To commemorate the World War I Battle of Verdun, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande met recently at the battle site to remember and honor the deaths of 300,000 German and French soldiers in that 10-month battle.
The visit to this 100-year-old site was meant in part to remind Euroskeptics of the dangers of the potential breakup of the European Union. The European Steel and Coal was originally created in 1951 after World War II to keep the Germans and the French united so that there would never be another war between these great European powers.
Hollande’s warning at that bloody battleground was that tearing down the Union would take less time than forming it. He noted that it always takes more time to build something than it does to destroy it.
It took from 1951 to 1993 to create the European Union, but only eight years of economic stagnation and political disillusionment to threaten the very core of the organization. Hollande and Merkel can invoke the past to give perspective, but that will probably not stop the unraveling of the union. Time is not on their side, according to Stratfor strategist Reva Goujon in an article entitled, “The Tyranny of Time.” Time is an enemy of not only the French and Germans, but of other nations as well.
Time is a tyrant to the Vladimir Putin who has labored for 17 years to restore Russia to its previous glory as the Soviet Union. In that time he reined in the nation’s economic oligarchs, crushed a Chechen rebellion and used his nation’s massive oil wealth to rebuild the economy and the Russian military.
Putin has been unsuccessful in his drive to diversify his nation’s economy and with the plunge of petroleum prices, which make up 70 percent of its income, combined with sanctions imposed by the West upon it for its actions in Ukraine, time is running out for the rapidly-aging country. The Russian economy is in a downward spiral as wage cuts increase poverty levels. The longer the spiral continues, the longer it will take to stabilize the nation.
China, too, is under the gun, according to Goujon. The age of 7 percent-plus growth has come to an end, as China must shift its economy and 1.36 billion people from export to a consumer-driven one. Internal consumption currently only creates 34 percent of its GDP which is mostly centered in the southeast, compared to 70 percent for the U.S., 61 percent for Japan and 59 percent for India. The Chinese government must make dramatic changes to secure its hold on power and time is running out.
“Europe, China, Russia, and even the Saudi monarchy and other critically exposed economies are also racing against time to overhaul their economies for their own political survival,” Goujon wrote.
The United States, by contrast, has no such existential threats. This nation, with all its polarizing politics, seems to be basking in both time and space. Based upon its geography, natural resources, military might, technological superiority and entrepreneurial energy, the U.S., according to Goujon, will remain the premier global power for a long time to come.
America’s danger is complacency. The other nations noted above have the experience of many failures over the centuries that they can draw upon in tough times. The United States, in contrast, does not have this long past to draw lessons from. We must be realistic about our strengths without withdrawing into paranoia and alarmism. We must also not be fooled by the illusion of control. Facing reality to the many challenges facing us both at home and abroad will require a great deal of patience, a quality which our young nation has never had in great abundance.