How Europe Pacified

James J. Sheehan, an historian teaching at Stanford, has just published "Where Have All the Soldiers Gone: The Transformation of Modern Europe, in which he argues that not only has Europe enjoyed 60 years without military conflict, but that deep-seated changes in European societies have basically made war on the European continent unthinkable:

Western Europe has become politically and socially demilitarized to a degree once unimaginable; after so many centuries of bloody conflict, Europeans don’t want to study war anymore. In his scintillating tour d’horizon – and de force – Sheehan suggests that such obsolescence of war is specifically "the product of Europe’s distinctive history in the 20th century," and he argues that it has created a new kind of European state along with "a dramatically new international system within Europe."

…From the 1970s the economy stalled while Europe faced numerous social problems. And yet as the Cold War ran down the clock, it became gradually clearer that liberal democracy and a market economy mitigated by welfare had won a complete political victory over "actually existing socialism." At the same time Europe was fully "civilianized": conscription was abandoned, armies themselves assimilated the values of civilian society and, as the great English military historian Michael Howard has put it, "death was no longer seen as being part of the social contract."

Jonathan Yardley, in a review of the same book, notes the fundamental difference in attitudes toward the use of military force on both sides of the Atlantic:

No doubt more than a few people on this side of the Atlantic will insist that Europe has been able to move into its present reconciled posture on the backs of the American taxpayers, whose lavishly financed armed forces keep Europe protected from whatever militaristic harm might try to come its way. To whatever extent the Western world is now at peace — acts of terrorism aside — it is not a Pax Europa but a Pax Americana. Many in this country take offense when Europeans, from the comfort of their American-protected aeries, attack America for one reason or another. This reaction is understandable, but it fails to take into account that European criticism of some American policies — "an excessive reliance on military solutions, the threat of preemptive action, and the apparent disregard for consultation and cooperation" — is well founded.

It’s easy for us to turn up our noses at Europe’s not infrequent outbursts of self-righteousness, especially from the intellectual left, but we do well to remind ourselves that Europe speaks from experience that we have not undergone and can only pray we never do. I am no pacifist, but it seems to me that Europe as Sheehan portrays it in this timely, first-rate book is headed on a sound, mature course. Europeans tend to see terrorism "as a persistent challenge to domestic order rather than an immediate international threat" and to attack it with "more effective policing, stricter laws, better surveillance" rather than with a "war." Maybe, just maybe, they know more than we do.

11 thoughts on “How Europe Pacified

  1. I think people compare apples and oranges here: European Nations (western European nations, to be precise – remember former Yugoslavia?) do no longer use war to settle disputes among them, that much is true. But is this a great deal, or just the norm between democratic, industrialized countries? The USA has never made war on Canada since 1812 or on Mexico since 1849. War between democratic first world nations is very rare, indeed. One might argue that it has actually never happened. The use of force in a peripheral conflict is another matter: France had been almost constantly involved in small (Cote d’Ivoire, Chad) or large (Indochina, Algeria) colonial or postcolonial conflicts since 1945, and even a country like Sweden has fought in the Kongo as part of an UN mission.

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  2. Wouldn’t many Europeans reject the following comment? “To whatever extent the Western world is now at peace — acts of terrorism aside — it is not a Pax Europa but a Pax Americana.” (Not knowing the full context, I assume Yardley means this as it stands). Perhaps you or some reader could clarify what Yardley means.

    The reasons for peace in Europe have to do with the militaristic and moral collapse that led to World War II and ensuring revulsion. But surely it also has to do with the very long Cold War struggle between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union and the balance of nuclear terror.

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  3. To quote the ever genial Prussian historian Heinrich Leo:

    May God deliver us from the European putrescence of the peoples, and may He give us a fresh and jolly war that would rampage through Europe, would sift the population, and would stomp out the scrophulous riff-raff that is now making quarters too cramped to lead a decent life in the stuffy air.

    Written in 1866 or so – he did, it has to be said, get what he wanted 😉

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  4. Europe (has) enjoyed 60 years without military conflict

    Except for the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

    This is quite a conflict to ignore given the disgraceful events that occurred there and the prevaricating reaction to them by the rest of Europe. It’s all very well to pose on a moral high ground but no one was prepared to do anything until Clinton intervened. By way of contrast, in that same conflict, European sophisticates, such as those represented by the Dutch army, withdrew from Srebrenica, allowing the massacre to occur.

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  5. Except for the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

    Western Europe has become politically and socially demilitarized to a degree once unimaginable; after so many centuries of bloody conflict, Europeans don’t want to study war anymore.”

    Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia have all adopted EU integration as an aim of foreign policy.

    – Slovenia joined the EU in 2004.
    – Croatia is currently negotiating its entry. The country is expected to finally join in 2011.
    – The European Council on 17 December, 2005 granted the Republic of Macedonia candidate status for membership of the EU, recognizing the progress that it has made in meeting the Copenhagen criteria.
    – The Government of Montenegro has declared European integration to be one of the strategic priorities for the Republic. In its declaration of independence the Montenegrin Parliament “Confirmed as its strategic priority an accelerated integration into the European Union, and is determined to continue to efficiently fulfil the conditions and requirements included in the Copenhagen criteria and the Stabilisation and Association Process”.
    – After the fall of Milošević, Serbia’s new leaders announced that Serbia would seek to join the EU. In October 2005, the EU opened negotiations with Serbia for a Stabilization and Association Agreement. Boris Tadic, who wants closer ties with the European Union, got a second term as Serbia’s president in 2008.

    Do you really think Kosovo’s declaration of independence will trigger new violence?

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  6. I think it is unfair to simply call it a Pax Americana courtesy of American tax dollars. It is true that without the American military, the second world war could have gone on a lot longer. Let us not forget, however, that Europe soon found itself at the center of 40+ years of cold war, a state of perennial political tension between the superpowers which easily could have heated up into a full-blown nuclear war – in which both Europe and America would have perished. The motive for keeping troops in Western Europe was not strictly altruistic and for the sake of keeping newfound friends across the Atlantic out of trouble. America’s growing international political weight and its rise to global power in the second half of the 20th century (the fruit of which the U.S. government and its military bear to this day) were in part a direct result of America’s role in postwar Western Europe. In this respect, American tax dollars were really more an investment which has paid off tenfold than a mere writeoff.

    What makes Europe’s history unique in a way is that it has seen more wars and bloodshed within its own borders throughout the ages than any other continent. Compared to the last armed conflict on American soil in the mid-1800s, the second world war with all its agony and horror is still fresh in our memory. Germany started WWII, true, but in the wake of it, it was left with a scar in the shape of the “Innerdeutsche Grenze” for decades and generations to come, on top of which there were incidents like the Berlin Crisis in 1958 and increased nuclear armament in the early 1980s. In a political climate like that, it is not difficult to imagine why in most modern-day Europeans (and bear in mind that Germany is Western Europe’s most populous nation), strong sentiment against any kind of armed conflict is deeply rooted.

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  7. > Discounting a little foreay in 1916 to put down Pancho Villa,
    > who actually attacked the US first. Itwasn’t actually a war against
    > the Mexican government, but an attack upon the warlord who controlled
    > Northern Mexico.

    I did not mention this one because the US acted with the – grudging – approval of the Carranza goverment.

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  8. “America’s growing international political weight and its rise to global power in the second half of the 20th century (the fruit of which the U.S. government and its military bear to this day) were in part a direct result of America’s role in postwar Western Europe.”

    Nonsense. The US was a huge player (almost a dominant player) economically even before WWI. It didn’t choose to be a military power but the Civil War showed that the potential was there.

    “In this respect, American tax dollars were really more an investment which has paid off tenfold than a mere writeoff.”

    Ahh, so the 5 trillion dollars the US spent on NATO circa 1948-2003 were repaid tenfold somehow?!!!!

    Sources, please. This sounds like BS tossed off the top of your head to justify what continental Europe (hasn’t) done within NATO….

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  9. “Do you really think Kosovo’s declaration of independence will trigger new violence?”

    Yes, ultimately it will. There are about 100,000 Serbs living in a chunk of territory traditionally considered part of Serbia who have been willy-nilly included in the new nation. Something Tito did to control the Kosovars. These Kosovar Serbs are not meek little German-speaking Belgians. They may be forced out by the Kosovars but are you willing to bet that they won’t come back with the Serbian army backed by the Russians? Sooner or later.

    Sounds like the Sudentenland to me….

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  10. “Do you really think Kosovo’s declaration of independence will trigger new violence?”

    Yes, ultimately it will. There are about 100,000 Serbs living in a chunk of territory traditionally considered part of Serbia who have been willy-nilly included in the new nation. Something Tito did to control the Kosovars. These Kosovar Serbs are not meek little German-speaking Belgians. They may be forced out by the Kosovars but are you willing to bet that they won’t come back with the Serbian army backed by the Russians? Sooner or later.

    Sounds like the Sudentenland to me….

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