The New Old German Problem
Think of an Americo
First, there has never been any sort of unified currency without commensurate political unification. Imagine a NAFTA-like Americo, a new currency that would try to absorb the American and Canadian dollars with the Mexican peso. Well, enough said.
Lifestyles and culture are not quite the same in Yucatan and Toronto. In such unworkable financial systems, the poorer leach off the wealthier and find plenty of rationalizations why they should. In an analogous example, the president of Mexico just left the United States, after making the political and media rounds, lecturing us on why his own corrupt government has some sort of divine right to export half-a-million of its own poor to the United States. Imagine Mexico's audacity had we the same currency.
An Incredibly Shrinking U.S.
Second, the natural inclination of the United States is not international engagement but a sort of isolationism. The Cold War interrupted that tradition, but slowly we are seeing it return under Obama, especially in the unhappiness over Iraq and Afghanistan and a desire for more social spending and entitlements at home. I don’t think our first Pacific President wants to, or is competent and credible to, advise Europe about much of anything.
Yet we sometimes forget the third leg of the old NATO equation: America in, Russia out -- Germany down. Without fear of a Russian Empire, and with America turning inward, it is not all that clear there is any force that cares much to worry about German restlessness. A broke Europe is not about to turn to a broke Britain or a broke United States to complain about German financial unease. And Germans are increasingly not going to listen to either if they did. NATO exists only because of American arms and I suppose German money. But it is not doing well in Afghanistan, and most of its members will soon be cutting back on what little they now spend on their militaries.
In short, what will happen with Germany when it is lectured by the French, insulted by its debtor dependencies in southern Europe, and starting to become angry that only its own work ethic and productivity — not some grandiose platitudes about the EU — keep Europe going?
Very soon German workers are going to grasp that all the financial reserves they piled away the last two decades from not doing what a Spain or Italy did are essentially gone. Someone in Munich worked 40 hours a week until age 67 for someone in Athens not to — and for someone in Athens to demand that someone in Munich do so or else. The idea that nations like Greece, both overtly and implicitly, insult nations like Germany has no basis in historical terms.
Even European bankers now claim the euro is suspect. The European Union may well devolve into something other than its present form within a few years. NATO is an alliance mostly in name. Germany is angry. So far all the traditional restraints upon its pique — allied military rivals on its two borders, a divided country, fear of a nuclear Soviet Union, incorporation within the EU and NATO — are either nonexistent or increasingly problematic.
If it should choose, Germany could go nuclear in six months, its arsenal reflective of a country that makes Mercedes and BMWs. That is not so wild an idea in an age when unstable nations like Iran and North Korea boast of their arsenals and their aggression, while others such as Turkey and Brazil flout U.S. faculty-lounge sermons on non-proliferation.
If Iran should go nuclear — and I think it will within a year or two — we should imagine that a Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria would too. As the European Union collapses, as third-rate nations become nuclear, and as the United States abdicates its postwar role in ensuring the safety and security of the West, why would Germany continue to subsidize southern Europe while receiving mostly blame for its efforts, while its airspace would be in theory vulnerable to the likes of a theocratic Iran?
Back to the 19th century?
In a sane world, a financially solvent United States would now step up to the plate, reassure Germany of both its long-standing financial and military support, and seek through its friendship and alliance to deflect any natural German inclination to translate its economic power and present seething into something other than mere anger at the EU.
But we don’t live in a sane world. U.S. finances are following the Greek example. President Obama either does not understand the West or perhaps does not care to. To the new America, a Germany is no different from a Pakistan or Venezuela, just another member of the international community, no better or no worse than any other. Our commitment to NATO and the U.S. defense budget will soon be redefined, as even more entitlements along the lines of the recent trillion-dollar health care plan are envisioned.
In other words, in such a vacuum, very soon, if we are not careful, we are going to have a German problem — again.