The Divided Map of Europe

June 28, 2012 Topic: European UnionHistory Regions: Europe

The Divided Map of Europe

Mini Teaser: The Continent’s many identities and fault lines stretch back into the nether centuries of European history. All have been influenced by the immutable force of geography, which also will shape Europe’s future.

by Author(s): Robert D. Kaplan

Besides the Berlin Wall’s collapse, another factor that has buttressed German geopolitical strength is the historic German-Polish reconciliation that occurred during the mid-1990s. As Zbigniew Brzezinski writes, “Through Poland, German influence could radiate northward—into the Baltic states—and eastward—into Ukraine and Belarus.”11 In other words, German power is enhanced both by a larger Europe and also by a Europe in which Mitteleuropa reemerges as a separate entity.

A critical factor in this evolution will be the degree to which European—and particularly German—quasi pacifism holds up in the future. As the Britain-based strategist Colin S. Gray writes, “Snake-bitten . . . on the Somme, at Verdun, and by the Götterdammerung of 1945, the powers of West-Central Europe have been convincingly debellicized.”12 But it isn’t only the legacy of war and destruction that makes Europeans averse to military solutions (aside from peacekeeping and humanitarian interventions). Another factor is that Europe during the Cold War had its security provided for by an American superpower and today faces no palpable conventional threat. “The threat to Europe comes not in the form of uniforms, but in the tattered garb of refugees,” the German-American academic and journalist Josef Joffe said to me in conversation. But what if Europe’s destiny is still subordinate to Asiatic history, in the form of a resurgent Russia? Then there might be a threat. For what drove the Soviet Union to carve out an empire in Eastern Europe at the end of World War II still holds today: a legacy of depredations against Russia by Lithuanians, Poles, Swedes, Frenchmen and Germans, leading to the need for a cordon sanitaire of compliant regimes in the geographically protected space between historic Russia and Central Europe. To be sure, the Russians will not deploy land forces to reoccupy Eastern Europe for the sake of a new cordon sanitaire, but they will do so through a combination of political and economic pressure. Partly owing to Europe’s need for natural gas from Russia, Moscow could exert undue influence on its former satellites in years to come. Russia supplies some 25 percent of Europe’s gas, 40 percent of Germany’s, and nearly 100 percent of Finland’s and the Baltic states’.13Moreover, we may all wake up from Europe’s epic economic and currency crisis to a world with greater Russian influence within the Continent. Moscow’s investment activities as well as its critical role as an energy supplier would loom larger in a weakened and newly divided Europe.

So will a debellicized Germany partly succumb to Russian influence, leading to a somewhat Finlandized Eastern Europe and an even more hollow North Atlantic Treaty Organization? Or will Germany subtly stand up to Russia through various political and economic means, even as its society remains immersed in postheroic quasi pacifism? This latter scenario would present a richly complex European destiny, one in which Central Europe would fully reappear and flower for the first time since before World War I, and a tier of states between Germany and Russia would equally flourish, leaving Europe in peace even as its aversion to military deployments is geopolitically inconvenient for the United States. In this scenario, Russia would accommodate itself to countries as far east as Ukraine and Georgia joining Europe. Thus, the ideaof Europe as a geographical expression of historic liberalism would finally be realized. The Continent went through centuries of political rearrangements in the Middle Ages following Rome’s collapse. And in search of that idea,Europe will continue to rearrange itself following the long European war of 1914–1989.

IN GEOGRAPHICAL terms, Europe has been many things throughout its history. Following the age of exploration, Europe moved laterally westward as commerce shifted across the Atlantic, making cities such as Quebec, Philadelphia and Havana closer economically to Western Europe than cities to the east such as Krakow and Lvov, even as Ottoman military advances as far northwest as Vienna in the late seventeenth century cut off the Balkans from much of the rest of the European subcontinent. Of course, nowadays Europe is shifting to the east as it admits former communist nations into the European Union and to the south as it grapples with the political and economic stabilization of the southern shore of the Mediterranean in North Africa.

In all these rearrangements, Greece, of all places, will provide an insightful register of the health of the European project—and for reasons that go beyond the current financial crisis. Greece is the only part of the Balkans accessible on several seaboards to the Mediterranean and thus is the unifier of two European worlds. Greece is geographically equidistant between Brussels and Moscow, and it is as close to Russia culturally as it is to Europe by virtue of its Eastern Orthodox Christianity, a legacy of Byzantium. Throughout modern history, Greece has been burdened by political underdevelopment. Whereas the mid-nineteenth-century revolutions in Europe were often of middle-class origin, with political liberties as their goal, the Greek independence movement was mainly an ethnic movement with a religious basis. The Greek people overwhelmingly sided with Russia in favor of the Serbs and against Europe during the 1999 Kosovo war, even if the government’s position was more helpful. Greece is the most economically troubled European nation that was not part of the communist zone during the Cold War. It is also, going back to antiquity, where Europe—and by inference the West—both ends and begins. The war that Herodotus chronicled between Greece and Persia established a “dichotomy” of West against East that persisted for millennia.14 Athens barely remained in the Western camp at the beginning of the Cold War, owing to its own civil war between rightists and communists and the fateful negotiations between Churchill and Stalin that ultimately made Greece part of NATO. It is interesting to contemplate what would have happened during the Cold War had the negotiations between Churchill and Stalin gone differently: imagine how much stronger the Kremlin’s strategic position would have been with Greece inside the communist bloc, endangering Italy across the Adriatic Sea, to say nothing of the whole eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The Greek financial crisis, so emblematic of Greece’s political and economic underdevelopment, has rocked the European Union’s currency system since 2010. Because of the tensions it has wrought between northern and southern European countries—and between countries like France and Germany—it has been nothing less than the most significant event in Europe since the wars of the Yugoslav secession. As Greece ably demonstrates, Europe remains a truly ambitious work in progress—one that, as in the past, will have its fate affected by trends and convulsions from the south and east.

Robert D. Kaplan is chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor. This article is excerpted from his forthcoming book, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (Random House, 2012).

1 Tony Judt, A Grand Illusion?: An Essay on Europe (New York: NYU Press, 2011), 110.

2 Barry Cunliffe, Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BCAD 1000 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 372.

3 Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150750 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), 11, 13 and 20.

4 Henri Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1954), ACLS Humanities E-book.

5 Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, trans. Sian Reynolds (New York: Harper & Row, 1949), 75.

6 Cunliffe, Europe Between the Oceans, 32–42.

7 Philomila Tsoukala, “A Family Portrait of a Greek Tragedy,” New York Times (April 24, 2010): WK 14.

8 Judt, A Grand Illusion?, 114.

9 Jack A. Goldstone, “The New Population Bomb: The Four Megatrends That Will Change the World,” Foreign Affairs 89, no. 1 (January/February 2010): 31–43.

10 Judt, A Grand Illusion?

11 Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperative (New York: Basic Books, 1997), 69–71.

12 Colin S. Gray, Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), 37.

13 Steve LeVine, “Pipeline Politics Redux,” Foreign Policy, June 10, 2010,

14 William Anthony Hay, “Geopolitics of Europe,” Orbis 47, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 295–310.

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Image: Pullquote: The fact that this budding European superstate of our own era is concentrated in Europe’s medieval core, with Charlemagne’s capital city of Aachen still at its very center, is no accident.Essay Types: Essay