Timothy Snyder’s recent Kiev presentation on the contending civilizational processes clashing in Ukraine is terrific. He notes today is in many ways a re-litigation of World War I and the contending integrationist agendas in the East. Snyder is concise and lucid.
Snyder is mistaken, however, asserting that EU integration is attributable to military defeats in 1945. European fears about American influence before WW I are the real precursor. European dread then of looming American power lead many to ask how Europe could find an alternative continental scale market and civilization. They mirror today’s Russian nationalist and neo-fascist anti-American obsession. To misunderstand this is to miss why Putin’s conceptual assault on America gains traction so widely in Europe beyond just Moscow-funded neo-fascists.
Before WW I European business and governments alike felt compelled to ponder countering American affluence, economies of scale and corrosive ‘leveling’ though mass consumption. Only England, relying on India, could resonably think of potential near-peer scenarios. Continental European national rivalries and WW I prevented active collaboration.
Speer and his Ministry of Armaments initiated actual integration only after 1942. Speer found willing partners in France, Scandinavia and elsewhere. eager to create continental One example is Speer’s effort to scale Luftwaffe production by using French production and components. Baby steps, to be sure. Yet possible by decades of shared European pre-occupation finding a European answer to “the American power of scale”.
The Soviets had their own answers. The first Five Year Plan began in 1929 (originally proposed in less colossal grandiosity by Trotsky in 1923).
Formal European integration restarted in 1950 between building on a Speer-based concept – the European Coal & Steel Community. And so on to Maastricht in 1992, creating today’s EU. Beneath the patina of equality and endless meetings and receptions, the EU also immediately began to assert a passively anti-American agenda from trade to regulation.
The Euro was talked about as supplanting the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The French quite openly called for the EU to stand up to the “US hyperpower” and so on. The EU’s feeble response to genocide in the Balkans dialed back some hubris. Libya was even worse. And the EU weakness over Ukraine is a unique moral betrayal.
Yet still today, the EU regularly and eagerly seeks to curb or cripple American technology companies and so on. Or focuses solely on the NSA rather than say Russian penetration of their governments, parties and industry leadership.
Snyder’s analysis of the European-Russian crisis is actually too constrained. Civilizational questions transcend just 1914. Putin’s anti-Americanism is not just a potent Russian gambit. The ploy stokes and affirms a century of European resentments, even if submerged by Cold War expediency until 1991.
Putin would be delighted if observers mistook his anti-Americanism offensive as directed just to the ghetto of Kremlin supported anti-democratic figures such as Le Pen and Hungary’s Orban. Or separatist groups such as UKIP in Great Britain or anti-democratic movements like Hungary’s Jobbik (to the Right of Orban), etc. “Russia Today”, for example, which recently began broadcasting in Germany, frequently promotes anti-Americanism from the Left as well as Right. Political consistency is irrelevant. The goal is de-legitimation and fostering pervasive cynicism.
When Putin speaks of a “united Europe whole and free from Lisbon to Vladivostok” it’s code for Russian revanchist, imperial terms: a continental answer to American (and now Chinese) scale dominated by Moscow. Few in Europe understand this or are motivated to see the difference. The game – and stakes – are so much bigger than just the EU and its petty wrangling.