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Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe Paperback – February 16, 2016
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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“There is a temptation, when you are around George Friedman, to treat him like a Magic 8-Ball.” —The New York Times Magazine
“In Flashpoints, Friedman combines analysis with prophecy. . . . Some personal biography woven into poignant narratives helps reveal how geography and history have always shaped Europe’s future.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“One of the country’s leading strategic affairs experts.” —Lou Dobbs
“Considering how right [Friedman’s] been over the years, he’s worth listening to.” —San Antonio Express-News
“Insightful. . . . Friedman vividly describes a region where memories are long, perceived vulnerabilities are everywhere, and major threats have emerged rapidly and unexpectedly many times before.” —Publishers Weekly
About the Author
GEORGE FRIEDMAN is founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures, which specializes in geopolitical forecasting. Prior to this Friedman was chairman of the global intelligence company Stratfor, which he founded in 1996. Friedman is the author of six books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Next Decade and The Next 100 Years. He lives in Austin, Texas.
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Instead, this reads as sort of his own personal recounting of his family/father's views on europe and it's primarily a mediocre retelling of aspect of European history. I definitely learned things while reading, but it wasn't good enough to describe as a solid European history book and it's definitely not a forecasting book. I really don't know what to classify it as, but I think that's because it fails to be anything discernible. I would say it's a book to skip.
He then begins the history of modern (post-medieval) Europe which started in the 1400s. At that time Islamic civilization abutted Europe, controlling much of Africa, western and central Asia, and parts of the Pacific. Europe's main demand then was for black pepper from India, and Prince Henry of Portugal (aka the Navigator) began the process of oceanic voyages around Africa to bypass the Islamic center and get spices directly from India. In 1498 Vasco da Gama made it around Africa to India. Meanwhile Spain had entered the race and in 1492 had Columbus sail west and discover what he thought were the outskirts of India. This led to Spain becoming the first world power, followed by other European world powers, with the last European world power the Soviet Union ceasing to exist on the first day of 1992, exactly 500 years after Columbus's discovery.
Three men jolted Europe out of its medieval self-centered isolation and began the modern world. These are the previously mentioned Columbus in 1492 (Europe is not the center of the world), Martin Luther in 1517 (Rome is not the center of Europe), and Copernicus in 1543 (Earth is not the center of the universe). Especially important was Luther's belief that individual Christians can interpret the Bible for themselves, thereby launching modern individualism.
This led to the scientific revolution as formulated by Francis Bacon (born 1561) where knowledge is based on observation and experimentation (not ancient authority). But back then it was necessary to say that science would be used to understand the world God had created. All this led to the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries where reason would overcome superstition, merit would overcome aristocratic privilege, and the meritorious would govern through a republic. Meanwhile Europe had fragmented into different nations, originally influenced by Luther's system of printing the Bible in local European languages (not Latin). Modern Europe became governed by science and nationalism.
In 1914 life was good in Europe. There was peace and prosperity as well as technological and artistic innovation. European empires controlled most of the world. The last major war was a century ago in 1815 with the final defeat of Napoleon. Europeans were optimistic. Then World War I suddenly broke out and much of the old order collapsed. Europe was devastated, especially Germany and Russia. Two new ideologies then developed in these countries led by two ruthless men. Stalin wanted to create a new society based on communist theory, kill or arrest any opponents, and end up with a worker's paradise. Hitler wanted to strengthen Germany by colonizing parts of Europe, ridding it of subversive elements like Jews, and end up with a thousand-year German Reich (empire). World War II ensued which further devastated Europe. In the 31 years between 1914 and 1945 about 100 million were killed. Europe ended up being occupied by American and Russian forces.
Friedman states that Americans "pitied" Europeans and were generous with help. Russians "envied" Europeans and stole from them, shipping whole factories back to the Soviet Union. They came from a place where watches and indoor plumbing were luxuries. (When I visited the Soviet Union in 1984 toilet paper was a luxury - they used newspaper which showed Pravda had some use after all). Europeans were suffering from what is today called post-traumatic stress disorder. But back then people were expected to recover by themselves.
