Well known British journalist, author and historian Sir Max Hastings has written a somewhat provocative, piece in the Daily Mail, based he says, on discussions with an America friend who is “one of the smartest strategy wonks” that he, Hastings, knows. The premise is that the ongoing mass migrations of Africans and people from the Middle East and West Asia into Europe will lead to a situation in which “war within our continent is not impossible before the middle of the century.” Now, Max Hastings is not some fly-by-night electronic/internet sensation, he is a respected author and a seasoned observer of the world around us. His article may be, as the headline says, apocalyptic, but it is not totally unreasonable.
He echoes the late Prime Minister Sir Harold MacMillan, who is reputed to have said that “events, dear boy, events” is what would bring down his government …
… when he says that “The most obvious lesson of history is that events and threats always take us by surprise.” That’s an obvious truism and it means, equally obviously, that we should look beyond the “normal” (obvious) tensions – provoked by say Putin/Russia or by a Brexit ~ and ask ourselves about the impact of societal changes provoked by migration.
There are, already tensions …
… between the (mainly dark skinned Muslim) migrants and the (mainly fair skinned Christian) Europeans and between European countries with different views on immigration and refugee settlement.
Fear and War
I have said on a few occasions that, in my opinion, based on my reading of history, wars are, as often as not, caused by fear. Even Vladimir Putin’s naked aggression is, I think, a result of his fear of what is happening to Russia: a steady decline back into political and strategic irrelevance. It is not at all unreasonable to suppose that fear of the societal changes that very large scale migrations will bring cannot and will not provoke people into electing governments that will, out of fear of the unknown, attack their neighbours in a misguided effort to sauve qui peut in their own societies.
I think Sir Max’s “think-tank friend in Washington,” was (still is) wrong when he “observed last week: ‘Democracy only works where there is a broad consensus about the distribution of wealth and power.’ And it is because this consensus faces unprecedented stresses in consequence of migration in Europe, that he believes some factions may resort to violence, even outright war.” The “broad consensus” is not about wealth or power, it is about respecting the rules, living with and within the “institutions” which make democracy work. Those institutions are strong in e.g. Britain, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries; they are weaker in e.g. France, which, for example, tossed out a democratic government and constitution in 1958 when the Algerian war went sour.; they are weaker still, in my opinion, in the entire “Southern tier” of Europe (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and the Balkans and in the Eastern European states that only recently tossed off the yoke of Russian/communist rule. If trouble is going to start it will happen, I think, in those weaker states. A European war is likely to start when one of the countries with weaker institutions decides, our of fear, that it must break the rules that hold Europe together.
What will it mean for Canada?
Notwithstanding my contention that Canada needs to de-emphasize its historic ties to Europe and strengthen our ties to Asia and then Africa, this does not mean that Europe is unimportant. We do nearly $90 billion in trade each year with the EU, that’s greater than the combined GDPs of Saskatchewan and PEI combined … so Europe matters.
If, as I fear, the worst case scenario, real interstate violence in Europe, comes to pass it is likely that Canada will have friends on both sides. My guess is a three way split:
- Britain, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries and a few others in one block;
- The “Latin” countries (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and a few others) in another block; and
- The more recent EU members from Eastern Europe and the Balkans in a third.
Obviously, Europe is able and must be allowed to resolve its own difficulties .. we do not imagine another Franco-Prussian War, do we? What I suspect we will see is a rapid and massive unspooling of the European Union, a return to barriers and even trade wars and a final breakdown of the NATO alliance. Putin/Russia will use this long, slow, simmering crisis to make mischief in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans. Various terrorist groups, many of them representing radical, fundamentalist, medieval Islam will also exploit the tensions to do whatever it is they think they are doing.
It is most likely that the (predominantly) Muslim migrants from Africa, the Middle East and West Asia will be the main cause and victims of violence in Europe. They will be looking for a new safe haven. It will not be in North America. I do not believe that anyone, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, can ignore what is happening in US politics in 2016. My suspicion is that no matter who the next POTUS might be the ‘welcome mat” for immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants, will be rolled up and put away. American attitudes do not stop at the border. My sense is that far more Canadians are “informed” by …
… than by this …
… and that means that US attitudes are, most often and very quickly, Canadian attitudes, too. If, as I suspect it will, the US decides to turn its back on desperate migrants then it is very likely that Canada will follow suit.
Where can the migrants go? Back to Africa and the Middle East? That’s the simplistic, Donald Trump, answer but it is, it seems to me, impossible. Can they stay in Europe? Where? The better question is: who can keep them out? The answer to that one is: Britain, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and the Scandinavians and, possibly, Hungary and the Czech Republic and Poland, too, if they (any or all of them) decide to close their borders and expel migrants already there. Who cannot stop them? Croatia, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania and so on … poorer countries with internal divisions and with armies and police forces of dubious quality. That is where, in my opinion, the violence may start. The biggest question is: can the stronger, more responsible Europeans contain it there?
Another question is: what happens to the global agenda if Europe unravels and is embroiled in a series of low level but bitter little cross border skirmishes? Will there be any political will, in the West, to deal with, say, Africa or climate change? The Europeans have been a strong, fairly united and progressive voice on these issues; what happens when they turn their attentions elsewhere?
The biggest victim will be, in my opinion, the United Nations. It is already weak and disorganized. A crisis in Europe, in which the UN will be completely irrelevant, might be all it takes to push it into failure.
I hope that Sir Max Hasting’s American friend is wrong. But hope, as an old friend keeps reminding me, is not a valid course of action for grownups. But I must also hope that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is seized with this issue and has some plans to protect Canada’s vital interests if worst comes to worst … but, somehow, I guess it ~ a European migrant crisis ~ is not part of the Sunny Ways agenda.