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The Danger of a Weak Europe

CAMBRIDGE – In 1973, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, following a period of American preoccupation with Vietnam and China, declared a “year of Europe.” More recently, after President Barack Obama announced a US strategic “pivot,” or rebalancing, toward Asia, many Europeans worried about American neglect. Now, with an ongoing refugee crisis, Russia’s occupation of eastern Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea, and the threat of British withdrawal from the European Union, 2016 may become, by necessity, another “year of Europe” for American diplomacy.

Regardless of slogans, Europe retains impressive power resources and is a vital interest for the United States. Although the US economy is four times larger than that of Germany, the economy of the 28-member EU is equal to that of the US, and its population of 510 million is considerably larger than America’s 320 million.

Yes, American per capita income is higher, but in terms of human capital, technology, and exports, the EU is very much an economic peer. Until the crisis of 2010, when fiscal problems in Greece and elsewhere created anxiety in financial markets, some economists had speculated that the euro might soon replace the dollar as the world’s primary reserve currency.

In terms of military resources, Europe spends less than half of what the US allocates to defense, but has more men and women under arms. Britain and France possess nuclear arsenals and a limited capacity for overseas intervention in Africa and the Middle East. Both are active partners in the airstrikes against the Islamic State.