Iraq's Odious Debts

Deferring to a failing Europe

George Will
The Daily Telegram
April 16, 2003

WASHINGTON — The task of reconstructing Iraq — more its civil society than its physical infrastructure — is entangled with the less urgent task of reweaving the frayed relations between America and France and Germany, and with the optional task of rehabilitating the United Nations.

The U.N. has proved itself unsuitable as an instrument of collective security. It is a stew of starkly conflicting political cultures, and incompatible assessments of the world’s dangers and what to do about them. Hence it cannot function as a policy-making body. It can, however, be invited to help with certain brief relief and civil administration chores. This invitation should be extended for the same reason France was made a permanent member of the Security Council in 1945 — as psychotherapy for a crisis of self-esteem brought on by bad behavior.

Note the verb “invited.” There is no entitlement for France, Germany, Russia and the U.N. They did all in their power to keep Saddam Hussein in power, which makes them accessories to tyranny and war crimes. All Iraq’s debts incurred to Russia, France, Germany — U.S. officials at the U.N. say Germany was even more troublesome than France “in the corridors,” meaning in the prewar politics outside the Security Council — during Saddam’s regime should be canceled.

Some European militaries, like Canada’s, can barely be considered real military — meaning war-fighting — forces. The New York Times reports that more than half of Germany’s defense budget of just $27 billion goes to salaries and benefits for personnel — a third of them civilians who, after 15 years, are guaranteed lifetime employment. Germany had to lease Ukrainian aircraft to get its peacekeeping forces to Afghanistan.

Still, such militaries can perhaps earn their keep by maintaining order in an Iraq where tribalism is reasserting itself and civil war might now fester. Besides, there is a danger that peacekeeping will diminish the U.S. military services’ aptitude for their real purpose, which is war-fighting. Furthermore, the services are stretched perilously thin and were being exhausted by the tempo of operations even before the war began.

The crisis with Iraq, which became an overdue crisis of U.S. relations with the U.N. and portions of Old Europe, arrived as the U.N. was publishing “State of the World Population 2002.” To the extent that demography is destiny, Europe’s collective destiny, for decades, will be beyond the choice of its governments, and will be a continuing decrescendo.

Today Europe’s population is 725 million. The populations of 14 European nations are declining, and the declines are driven by powerful social values and trends that would be difficult for governments to reverse, were they inclined to try, which they do not seem to be. The growth rates of the populations of the other European nations are at or near zero. So the European population is projected to be 600 million in 2050.

In developed countries, a birth rate of 2.1 children per woman is a replacement rate, producing population stability. Only Albania has that rate. Catholic Ireland’s rate is 2.0, but the rates of the Catholic nations of Southern Europe are among Europe’s lowest — 1.2. The estimated European average is 1.34.

Stein Ringen, an Oxford sociologist, writes that “without emigration or immigration and with a stable birthrate of 1.5, a population would be reduced to about half in 100 years, and with a birthrate of 1.2 to about 25 percent.” On those assumptions, Germany’s population would shrink from 82 million to fewer than 40 million by the end of the century, and Italy’s 57 million to fewer than 20 million.

Ringen acknowledges that population trends can change rapidly and unpredictably. But with the exception of the post-1945 baby boom — before working mothers became the norm — Europe’s birth rates were low for most of the last century, and higher rates are unlikely because the “modern conventions for family life are built around the now firm idea, and economic necessity, of both parents working and earning.”

Economic anemia and further military impotence are probable consequences of Europe’s population collapse, which will trouble some Americans with peculiar political sensibilities.

Americans who are apt to argue that U.S. foreign policy needs constant infusions of legitimacy from the approbation of European governments are also apt to deplore, in the domestic culture wars, Eurocentrism in academic curricula. Such Americans resist the cultural products of Europe’s centuries of vitality, but defer to the politics of Europe in its decadence.

Why? Perhaps because yesterday’s European culture helped make America what it is, and today’s European politics expresses resentment and distrust of what America is. Both sensibilities arise from the distaste of some Americans for America.

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