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The mighty Rhine isn’t just a German river – its tributaries and distributaries form a webwork of maritime transport routes throughout the Netherlands and France, and reach as far inland as northern Switzerland. Control of the Greater Rhine system has been at the core of Franco-German competition for far longer than there has even been a concept of Germany.

In a world in which the European Union exists, this is an interesting fact. Rhine branches such as the Mosel are more known for tourism than competition. But in a world in which the old rules of Europe reassert, such sleepy backwaters will become far livelier.

For more on how Europe’s past is about to be its future, see Chapters 3 and 11 in The Accidental Superpower.