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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 2
now delivers austerity and pain.”
Nowhere is this more evident
than in Greece. One of the main
reasons Athens was admitted to
the European Union in 1981 was
to cement democratic governance
in the land where democracy it-
self first blossomed — but which
was ruled by a military dictator-
ship from 1967 to 1974.
“For the Greeks,” says Serfaty,
“getting into the E.U. was a way
to end political instability and an
undemocratic threat that defined Greece in the past.
Being forced out of Europe would resurrect those
things. Moreover, it would define an easy way out for
other states with potential populist leadership.”
If the technocratic government installed in Athens
last November fails, the temptation will be for the Greek
electorate to turn to populist politicians who promise
less pain. A country where the standard of living de-
clines sharply could also face a growing public backlash
in the form of rising nationalism. History teaches that an
effective way to distract a disgruntled electorate is to fo-
ment external threats. A Greek politician intent on
doing so would have ample opportunities to fan latent
anti-Turkey sentiment in Cyprus or in the Aegean.
At the same time, association with the European
economy is likely to look less and less attractive to
Turkey. Already, fewer than half of Turks (48 percent)
think joining the European Union would be a good thing
for their country, according to the German Marshall
Fund’s 2011 Transatlantic Trends survey. And given Eu-
rope’s current troubles, such support is likely to shrink
over time. In addition, a Turkey that no longer aspires
to join the European Union and whose behavior is no
longer constrained by the need to meet conditions for
admission could well become a more unpredictable, un-
helpful free agent in the Middle East.
As the E.U. looks less successful economically and
less politically functional, it will also hold less appeal for
the former nations of the Soviet Union, which are likely
to slip further back into Moscow’s orbit. For that mat-
ter, the idea of a united Europe has less allure for the
Russians themselves. “Russian liberals used to present
the European project as a model for Russia,” notes Dim-
itri Simes, president of the Center for the National In-
terest. “Now they cannot say this
with a straight face.”
With the future of North
Africa up for grabs and the
Balkans still unsettled, the last
thing Washington should want is
for the European Union to be-
come a centrifugal rather than a
centripetal force in its own corner
of the world.
Compounding the problem,
European weakness and self-pre-
occupation could dash all Ameri-
can hopes for trans-Atlantic cooperation in dealing with
the China challenge.
An Opening for China
Beijing is already flexing its muscles in the South China
Sea and the Indian Ocean, and extending its influence in
Pakistan, Africa and Latin America. In addition, its brand
of state capitalism looks more attractive to many govern-
ments around the world than the form being practiced in
Europe or even in the United States.
Hard-pressed to counter this influence on its own,
Washington could find itself without an effective Euro-
pean partner. Already, European governments hoping to
sell Beijing their sovereign debt have come under pres-
sure to back off anti-dumping cases aimed at Chinese
firms. If Beijing ever contributes to a euro bailout fund, as
some in Europe hope, the foreign policy price for its co-
operation could be steep. “The downside risk,” said
Kupchan, “is that the U.S. will find itself navigating a new
East Asia map very much on its own.”
Left without an effective strategic partner, America’s
drift toward an Asia-centric foreign policy will only accel-
erate. Already, a majority of Americans (51 percent), in-
cluding seven in 10 Americans born after the end of the
VietnamWar, thinks Asia is more important than Europe to
U.S. national interests, according to the German Marshall
Fund survey. And as Europe appears more and more dys-
functional, that sentiment is only likely to grow— a devel-
opment that is in neither America’s nor Europe’s interest.
For all these reasons, Europe’s problems are now
America’s headache, too. So as Washington scrambles to
cope with the economic consequences of the euro zone
crisis, it must also reassess how much it will be able to de-
pend on Europe as a strategic partner in the future.
The most immediate
strategic problem for the
United States will be the
erosion of Europe’s capacity
to share the burden of paying
for global public goods.