Europe – the European Union – is in a dire condition: It is confronted with several developments – internally as well as externally – that undermine its foundation, its very existence. Several disruptive and destabilising developments tend to reinforce each other, potentially causing a ‘perfect storm’, as I explain in this series of articles. Part I of this series, with the title: ‘Europe: A Perfect Storm’: Where does Europe come from? was published on 12 December.
In Part I, I addressed the question: ‘Where does Europe come from?’ by making use of insights the study ‘Social integration and expansion in anarchistic systems: How connectivity and our urge to survive determine and shape the war dynamics of the System’ (with the more alarming title: “2020: WARning’, Patterns in war dynamics reveal disturbing developments”, that point to an immediate challenge we confront).
I argue that Europe is the outcome of four accelerating war cycles the System produced during the period 1495-1945; the four war cycles constitute a so-called ‘finite-time singularity dynamic’.
In 1939 the anarchistic System (Europe) reached the critical connectivity threshold, produced ‘infinite’ amounts of tensions, and consequently collapsed. The collapse resulted in a phase transition, and by means of the fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939-1945), two non-anarchistic blocks (in Western and Eastern Europe, that were respectively controlled by the United States and the Soviet Union), and a first global international order (the United Nations) were simultaneously implemented.
The ‘full’ integration of Europe – of both blocks – started in 1989, when the Eastern block and the Soviet-Union started collapsed, and Eastern European states were therefore ‘free’ to join the Western block. The ‘merging’ of both blocks (including parts of the Eastern bloc) led to the European Union, as we know it now.
Europe – the European Union – is still ‘work in progress. In this part I give an overview of disruptive and destabilising developments that undermine its stability and development. These disruptive and destabilising developments interact and can (further) reinforce each other, causing the collapse of the current European Order.
Until 1989 the United States and the Soviet Union controlled respectively Western and Eastern Europe, and acted as lynchpins between Europe, and the international order (at a global scale). While during the time frame 1945-1989 Western Europe established and further developed viable structures that reinforced its non-anarchistic nature (initially focused on (external) security, and economic cooperation), Eastern Europe (and the Soviet Union) embarked on a development path that was unsustainable, and eventually caused their collapse.
Starting in 1989 parts of Eastern Europe joined ‘Western’ European structures, and Europe started an ambitious project of expansion and cooperation; resulting in the European Union, as we know it today.
Resumption of chaotic dynamics.
The end of intense rivalries between the United States and the Soviet Union, also brought an end to the exceptional period in the war dynamics of the System, that started in 1945; better known as the Cold War (1945-1989). Wars during that period were highly subdued, and especially in Europe.
In 1989 the System resumed its ‘normal’ chaotic war dynamics, now for the first time at a global scale of the System. Chaotic dynamics and unpredictability go hand-in hand.
Because of its collapse, the Soviet Union – Russia – retracted temporarily from the ‘international scene’ as a global player, and necessarily focused on consolidation of its decimated empire, to avoid further collapse.
The decennium following the collapse of the Soviet-Union, was optimistically interpreted as a ‘new global order’, even the end of history (The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama, 1992). The United States, retracted ‘militarily’ from Europe, and security was considered a ‘commodity’ that could now be managed. However, reality – history – caught up fast.
It was just a matter of time before Russia re-emerged as a global player, and tried to regain control over its erstwhile sphere of influence (Eastern Europe): Russia considers a sphere of influence vital for its security and survival, a strategic imperative that is impressed on Russia by its traumatic experiences during the second systemic war (the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815), the third systemic war (the First World War, 1914-1918) and the fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939-1945), when its survival was at stake.
These experiences also explain Russia’s great sensitivity for NATO encroaching on its first line of defence (its sphere of influence), as it is interpreted, regardless of the ‘loss of face’ as a ‘super power’ Russia had to endure after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
As I mentioned, the System resumed chaotic war dynamics in 1989, and on average non-systemic wars increased in size during the period that followed, consistent with the typical behaviour of war cycles (at an European scale) during the period 1495-1945.
No organisational design.
In its enthusiasm and in efforts to develop and exploit economies of scale and anchor permanent peace in Europe, the European order expanded rapidly. There seemed to be no limitations.
However, in this respect, reality also caught up fast. Like other organisations, the European Union also had to strike a balance, to ensure that it could be effectively governed: The size of a social structures (including of states) is ‘defined’ by (1) economies of scale that can be exploited on the one hand, and that push toward expansion (further growth), and (2) by the increasing complications of effectively governing increasingly divers and complex structures, on the other hand, that set limits to effective governance/management. This optimum was never defined (let alone consciously managed), and the European order became overextended.
Efforts to manage an over-extended European order led to overregulation. The extended size of Europe also undermined the ability of European citizens to identify with Europe, and develop a certain loyalty to this ‘concept’.
The resumption of chaotic war dynamics, the resurrection of Russia (at least its ambitions) and terrorist attacks, further undermined Europe’s order and lack of effective governance.
Europe’s legitimacy was undermined, and ‘Europe’ became an easy target for populist movements that promoted their nationalist agenda’s, as a counterweight to further expansion and integration.
Europe is ‘stuck in the middle’.
The current situation (condition) of Europe can be best described as ‘stuck in the middle’. The European order is still not a fully developed ‘super structure’, while at the same time, states – as effective governance structures – are weakened because of their transfer of sovereignty to the European Union. The European Union is now ‘worst of both worlds’.
This weakness is now further exploited by Russia, populist movements, and radical (terrorist) groups; they have – so to say – a ‘field day’: As far as the European Union’s already limited governance potential is not ‘paralysed’ through inertia, it is now increasingly consumed by its internal dynamics – like Brexit – in efforts to reduce further damage.
Accumulation of tensions.
It is also important to notice that these ‘European’ developments are closely related to the current developmental stage of the international global order and its dynamics, and Europe is an integral part of.
The study shows that war cycles typically consist of a relatively stable period – when an international order is in place – followed by a systemic war, when the international order is ‘re-organised’.
The study shows that during the development of relatively stable periods the war dynamics of the System at a certain moment in time reach a ‘tipping point’, when non-systemic wars on average become smaller; despite the tensions that are increased at an accelerating pace.
This development can be attributed to a ‘connectivity effect’, that results in an increase in the ‘local’ stability of states in the System. The moment the tipping point is reached, tensions – instead of being released – accumulate in the System. It is then just a matter of time before the System becomes critical and produces a systemic war.
The study shows that the System – the current cycle – now is in this phase, and that tensions are accumulating in the System. The volatile and erratic dynamics of the System – including Brexit, increasing rivalries between states, populist movements, etc. – are closely related to the high-tension levels in the System, and vice versa.
It is not inconceivable that Europe will be teared apart because of the increasing tensions in the System and in Europe itself.
During a next systemic war, not only the next global international order (UN 2.0) is at stake, but also the next European order (EU 2.0).