable military power.
France will seek a close alliance with the Visegrad nations and Sweden to keep Germany and Russia occupied, while focusing most of its energies on securing its regional dominance. Flooded with younger immigrants from Spain and Italy – and perhaps the Maghreb, should it agree on the energy-for-immigration deal mooted above – its population will grow even more rapidly than projected, perhaps reaching 80-90mn souls by the 2030’s. This will result in the division of its electorate into three major groupings – the French conservatives and nationalists; the internationalist moderates; and the hard left, which will include the Islamist groups.
These internal divisions will be the cracks through which its weaker neighbors, especially Germany, will try to undermine it; however, ironically, those same divisions may lead to the long-term survival of multiculturalism and liberal democracy on French soil, even as Germany returns to the Reich, Italy reverts to its regionalistic capo governing traditions, Turkey revives its Ottoman imperial legacy, and Russia reacquires its Eurasian empire. Along with the British isles and various enclaves (Sweden, Switzerland, Czechia, Ireland, Poland?, etc), France will remain a light in a continent rapidly turning black with fascism, militarism, collapse – and perhaps war. War? Yes, I’m serious. Once effective ABM shields are developed and proliferate – and that’s not especially far off – the deterrence power of nuclear weapons will fall dramatically.
As mentioned above, both of the major Mediterranean powers will be too absorbed by domestic affairs to give serious heed to geopolitical jockeying. Though they might try to revive their colonial-era relations with North Africa – Spain in Morocco, Italy in Libya – they do no have the carrots to enjoy sustained success, and will be outmanoeuvred by France. Though Poland holds some promise, it is locked into a geopolitical vice and will remain too weak to play a truly independent role in Europe. And though Sweden is a formidable and growing Baltic power, its population and industrial base is simply too small to play a true Great Power role.
[A possible future European alliance / categorization system. Black – the expansionist Germans, Turks and Russians. Dark gray – France and its allies, Poland and Sweden. Gray – the relatively weak “balancing powers”: Britain will lean more towards France, Italy more towards Germany, but none want to see a European hegemon. Light gray – too weak to really matter].
As a result of the epochal shifts in the global balance of power brought on by peak oil and the waning of Pax Americana, within the next decade the geopolitical structure of Europe will experience a profound transformation. The post-historical EU project will die when history returns to Europe. As Britain weakens and splinters into its constituent parts, and as the Mediterranean powers retreat under the weight of their manifold demographic, fiscal, and economic problems, the old struggle between France, Germany and Russia for European hegemony will resume.
This will entail a complex balance of power system. A powerful France will seek to encircle an ailing but still formidable Germany by allying itself with Visegrad and Sweden, while maximizing its own power by asserting itself in its Mediterranean backyard. Germany will make a wary alliance with Russia, and try to break free of its encirclement by threatening Poland, undermining France, and hedging with a Turkish alliance. Meanwhile, Russia and Turkey may come into intense geopolitical competition over the fate of the Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia; however, should Turkey focus its expansion into the Middle East, their relations will likely be quiescent. (But this issue is for the Eurasia SSR). As the world energy and climate crisis worsens with every passing decade, Europe will return to its future – the Black Continent.