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The Euro’s Imagined Community

NEW HAVEN – Great significance – probably too much – has been attached to a possible breakup of the eurozone. Many believe that such a breakup – if, say, Greece abandoned the euro and reintroduced the drachma – would constitute a political failure that would ultimately threaten Europe’s stability. Speaking before the Bundestag last October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel put the matter starkly:

“Nobody should believe that another half-century of peace and prosperity in Europe is guaranteed. It is not. So I say: If the euro fails, Europe fails. That must not happen. We have a historical obligation to protect by all prudent means at our disposal Europe's unification process begun by our forefathers more than fifty years ago after centuries of hatred and spilling of blood. None of us can foresee what the consequences would be if we were to fail.”

Europe has had more than 250 wars since the beginning of the Renaissance in the mid-fifteenth century. So, it is not alarmist to worry aloud about preserving the sense of community that Europe has enjoyed for the past half-century.

In a fascinating, but largely overlooked book, How Enemies Become Friends,Charles A. Kupchan reviews many historical case studies of how nation-states with a long history of conflict managed eventually to become secure and peaceful friends. His examples include the formation of the Swiss Confederation (1291-1848); the creation of the Iroquois Confederation in the century or so before the first Europeans arrived in America; the establishment of the United States (1776-1789); the unification of Italy (1861), and of Germany (1871); the Norway-Sweden rapprochement (1905-1935); the formation of the United Arab Emirates (1971); and the Argentine-Brazilian rapprochement of the 1970’s.