Watching Europe Implode

Mark Steyn has a provocative column out entitled, “U.S. can sit back and watch Europe implode.” After a long discussion of President Bush’s no concessions goodwill tour of Europe and the idiotically burdensome EU Constitution (511 pages vice 11 for the 216-year-old U.S. version), Steyn makes a provocative statement:

CIA analysts predict the collapse of the EU within 15 years. I’d say, as predictions of doom go, that’s a little on the cautious side. But either way the notion that it’s a superpower in the making is preposterous. Most administration officials subscribe to one of two views: a) Europe is a smugly irritating but irrelevant backwater; or b) Europe is a smugly irritating but irrelevant backwater where the whole powder keg’s about to go up.

For what it’s worth, I incline to the latter position. Europe’s problems — its unaffordable social programs, its deathbed demographics, its dependence on immigration numbers that no stable nation (not even America in the Ellis Island era) has ever successfully absorbed — are all of Europe’s making. By some projections, the EU’s population will be 40 percent Muslim by 2025. Already, more people each week attend Friday prayers at British mosques than Sunday service at Christian churches — and in a country where Anglican bishops have permanent seats in the national legislature. Some of us think an Islamic Europe will be easier for America to deal with than the present Europe of cynical, wily, duplicitous pseudo-allies. But getting there is certain to be messy, and violent.

Until the shape of the new Europe begins to emerge, there’s no point picking fights with the terminally ill. The old Europe is dying, and Mr. Bush did the diplomatic equivalent of the Oscar night lifetime-achievement tribute at which the current stars salute a once glamorous old-timer whose fading aura is no threat to them. The 21st century is being built elsewhere.

It’s hard for me to conceive of Europe “imploding” and the EU strikes me as a necessity for economic survival. The demographic, social, and political problems Steyn alludes to are, however, real. The absolute power of what Don Rumsfeld regretfully dubbed “Old Europe” has been on the wane since the end of World War II and its relative power has also been steadily declining, as China, India, Eastern Europe, and others rapidly modernize. There’s no indication that either trend will reverse itself any time soon.

Update: Austin Bay blogs an interesting e-mail exchange with Steyn on this topic. Bay argues, persuasively in my view, that a Muslim Europe is preventable and exhorts, “I don’t underestimate the French and German peoples’ capacities for change, either, especially when challenged at home. . . . Giving up on people is so passe’ —okay, give up on the ex-girlfriend but don’t write off the Dutch or the French.”

Agreed. The French, especially, can be annoying as hell and their government has been a mess since, roughly, the Revolution. They’ve been a major power for centuries, however, and have been remarkably resilient. While I’m happy to see Chirac and company taken down a peg or three, I suspect French civilization will still be here in a century. (Of course, they’ll have British accents by the 24th Century.)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    This Steyn column is a hoot.

    “Will the United States agree to accept whatever deal the Anglo-Franco-German negotiators cook up with Iran? No.”

    Taking my morning’s WaPO and here’s the column one headline “Bush Weighs Offers to Iran. US Might Join Effort to Halt Nuclear Program.”

    When was the CIA assessment of the EU made? In 1992? And what about the derision of the Euro when it came out (and I’ll be the first to admit I was a skeptic)? And the Asian central banks (like South Korea) is starting to put their reserves in Euros instead of dollars.

    Now the EU is going to lift its arms embargo against China and there’s not a whole lot we can do to stop it other than threaten some type of economic or military sanctions against the EU. Good luck.

    I’m with James on this. Steyn is way too smug about this, I guess he needed something to send to his editors. Maybe Condi’s dress and boots got him all worked up, and he really thinks there’s some sexual symbolism about wearing that outfit to Europe.

  2. EyeDoc says:

    “Imploding” is probably not a good word since it implies that the change is sudden. But Europe has been in decline for decades and as the problems with Muslim immigration and a collapsing social welfare system continue to worsen, their decline will accelerate. The EU and the common currency was a dumb idea from the get go, and I do believe that the union will break up over time.

    The fact that Asian central banks are starting to put some money into euros is just good diversification. I doubt if it indicates that Asian central banks are more optimisitic about the economic future of the EU compared to the US. One would have to an ostrich to come to that sort of an assessment.

  3. McGehee says:

    …the EU strikes me as a necessity for economic survival.

    That may be. But whether it can work is still questionable.

