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The Accidental Superpower: Ten Years On
With a new “10 years later” epilogue for every chapter, comes an eye-opening assessment of American power and deglobalization in the bestselling tradition of The World is Flat and The Next 100 Years.
Ahhh, Western Europe. A region with no shortage of history, but how will they move forward into a deglobalized world? Let’s just say Germany will soon be replaced as the dominant regional power.
Germany is approaching demographic collapse and major economic challenges, and its role in the EU will be greatly diminishing. So who will replace them? The most viable candidates are France and the United Kingdom, but only time will tell.
The US and Russia both have a heavy hand of influence in this region, so the power dynamics will continue to evolve as deglobalization sets in. Western Europe will continue drawing lots of attention in the coming years, so we’ll be revisiting this conversation soon.
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Hey everybody. Peter Zeihan here coming you from the South Island of New Zealand. Today is going to be the latest in our series on regional power in a post-American world. I want to go through Western Europe here. Now, the dominant power in Europe since the industrial revolution has been German. It’s got the largest population, the most land to work with.
It’s got access to a huge chunk of the northern European plain. It’s littered with navigable rivers. And so it’s always been a capital and an industrial power. And dealing with German strength or German weakness has always been the issue that the rest of Europe has turned dogged. And we are now moving into not simply a period of extreme German weakness, but absolute long term national collapse.
And there is no way that Europe can navigate that without substantial changes to the security, economic and political order. We are dealing with one of the most dramatic demographic collapses ever recorded. We’ve got some of the best data on it. We know that they passed the point of no return back in the 1980s. So even if you include one off events like the civil war in Bosnia or the migrant move up from Syria, those collectively only gave the Germans about 5% of the population increases that they needed in order to stave off decline.
It is not politically possible for them to have events like that every single year from now on in order to prevent demographic collapse. So we’ve always know that the 2020s were going to be the final decade that the Germans could exist as the modern economy. And that’s the best case scenario because we’re also moving to a world where international connections are worse.
And the German economy, because it’s so old, because the average age of the population is in the mid fifties already, they can’t consume what they produce. They have to export it. And as international trade becomes more problematic, especially as the Americans and the Chinese both become more nationalistic on economic issues, the entire German model is facing collapse for geopolitical as well as demographic reasons.
So we need to start thinking of the German space differently, not as kind of a self moralizing, hypocritical position like they have for the Russians. The Chinese during the last couple of American administrations, certainly not as a military superpower that requires people, but instead as something that if you wanted to continue to exist, you have to pay for it.
Basically, Germany is devolving into a much larger version of Greece, and the cost is going to be necessary to maintain the German nation in the German state is an order of magnitude bigger than what the Europeans have paid for the Greeks to continue to exist at this point. And since it’s the Germans that have paid for the Greeks to exist, it is unclear who, if anyone, has the interest or most importantly, the capacity to pay Germany to continue to exist.
That is it. A city can only be made at the highest strategic decision points in Paris and London and in Washington. And I can tell you right now, none of them are really grappling with that issue at this moment. The most likely outcome in the short term, next five years, the Germans will no longer have the financial and economic capacity to pay for the European Union.
And they have been the single largest funder of the EU and its predecessors since the very beginning. And as Germany goes from a half country to have not country, the entire fundamental basis of the European Union crumbles in a day. We are in the final decade of not just the German economy, but the European Union as a whole, and that frees up everyone else in Europe to do something else, whether that’s good or bad, bad for them.
There are two powers worth considering in a post European Europe. The first one, of course, is France. It has the healthiest demography. It has the least complicated security issues as the strongest military. Its economy has not been integrated into Europe as a whole, much less the world. And so in a post globalized system, the French could enter a post German post global post U.S. competition with absolutely everything they need to be a very successful regional power.
Their first issue, of course, is going to be the management of the German decline and whatever the post German space looks like. But they’re going to have their fingers throughout the entire periphery of their interests. The second country that matters, of course, is the United Kingdom. The demographics are significantly better than Germany, although not as good as France.
And of course it’s an island. So just like the French, they never really integrated their economy into the European space. And in the post Brexit world, they are bit by bit, by bit by bit, trying to explore what it means to be an independent middle power. The end result for the Brits was always going to be the same.
Doesn’t matter what the politics and let them tell us it’s always going to be a partnership with North America and most notably with the United States. But until the Brits come to that conclusion publicly, they’re kind of in this limbo. And that buys that most precious of commodities for the French time because the Franco British competition for the last 300 years has obviously been intense.
And until such time as the Brits realized that they have to work hand in glove with the Americans from now on, with the Americans being the hand, they are going to be ceding incremental declines and the geopolitical position from now on. Now, one thing that the Brits have always had but allowed them to punch above their weight is their navy.
They’re an island nation. They have to have a Navy. That means they can choose the time and the place of the competition. That’s always served them well. And in the last few governments, because it’s it’s Britain, you can’t say the last two. It’s like the last 90 now would like Italian style government stability the last several governments have finished work on their Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, which are two of the world’s 14 super carriers, are two of two, a 15.
The problem is, in order to get those out of drydock, they had to get the rest of the military. And so the Brits no longer have a strong enough navy to provide an escort ring for the super carriers. So the only way that their super carriers can sail as part of an American combat group and the Americans really don’t see the point and the Brits making a power play in northern Europe that’s going to constrain London’s room for maneuver, not to strategically versus the United States, but versus the French at a time when the French are riding high and are only going to be riding higher in the future.
Then, of course, the two countries on the outside of the matter the most. Russia doesn’t really directly impact the security of this region unless, of course, they win in Ukraine, which is all bets are off. Good as a motivator. That’s about it. And then the United States, which really hasn’t made up its mind yet, I find it unlikely that the Americans are going to try to subsidize the Germans over the long term.
I find it unlikely that the Americans and the French are going to find themselves on opposite sides of any serious discussion of anything other than cheese policy. The question, though, is whether the countries on the French periphery are going to chew moves to deal with someone other than France. In the case of Portugal, they have one of Europe’s longest standing treaties with the Brits in the case of Spain.
There’s already whispering on the edges of Madrid and Mexico City about the Mexicans sponsoring the Spanish for membership in NAFTA. In the case of Italy, you’ve got a fractured polity that has always gotten along very well with the United States. And then, of course, case of the Netherlands. They will every single time on security issues tied up with the Brits and the Americans over the French.
So there is kind of this competition for who will be the dominant regional power. It’s not that the Americans have an interest in dominating this region, but they certainly have an interest in no one else dominating the region. And that is going to make politics between France and the United States. This weird combination of friendly and rivalrous all at the same time.
For those of you who have been following French-American relations for the last two centuries, this could sound really familiar. It’s just the most recent iteration. All right. That’s it for me. Talk to you guys next time.