Walter Laqueur: The Weimar Union

Roundup: Historians' Take

Walter Laqueur is a Distinguished Scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. His most recent book is Harvest of a Decade.

THE PUBLIC DISCUSSION of Europe’s economic crisis has carried a curious air of repression: When commentators have worried about worst-case scenarios—the scenarios that harken back to the dark moments in the Continent’s history—they have generally been dismissed as alarmist. 

But there are good reasons to treat these dire warnings with the gravest seriousness—to place them within the realm of plausibility. One of these reasons can be found within the file cabinets of the U.S. government. In 2004, the U.S. National Intelligence Council, the government’s premier agency for strategic intelligence analysis, published a report arguing that the European Union might not survive to see the year 2020. The report worried about restrictive labor laws and aging populations, not debt and the unraveling of the currency union. (The report also saw the main danger as Germany’s economic weakness, which makes for curious reading eight years later.) Still, it is bracing to consider that the U.S. government has worried about the worst-case scenario with the same intensity as the so-called alarmists. 

With Europe in such a precarious condition, it should be clear that the current economic and political arrangements can’t last much longer. That reality ought to focus our attention on the question of what arrangements will take their place. We would do well to recognize that Europe has a range of possible futures in store, some much more disastrous than others....

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