While occupied eastern Europe became part of a new Russian Empire, western Europe pursued unification to prevent another war. The main idea was to unify Germany and France (enemies since 1871) plus the other countries. This resulted in Franco-German economic unification with the European Coal and Steel Community (1951) and the Treaty of Rome and the European Community (1957) which also contained Italy and Spain as well as smaller countries. Meanwhile Britain tried to maintain its independence by creating the European Free Trade Association which included countries like Sweden and Switzerland. Britain eventually joined the European Community in 1973 and the EFTA faded away. Further unification came in 1991 with the Maastricht Treaty and the European Union (now 28 countries). The main theme in Europe today is that it is a place of peace and prosperity that has made war obsolete.
But cracks began appearing in this scenario. At first wars erupted in the 1990s in tense areas such as the Balkans and the Caucasus. Meanwhile Russia had recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union and began attempts to re-establish its empire in 2008. This happened in Georgia where two northern provinces broke away from the country with the help of Russian troops. Contrast this with four years earlier when the Orange Revolution in Ukraine ousted a pro-Russian government which had won with a rigged election. By 2014 Russia felt powerful enough to invade and incorporate the Ukrainian province of Crimea. It is true that Crimea had historically been a part of Russia until Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954 (since it was attached to Ukraine but across the sea from Russia), but in 1994 Russia signed an international agreement to guarantee the borders of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine abandoning its nuclear weapons (the biggest mistake it ever made).
There were also economic problems caused by the worldwide Great Recession of 2008. Prosperous countries like Germany weathered the storm but poorer countries like Greece sank further into bankruptcy. Germany is a country which produces more than it consumes and is a major exporter. Greece is a country which consumes more than it produces and is a major importer. The tension there is that Germany does not want to be the welfare department for southern Europe while countries like Greece want more welfare (foreign aid or "loans" expected to be forgiven).
Friedman cites various flashpoints which are too numerous to mention here. There is always Germany which is generating resistance by trying to impose economic discipline on resistant poor southern European countries and mafia-style eastern European countries. Russia has had its borders pushed back to before Peter the Great, with the Baltic states, Belarus, and Ukraine now independent. Putin wants them back.
Towards the end of the book Friedman finally addresses the biggest problem facing western Europe, which is the Muslim invasion (Russia is eastern Europe's biggest problem and the current battleground is Ukraine). Western Europe has been operating under the myth that due to its official policy of tolerance it has made war archaic and can accommodate millions of Muslims. The reality is that Muslims are there to benefit economically and despise tolerance as well as its proponents. They are more interested in imposing their culture on a culturally weak western Europe.
European elites sponsored this invasion to gain cheap labor to benefit themselves as the main investors. They then imposed this policy on the rest as a manifestation of morally superior tolerance and understanding. As usual the European middle and lower classes had little influence over this matter and resented the imposition of this invasion. This conflict has led to Muslim terrorism, a return to warfare in Europe which the new policies were supposed to have banished.
Once again we can see that history repeats itself. A dying Roman Empire imported Germanic barbarians to solve its economic and military problems. When additional waves of these barbarians invaded the empire, there was no one left able or willing to defend it. It took Europe a thousand years to recover from the fall of Rome. The current situation may be the beginning of a similar outcome.
Can you explain in short words why Germany wants to have Greece remaining in the EU and the EUR, whatever it costs?
If you want comprehensive answers to all these questions and more, then this is a book for you: "Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe" by George Friedman.
Friedman sets out the following questions that he wanted to answer with his book:
How did Europe achieve global domination, politically, militarily, economically, and intellectually?
What was the flaw in Europe that caused it to throw away this domination between 1914 and 1945? and
Is the period of peace that followed 1945 what the future of Europe will look like?
The last question is the most important one for Friedman.
His answer - in short - is: "No, it is not very likely that there will be continued peace throughout Europe".
What is so special with this book?
Friedman covered the big picture by providing detailed support, country by country. At the same time he lays open his working techniques which made him one of the very few internationally recognized geopoliticians.
George Friedman also reveals a lot of himself. He is letting the reader into his life, he tells the exciting story of his family's escape from persecution in WW II Hungary. And his starting point is impressive. He was born in Hungary, escaped with his family to the USA, and then travelled almost all European and close-European countries that he is writing about in his book.
