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Europe’s Last Chance

BERLIN – Most of Europe’s history has been marked by conflict. The American historian Robert Kagan wrote in 2003 that “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus”; but Europe was for centuries home to the Roman god of war, not the goddess of love.

Venus found a home in Europe only after World War II, when many global governance institutions emerged, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Bretton Woods monetary system. During the Cold War, European countries all but lost their sovereignty to two new global superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

The two superpowers’ divided control was eventually relinquished, and the old European state system was replaced by the European Union, with its promise of eternal peace between EU member states, and between Europe and the larger world. The collapse of communism in Europe, followed by that of the Soviet Union in 1991, was described triumphantly in Europe and the United States as the “end of history” – the global triumph of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism.

A few short decades later, in the annus horribilis of 2016, this all sounds quite naive. Instead of sustained peace and “ever-closer union,” Europeans are experiencing episodes of disorder and violence almost on a daily basis. These include the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU; a spate of terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice, Normandy, and elsewhere; renewed aggression by Russia; and a bloody failed coup in Turkey, followed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s crackdown on Turkish civil society, which has raised concerns about Turkey’s reliability as a partner to the West.