The Magazine

Organizing Europe

The key to continental 'unity' lies in its center.

May 6, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 32 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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The remainder of this encyclopedic account depicts the convoluted consequences of the long and innumerable battles for the European heartland. The Congress of Vienna curbed French radicalism, temporarily, by restoring the monarchy; the Holy Roman Empire was replaced by a German Confederation. In 1866, Prussia expelled the Habsburgs from the confederated German territories, and the ground was laid for a single Germany—although by then America and czarist Russia had become the arbiters of world politics. In 1870-71, Prussian-led Germany administered a disastrous military defeat to France and proclaimed a German Empire. Germany had grown to be the de facto leading Western European power, acquiring colonies in Africa, the Pacific, and China. Germany built a navy intended to rival the Royal Navy, which had long “ruled the waves.”

In 1914, after numerous incidents of tension between Germany, on one side, and France, Britain, and Russia on the other, came the first of two world wars, in which Germany and its Austrian and Ottoman allies were routed. This outcome yielded the rise of Bolshevism and, subsequently, National Socialism. As Simms comments, “The war against Germany was over; the struggle over Germany now began.” Germany was prostrate, but was refashioned as a totalitarian state under Hitler. In the second round, Germany was again vanquished, along with its new allies, Italy and Japan; but the rest of the world had relearned that the stabilization of Germany was necessary, even absolutely necessary, for the peace of Europe. The United Nations, crucial to the process of German rehabilitation, was founded as an official international institution and, as Simms remarks, was “at its creation .  .  . a highly interventionist body. The fetishization of state sovereignty for which it later became known was a subsequent re-invention by Third World-ist dictators and unworldly international lawyers.”

Most significant, France and Germany were reconciled by economic agreements culminating in the establishment of the European Union. West Germany, occupied by the United States, Britain, and France, was inducted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; East Germany, controlled by the Soviet Union, was exploited but not completely impoverished by Moscow. Still, in 1989, East Germany collapsed, soon followed by the rest of the Communist states in Europe. Germany was reunified, and its currency was eventually assimilated into the euro. As Simms recalls, “The German mark was to be sacrificed as the price for ending the partition of Germany.”  

Simms previously published Unfinest Hour (2002), an outstanding critique of British passivity toward Serbian aggression in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. In discussing that decade in Europe, he also condemns, severely but accurately, the EU’s failure to defend Bosnia-Herzegovina—though he acknowledges that NATO acted expeditiously in Kosovo. Today, Germany dominates EU fiscal policy amid the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. As described by Simms, Germans are disillusioned with the common currency, and many favor an exit from the eurozone. Elsewhere in Europe, this has “provoked a popular anti-Germanism unknown since the late 1980s. .  .  . The German Question, eclipsed for more than a decade after unification, was back.”

Stephen Schwartz is author of The Two Faces of Islam and The Other Islam.