George Friedman has a reputation as a geopolitical thinker, one who tries to work out the balance of forces in today’s world. Stratfor, the consultancy he founded some 20 years ago, puts out highly regarded and mostly speculative studies. He is the author of several books, the latest of which is Flash Points, whose subtitle — The Emerging Crisis in Europe — gives away the game. Opening chapters describe how Europe took its time to become the standard-bearer of civilization, only to throw everything away in the 31 deadly years between 1914 and 1945. In the turmoil, he and his family — originally Hungarian — escaped the Nazis and the Communists only by chance.
In Friedman’s view, Germany is once more unsettling Europe. Of course Germans do not want to go to war, but because of national character and geography they are the strongest power among a lot of lesser nation-states unable to handle it. Playing the part that has come their way, Germans are “simultaneously afraid of what they have achieved and tremendously proud of it,” as Friedman puts it. Chance again: The collapse of the Soviet Union granted Germany a free hand. Vladimir Putin should not be seen as a bad man but merely a realist doing what anyone in his position would do: pushing to recover lost ground. Invading and taking possession of parts of Georgia, Putin discovered that “NATO’s military capacity is minimal,” as Friedman sums it up. The fighting in Ukraine is thus part of the process of drawing the line between Russia and Germany on the west of the continent, the line that Hitler and Stalin so disastrously failed to draw. Poland and the Baltic republics are likely to be tested next.
The European Union is another institution with minimal capacity. Its foundational promise of peace and prosperity was an attractive illusion. The breakup of Yugoslavia and the current financial crisis show that national sovereignty trumps any common European purpose. “Shambles” is the term Friedman applies to the EU. Belgium, Spain, and the United Kingdom contain forces of disintegration. France has become a kind of wraith.
The prophets of doom and downfall are unanimous. Walter Laqueur predicts that Europeans have a future as tourist guides, ski instructors, gondoliers, and the like. Christopher Caldwell outlines the coming Muslim take-over. George Friedman’s moral must be to get out of the continent while the going is good.