Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War
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Instability in Europe After the Cold War The profound changes now underway in Europe have been widely viewed as harbingers of a new age of peace. With the Cold War over, it is said, the threat of war that has hung over Europe for more than four decades is lifting. Swords can now be beaten into ploughshares; harmony can reign among the states and peoples of Europe. Central Europe, which long groaned under the massive forces of the two military blocs, can convert its military bases into industrial parks, playgrounds, and condominiums. Scholars of security affairs can stop their dreary quarrels over military doctrine and balance assessments, and turn their attention to finding ways to prevent global warming and preserve the ozone layer. European leaders can contemplate how to spend peace dividends. So goes the common view. This article assesses this optimistic view by exploring in detail the consequences for Europe of an end to the Cold War. Specifically, I examine the effects of a scenario under which the Cold War comes to a complete end. The Soviet Union withdraws all of its forces from Eastern Europe, leaving the states in that region fully independent. Voices are thereupon raised in the United States, Britain, and Germany, arguing that American and British military forces in Germany have lost their principal ruison d'tfre, and these forces are withdrawn from the Continent. NATO and the Warsaw Pact then dissolve; they may persist on paper, but each ceases to function as an alliance .' As a result, the bipolar structure that has characterized Europe since This article emerged from a paper written for a February 1990 conference at Ditchley Park, England, on the future of Europe, organized by James Callaghan, Gerald Ford, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, and Helmut Schmidt. An abridged version of this article appears in the Atlantic, August 1990. I am grateful to Robert Art, Stacy Bergstrom, Richard Betts, Anne-Mane Burley, Dale Copeland, Michael Desch, Markus Fischer, Henk Goemans, Joseph Grieco, Ted Hopf, Craig Koerner, Andrew Kydd, Alicia Levine, James Nolt, Roger Petersen, Barry Posen, Denny Roy, Jack Snyder, Ashley Tellis, Marc Trachtenberg, Stephen Van Evera, Andrew Wallace, and Stephen Walt for their most helpful comments. John Mearsheimer is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science, University of Chicago. 1. There is considerable support within NATO's higher circles, including the Bush administration , for maintaining NATO beyond the Cold War. NATO leaders have not clearly articulated the concrete goals that NATO would serve in a post-Cold War Europe, but they appear to conceive the future NATO as a means for ensuring German security, thereby removing possible German motives for aggressive policies; and as a means to protect other NATO states against International Security, Summer 1990 (Vol. 15, No. 1) 01990 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology. International Security 15:1 I 6 the end of World War I1 is replaced by a multipolar structure. In essence, the Cold War we have known for almost half a century is over, and the postwar order in Europe is ended.2 How would such a fundamental change affect the prospects for peace in E ~ r o p e ? ~ Would it raise or lower the risk of war? I argue that the prospects for major crises and war in Europe are likely to increase markedly if the Cold War ends and this scenario unfolds. The next decades in a Europe without the superpowers would probably not be as violent as the first 45 years of this century, but would probably be substantially more prone to violence than the past 45 years. This pessimistic conclusion rests on the argument that the distribution and character of military power are the root causes of war and peace. Specifically, the absence of war in Europe since 1945 has been a consequence of three factors: the bipolar distribution of military power on the Continent; the rough military equality between the two states comprising the two poles in Europe, German aggression. However, the Germans, who now provide the largest portion of the Alliance ’s standing forces, are likely to resist such a role for NATO. A security structure of this...


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