The New European Map: Strategic Implications


2012-09-11 By Harald Malmgren and Robbin Laird

The Euro crisis is defining the end of a period of history.  The period since 1991 has been defined by the expansion of Europe, the consolidation of NATO, and America as the hinge that held much of the strategic map together.

At the heart of these convergent developments is that a European currency would be combined with a European foreign policy and a European defense.  Security, defense, a common currency and convergent development and growth paths would create a new global entity, a new Europe.

The two decades of European consolidation and expansion are now confronted with new centrifugal forces that are again widening political, social, economic and security differences within the EU and among its neighbors.  Deepening recession and the severity of its impact on employment and well being of citizens are increasing these differences and encouraging reenergized nationalism and renewed political localization.

And Euro-crisis comes at a time when several other dynamics are playing out as well which pose significant security and defense challenges as well.   The Arab Spring, the rise of Iran, the Syrian crisis, the operations against Gadhafi are all part of putting the Middle East in play.  The Russians are focused like a laser beam on a global energy policy that will enable them to play a key role in Europe and Asia.  The Arctic is one of the centerpieces to Russian strategy.  And the Chinese are leveraging their global economic assets to find a new place in Europe and the Middle East.

The Euro crisis is a key element of a reshaping of European defense and security challenges and could well play a forcing function in re-shaping alliances within Europe itself. Disaggregation along with re-aggregation will see the shaping of new European political, economic and security map. Credit Image: Bigstock

Europe will now be challenged in the form of rollbacks of the many intertwined strands of integration, fraying what has been an intricate but incomplete tapestry.  It is questionable whether Europe will be to prevent stalling of the integration process in the face of widening gaps among the interests of each nation and even within each nation.  Which in turn puts in play, the strategic strands of currency integration, economic development and common security and defense agendas.  Choices will have to be made; and convergence is not the most likely strategic direction.

But with disaggregation will come re-aggregation, and this will be done in the face of economic and political pressures within Europe and global pressures outside of Europe seeking to influence European outcomes.

Disaggregation along with re-aggregation will see the shaping of new European political, economic and security map.

There are three key actors that will by their actions re-shape the European map.

The first will be Germany. The Germans will be key players in re-shaping the Euro and downsizing the Euro zone to what might be called the Ger-Euro.  The economic and political weight of Germany will go up as the Euro crisis goes on; and the weight of German influence will be to re-shape the Euro zone into a more cohesive, “responsible” and integrated “core.”

But this is a united Germany, which is shaping a Euro-cohesive process, not a divided Germany, which had to accept the dictate of smaller European powers to gain an end of national division.  It is a Germany which already recognizes growing intertwining of its future with Russia and the Far East.  It is a Germany already pivoting East.

German leadership in reshaping the common currency and defining a “European” approach to economic development will not be combined with leadership in security and defense policy.  That will happen elsewhere

The second will be the Nordic states. These states are NOT part of the Euro zone, but are key players within Europe write large. And in many ways, the Nordics might be the architects of the new phase of Europe. The Arctic future is central to both Denmark and Norway. All of the Nordics except Finland have independent currencies and have clear concerns about the dominance of Russia in energy markets within Europe; and have no confusion about the Russian challenge or the need for an American connection in exploitation of the Arctic.

The Nordic states will be a key driver in reshaping the focus of security and defense within Europe on the Arctic pivot.

The third will be the Greeks and their fate. Greece is a metaphor for a weak economy, little prospect of economic growth and significant lack of political will to confront realistically the cost of social expenditures. The emergence of NATO was rooted in a Greek crisis; and perhaps the new European bargain will be as well.

Greece will be a leader in generating new openings in the defense and security texture of Europe and will be correlated with various security and defense challenges rising within the Mediterranean and the Middle East, albeit driven by challenges from the Arab Spring, the Syrian civil war and the rise of a nuclear Iran.

The shaping of a new map will significant consequences for strategic and options for core NATO states.

The Nordic states become a key anchor of shaping defense and security policies for the decade ahead and this will have consequences for those European states more serious about defense but will, in turn, force change on their part as well.

France has been a key state in shaping defense capabilities and security poliies within Europe as a whole.  But France may have to craft a policy that follows Germany on currency, and the Nordics on defense.  The Nordics seek ever greater energy independence, a course that France can pursue with its nuclear energy capabilities, a course which clashes with German preferences.

Unlike Germany, France is a nuclear power and relies on nuclear energy to shape greater independence from other sources such as Russia or the Middle East.  In defense, France will follow the money, and if remains true to maximizing a viable defense strategy will have to work with those European states actually investing in defense, which is neither the United Kingdom nor Germany.  This would mean that the French forces ability to work with Nordic states would become important in the years ahead.  Now French airpower built around Dassault would have find ways to work with states like Norway whose airpower will be rebuilt around the F-35, a course of collaboration already presaged in the UAE where the Mirages and F-16s coexist in a joint air force.

Additionally, the Greek dynamic can re-open concerns on NATO’s Southern Flank.  The weakening of Greece, and the high probability that Greece will go its own way on currency and other economic issues is occurring in the midst of the Chinese economic global reach and Russian (energy and other) activism in the Middle East.   China and Russia will both be eager to become deeply involved in the destiny of Greece and its geographic position on the Mediterranean Sea. And with Russia expanding its activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, and expanded role in Greece would enable Putin to shape a more comprehensive presence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

In short, the Euro crisis is a key element of a reshaping of European defense and security challenges and could well play a forcing function in re-shaping alliances within Europe itself.

This op-ed has been developed from a longer report published by Second Line of Defense in the Strategic Inflection Points series.  The report is entitled The Strategic Consequences of the Euro-crisis and can found on the website.

An earlier version of this op-ed was published by Defense News.

The New European Map