Europeans and Americans inhabit different planets—certainly, Sheehan (History/Stanford Univ.) writes, when it comes to attitudes toward war.
Sheehan’s solid book addresses an interesting phenomenon: How is it that Europe, breeding ground for catastrophic wars, has adopted the view that the military is a largely unnecessary evil? One factor, the author suggests, is the changing view of the nation-state. Whereas wars created and reinforced nations, and universal military service was once seen as a means for inculcating the ideals of the state, ever since 1945 supranational organizations, such as the UN and World Court, have assumed some of the state’s old duties. Britain had already proved that it was possible to be an only modestly militaristic state and yet control a vast empire. Now, with the postwar loss of empires around the world, Europe’s nations no longer needed great armies. (Besides—though Sheehan does not address it at any length—much of the postwar defense tab was being paid by the United States, eager to contain the Soviet Union via NATO, whose mission, a British diplomat remarked, was to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”) However Europe arrived at its new view of force, wars fought on the continent have been remarkably well-contained. As Sheehan observes, a war in the Balkans would once have touched off a conflagration across the continent, but the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s were local and, once NATO got involved, easily suppressed. Any increase in militarism seems unlikely, given the widespread renunciation of America’s invasion of Iraq, though the balance may be thrown off once militarized Turkey joins the European Union. Sheehan warns that it will “not be an easy matter to absorb this kind of state into Europe’s resolutely civilian politics and culture.”
Is Europe ripe for the plucking? Perhaps. Sheehan offers a worthy contribution to geopolitics.