This obviously shaped him to become someone who comes close to a world citizen, although he is usually putting the USA in the first place. I would not call this "arrogant" but one can throughout the entire book see that Friedman sees the USA to be the successor of Europe's domination of the world. And this is what this book has in common with most other books in the area of geopolitics, the USA are take as the center of the geopolitical universe and everything else follows from there.
Anything missing in the book?
If Friedman completely left out one significant point in his book then it is the future of manufacturing and its implication on geopolitics. Friedman emphasizes several times on international sea trade and the importance of protecting an empire's sea trade (namely the one of the USA) with a navy, but he does not recognize that the future of 3D printing and rapid machining will bring more decentralized manufacture and less international logistics. It is yet to be seen if the USA will be able to continue in the future maintaining a navy that can invade any place of the world within 24 hours.
And, of course, the Brexit is not captured in Friedman's book because this event is too young. I got the second edition of November 2015, which has updates about the ongoing refugee invasion, and Friedman already has somewhat anticipated the Brexit in chapter 15 of his book. But he qualifies this view with the following statement:
"The Europeans see the British as being different from them. The Americans see the British as different from themselves as well. The British see themselves as both unique and needing to have a foot in each camp."
George Friedman's professional background
George Friedman is the founder and chairman of a commercial company that specializes in geopolitical forecasting. Before that he was the chairman of the global intelligence company Stratfor, which he founded back in 1996. This explains the style of the present book, George Friedman is surely a seasoned expert in geopolitics.
Important ideas to remember
According to Friedman, Germany - and not France - plays a central role in Europe. One of his main points is that the EU created an only temporary abatement of Europe's core problems, which are nationalism and power - in particular German power. According to him, we are now in a period where that abatement is in the process of failing.
Friedman summarizes the role of the USA as follows, which is probably true but certainly diffiult to swallow for some:
"After the war, the United States became the first power to control all the world's oceans. It had expelled the Japanese from the Pacific - and the British and the French as well. It now dominated the North Atlantic, and through NATO, what was left of the Royal Navy was, in part at least, under American command. It was a maritime empire, and the British no longer controlled the sea lanes."
This is only one example for Friedman's mercilessly straight approach in his book. He presents facts in order to back up his theories and ideas, regardless of whether these facts hurt or not.
Here is one more merciless slap, right in the face of one-world order supporters:
"... the European Union ... is crumbling. There are four European Unions. There are the German states (Germany and Austria), the rest of northern Europe, the Mediterranean states, and the states in the borderland. The latter face the retaking of their old borderlands by Russia. The Mediterranean Europeans face massive unemployment experienced by Americans in the Great Depression. The northern European states are doing better but none are doing as well as the Germans."
Being of German origin myself, I can say that this book is not a bad read at all, but I may be biased ...
Key facts of this book
This book is so much filled with a large variety of facts that it is difficult to select which facts are the most important ones.
What was certainly new for me was the fact that the British - under tremendous war pressure from Germany after the fall of France - agreed to take 50 old destroyers from the USA, in return of a 99-year lease of land and bases, including the eastern Bahamas, the southern coast of Jamaica, St. Lucia, western Trinidad, Antigua, parts of British Guiana and basing rights in Bermuda and Newfoundland.
Letting the Greeks off the EU hook would not hurt Germany or the EU at all, as Greece is only 2 percent of Europe's total economy. But it would set a precedent that would endanger the entire European project. And this cannot be as - this is an important fact - half of Germany's exports goes to other EU countries, and exports make half of Germany's total GDP. And this with Germany being the world's third largest single exporting nation. This is unique within the EU. So what is good for Germany may not be good for the rest of the EU and vice versa.
In very short words, what I took from Friedman's book is this: if one has to decide on expanding his business into Europe, then Germany, Austria and Switzerland are surely top tier candidates, followed by the nordic countries. The UK - and with it the Netherlands - are playing in a different but still very attractive league. The remainder of Europe should be taken with a pinch of salt, to put it diplomatically. And don't bet the farm on that there will not be a war in Europe again, especially along the Russian border.
Whether you like these ideas or agree with them or not, this book is a must read if you are interested in Europe's future.