A Europe without the Atlantic alliance would be in dire straits. The safest bet is that such a Europe would become an object of balance-of-power politics. After its June 23 vote to leave the EU, Britain is pretending that the key to influence is the ability to project national power, when in fact it is the ability to define a collective political center of gravity. This is Germany’s strategy. It is the right strategy, but it is challenged in two ways.
First, the core partnership between Germany and France is not solid. France is at war against Islamist terrorists and impatient with the long-range institutional investments that Germany favors. The sum total is a blunt capacity for deterrence.
Second, Europe’s adversaries are not easily deterred. Russia is overwhelmingly strong on the flanks, and Islamist terrorists are willing to absorb more pain than Europeans can credibly threaten to inflict. Therefore, Germany and France would have to sacrifice the Baltics to accommodate Russia while fighting terrorists the hard way.
The German-French center is unlikely to hold under these circumstances, and a flexible balance-of-power policy would then prevail. That would not necessarily mean major war, but it would mean the end of Europe as an object of defense.
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