    As for the euro, I seem to recall there was once a great deal of optimism about dot-com stocks…

  4. DC Loser says:

    As long as the US continues to run up huge deficits and sell T-notes to finance it, with no serious debt reduction in sight, a cautious diversification to the Euro or other stable hedge currencies will continue.

  5. McGehee says:

    Debt is a commodity — and we sell it in dollars. ;-p

  6. DC Loser says:

    “Debt is a commodity—and we sell it in dollars.”

    True enough statement. Unfortunately, this is about our top export these days. But if the market for debt gets smaller due to competition (Ahh…competition, which all true conservatives love), then interest on them will go up and up to keep the buyers coming back. When that results in double digit fed rates then the resulting recession (or dare I say depression?) shouldn’t be a surprise. This is why I think debt reduction should be top priority. I want my government to spend our money the way I spend mine – responsibly.

  7. bryan says:

    The French, especially, can be annoying as hell and their government has been a mess since, roughly, the Revolution

    ONLY SINCE the revolution? 😉

  8. DC Loser says:

    “I suspect French civilization will still be here in a century. (Of course, they’ll have British accents by the 24th Century.)”

    Realistically, in the 24th century, they’d more likely be speaking Chinese, Hindi, or more probably some form of Arabic or even African dialect. By that time, the US would have been reduced to a minor power, if history is any guide.

    That this column is so funny is that what we say about Europe can be turned around on us. When Asians (China, India, take your pick) say that the US is a power in decline and they will be the new superpowers, we get all upset and belligerent. Sure we are the world’s only superpower, but how long can we keep it going without bankrupting ourselves, that’s the $64k question.

  9. McGehee says:

    DCL — do anticipate the EU never being in debt?

  10. DC Loser says:

    Of course they will be. They can be as much profligate deficit spenders as we are, but I believe there were certain economic goals put down as entry into the eurozone, amongst them deficit spending and debt. I think Germany had an issue with its deficit spending when that came up.

    Interesting proposition though. With the euro as a seondary reserve currency, do you suppose the US and EU will bid up the interest of debt bonds to get buyers or will we cooperate to “manage” the interest rates?

  11. EyeDoc says:

    The deficit goals of the EU aren’t being met, they’re just being swept under the rug and ignored.

    How would the EU and US “bid up” their interest rates to get people to buy their bonds? The bond market determines what longterm rates are. As long as money flows into US bonds longterm interest rates will stay down.

  12. dw says:

    Back in the day (1995) you could get a book called “Operation World,” which was a kind of CIA Factbook for the evangelical and fundamentalist Christian crowd. One of the charts in the book was a comparison of Christian vs. Muslim evangelization — Islam peaking around 1000 AD, Christianity around 1800 AD or so. The interesting thing was how Islam was being out-recruited by Christianity until the 20th century. The chart speculated that by 2100 or so Islam would be in a position to overtake Christianity as the world’s #1 religion.

    I look at Steyn’s column in that light, and I think it’s a hoot. If Europe collapses, it will be because they will have too few workers to support their welfare state, but importing workers from the Middle East and Africa will, over time, create a moderate, middle class, wishy-washy Islamic religion. You’re not going to see shar’ia law in Dusseldorf any more than you’ll see it in Detroit.

    I mean, we import millions of Catholic Mexicans every year. Is our government run by Opus Dei? Do we have big pictures of John Paul over LA? What about all those Indians who came in on H1-Bs? I don’t see wives being thrown onto funeral pyres out here in Seattle. (OK, I’ll give you that there is a national cricket league now.)

    Pointing across the Atlantic is all fun and good, but that sort of schaudenfreude is self-serving and hypocritical, because there are two nations in Asia currently fighting in the market to overtake us, and we’re going to be rolled by a Chinese and Hindi speaking middle class.

    Laugh at Europe now, because that’s the US in 50 years.

  13. Akatsukami says:

    Realistically, in the 24th century, they’d more likely be speaking Chinese, Hindi, or more probably some form of Arabic or even African dialect. By that time, the US would have been reduced to a minor power, if history is any guide.

    Taking history as a guide, the world will have long been under the rule of the “American” Empire (which by that time will have about as much in common with contemporary America as Diocletian’s Dominate did with Caesar’s Rome), and most “minor” (i.e., those with fewer than 50 million speakers today) languages will be deader than Kerry’s hopes of renomination in 2008.

    See not only Rome, but Han and Ming China, the Ottoman Empire, the Egyptian New Kingdom, and Chandragupta I’s Mauryan Empire.