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Why Europe Sleeps

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Why Europe Sleeps

It has no appetite for conflict with Putin. March 19, 2014
Photo by rockcohen

It is not only cleanliness, but concision that is next to godliness. In theory, then, Twitter should promote near-godliness, for it encourages people to express their thoughts in few words. A good example of such admirable concision was the tweet from Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, reproduced in the electronic version of Le Monde on March 19, 2014: “On the one hand we cannot imagine delivering arms to Russia, on the other there is the reality of employment” (the French have a $1.7 billion deal to build a miniature aircraft carrier for the Russians). This will hardly have Russian president Vladimir Putin quaking in his shoes; on the contrary, it will set him laughing and reassure him that he can mock Western Europe to his heart’s content.

Putin has four things on his side, at least in the short-term. The first, of course, is military power. The second is his increasing control of the media and over public opinion in Russia. The third is that his policy appeals to nationalist passion which, apart from ethnic hatred, is probably the strongest political passion of all. The fourth is the weakness of his European opponents.

Europe has no military power and would not use it if it did. No one wants to let the genie of war out of the European bottle yet again. Just as important, the European population doesn’t give fig what happens in or to Ukraine, so long as whatever happens doesn’t drive tens of millions of Ukrainians westward. Those few who have followed developments in Ukraine over the last few years have probably lost all faith in the possibility of a minimally honest and upright government there. Who wants to risk anything for one group of corrupt oligarchs rather than another?

Fabius’s Tweet pointed with laudable succinctness to the difficulty politicians in parliamentary democracies face in confronting still distant threats: their electorates are prepared to make no sacrifices to meet such threats, least of all in economic circumstances that are already precarious. For most electorates in Europe, Ukraine is, like Czechoslovakia in 1938, a faraway country of which they know nothing; what they want, and will judge their governments by, is prosperity at home. And only more immediate threats will arouse their national passions sufficiently to resign them to the slightest economic hardship.

Hubris brings nemesis, but hubris takes many forms. One is the belief that the need for vigilance has been abolished because everyone now has the same worldview as ourselves, that the end of history has come, and we are it.

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