“Not Just Another Place”: George Friedman’s Take on Contemporary Europe

George Friedman at Politics & Prose

George Friedman at Politics & Prose

Haleigh Francis

George Friedman, CEO of Austin, Texas-based intelligence company Stratfor, speaks on his newest book Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe.

Author and political scientist George Friedman cited his personal European background as a basis for his investment and interest in the subject matter of his new book, Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe.

“For me, the Cold War was a defining moment of my life in many ways,” Friedman told the audience at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

Hungarian-born, the author immigrated to the United States as an infant with his family. Living as social democrats in the face of a Communist nation, Friedman’s parents fled Hungary to seek a safer life for their family.

The author stated that his family’s fleeing had been a matter of life or death and reflected on the time period during which he and his family left Europe.

“My life came from this place, from the torture of what I call the 31 years: the years between 1914 and 1945. 31 years in which Europe went from and extraordinarily civil, human and decent place to a life of extraordinary barbarism,” Friedman said.

Moving to a new country was a crucial aspect of Friedman’s worldly perception, he said, and shaped how he thought about himself, the world’s nations and the relationships between them. Being both European and American was not a conflicting identity to accept, he explained.

“I always had this tension between myself as an American and as a Hungarian,” Friedman said.

His nationality was one of two reasons Friedman cited for writing Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe. The other was the stance he took at the end of previous book, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century: that the European Union could not survive in the current form it had taken.

Friedman explained the extreme depression that southern Europe is currently facing, emphasizing the fragmented nature of the continent and its nations. He stated his belief that the crises that Greece has faced are not an anomaly, but a predictions for what will happen to the rest of Europe.

These cyclical tendencies of Europe – the phases of extreme sovereignty among the countries followed by crippling economic downfalls and eras of war – are what Friedman’s book elaborates on and attempts to explain.

Taking lessons from the past, Friedman expressed a frank view about the near future of Europe. An inability of nations to unanimously unite and avoid conflict is the author’s thesis and prediction.

The fragmented nature of the countries is, in Friedman’s opinion, largely responsible. The European Union, he stressed, was never a United States of Europe, as each nation was ultimately free to make its own sovereign decisions.

“No nation wants to be liable for another nation’s irresponsibility,” Friedman said.

Friedman expressed little faith in inter-country alliances. Audience members questioned Friedman about the professed national independence of European countries, and the ways in which it has affected global politics. In response to a question about NATO, Friedman expressed ambivalence about the organization’s legitimacy as a unifier of worldwide militaries.

“NATO is a military alliance, therefore it doesn’t exist,” the author said, suggesting that militarized countries cannot collaborate in a friendly way.

Germany’s independent hold on the economy, he detailed, was largely influential on the current economic state of Europe as a whole. The country’s massive export of GDP and dependence on the free trade zone saw way to a sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

“The sovereign debt crisis was simply that all the countries […] couldn’t pay back their loans. They couldn’t pay back their bonds.”

This, Friedman said, led to austerity which in turn led to a crushing wave of unemployment. Friedman cited Spain’s current unemployment rate of 23%, and Greece’s of 26%, as examples.

In Friedman’s opinion, there has been a rehash of old European political ideation manifesting in the modern day. The distinct national factions are beginning to dominate politics and economy again: just as they did decades ago.

“What you see happening in Europe is the rise of the kinds of parties you saw in the 1920’s and 1930’s,” Friedman said.

The author concluded with the rhetorical question of whether or not war would become an inevitability of European crisis today, as it did in the past. Are the European nations cursed by their tendency towards separatism?

Friedman said that the suggestions of conflict were already likely.

“We are already seeing this borderland come to life,” said Friedman, referring to the, “fundamental faultline of Europe”; the line between the European peninsula and the mainland is in his opinion the focal point of said conflict.

Friedman stressed the incredible strength of Europe, both in the past and potentially in the future. He cited the great victories of the Europeans decades ago as violent, but important events.

“What the Europeans did with blood and strife and horror was create a humanity,” Friedman said.

The author has no doubts about the primary role that Europe has played in world history, in creating a powerful Western nation over decades of war and struggle.

“What’s important about Europe is that it conquered the world,” Friedman said.

What these conquests will ultimately lead to is the hypothesis of Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe.

SOURCE LIST

George Friedman

Politics & Prose

1/28/15

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