Friday, September 26, 2008

Mearsheimer: Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War

Mearsheimer, J., 1990. Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War. International Security, 15(1), 5-56.

“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…This article assess 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” (5).

“I argue that the p0rospects 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” (6).

“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…and the fact that each superpower was armed with a large nuclear arsenal” (6-7).

“Four principal scenarios are possible. Under the first scenario, Europe would become nuclear-free, thus eliminating a central pillar of order in the Cold War era. Under the second scenario, the European states do not expand their arsenals to compensate for the departure of the superpowers’ weapons. IN a third scenario, nuclear proliferation takes place, but is mismanaged; no steps are taken to dampen the many dangers inherent in the proliferation process…In the fourth and least dangerous scenario, nuclear weapons proliferate in Europe, but the process is well-managed by the current nuclear powers. They take steps to deter preventative strikes on emerging nuclear powers, to set boundaries on the proliferation process…This outcome probably provides the best hope for maintaining peace in Europe” (8).

He then highlights the possibility of three counter arguments being posited. The first is the standard liberal claim that economic interdependence will reduce conflict. The second is democratic peace considerations. The third involves a degree of collective self-awareness amongst Europeans. “But the theories behind these arguments are flawed, as I explain; hence their prediction of peace in a multipolar Europe is flawed as well” (8).

The pre-1945 Europe was quite violent because there were no nuclear weapons and there was a multipolar world. The post 45 world was more peaceful because of bipolarity. “A bipolar system is more peaceful for three main reasons. First, the number of conflict dyads is fewer, leaving fewer possibilities for war. Second, deterrence is easier, because imbalances of power are fewer and more easily averted. Third, the prospects for deterrence are greater because miscalculations of relative power and of opponents’ resolve are fewer and less likely” (14).

Mearsheimer supports these theses in the remainder of the text.