I have commented before on the model of German unification provided by Otto von Bismarck . To put it briefly again, the model that Germany has traditionally followed is unification first through trade, then followed up by the sword when peaceful trade fails to preserve German interests. It would appear as if the analysis at Stratfor are of the same mind as I am, so they wrote their security weekly on this very topic, albeit without speculating on the larger historical patterns at play .
Right now Germany is in the midst of one of its imperialistic periods. In fact, the whole European unification project is itself an attempt for Germany to receive the soft economic benefits of empire without the nastiness of German troops tramping all over Europe that other nations fear and loathe. Right now Germany feels aggrieved that Greece (and other nations) have spent recklessly and are endangering the good credit of Germany, even as Germany has at least tacitly encouraged such reckless behavior to serve its own export-driven economy.
Connecting politics with economics, it is easy to see that an export-driven economy is an imperialistic one. A nation whose economy is driven by exports desires free trade, in an asymmetric fashion (no trade barriers to stop exports, with little interest in importing from other countries except those things which cannot be made at home). In order for other countries to purchase imports from the imperial exporter, their economy will have to be propped up by some means, because the balance of accounts quickly gets out of hand. This means that either borrowing or some other means (usually borrowing) must allow countries to buy that which they cannot afford with their own exports in order to prop up the export-driven economy at the heart of the trade zone.
The fact is, Germany has turned a blind eye to Greek and Irish and Portuguese and Italian and Spanish fiscal irresponsibility because it serves German interests, as Germany is the dominant exporting nation within the Euro zone. Now that the chickens are coming home to roost, Germany is claiming to be harmed by such fiscal irresponsibility even as it depends on the bar tab being extended like some sort of bartender whose income depends on the drunks running up expensive bar tabs. Is the bartender blameless when he has been plying liquor all night to an irate drunk who cannot pay for all of the drunks? No.
Basically, Germany has been looking for the benefits of empire, especially the economic benefits, without having to pay the costs in military infrastructure, or having to pay the political costs of having a nation that was committed to an imperial project. Now it is becoming more clear that Germany’s trading partners are unable to keep up the impossible bargain of being willing “internal” colonies within a German-dominated Euro zone while also remaining fiscally responsible nations. Germany’s solutions include a seizure of Greek sovereignty based on their incompetence, in the same way a bankrupt company would go under receivership. Needless to say, this rather shocking solution would seem very heavy-handed coming from Germany.
At this stage, Germany as a nation hasn’t decided what it wants. The European Union lacks sufficient sovereignty to be a genuine nation-state, which is what Germany seems to want (and what a lot of nations within the Euro zone are extremely leery about, because of their legitimate fears of German dominance). Right now what we are seeing is a failure of the second Zollverein, the attempt to unify Europe through a customs union with free trade. It failed in Germany because Prussia’s desire to dominate the rest of Germany provoked the hostility of jealous little states as well as the declining Austrian Empire. The issue was settled by a series of wars that led to the establishment of the Second Reich.
Where we are right now is somewhere after the fall of the Second Zollverein is obviously looming but before the Fourth Reich has come. It took Prussia about ten years to go from a decision to unify Germany by force to its final consummation in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. It took Hitler six years to provoke a general war after unifying with Russia and dismembering Czechoslovakia. This European sovereign debt crisis, in reality a crisis about political sovereignty within Europe, is already at least a year or two old. Already Europe has flexed its muscles against a weaker neighbor (Libya) and faced some stark divisions within its midst that need to be resolved.
In short, if Germany decides to go rogue, it might not need as much time as we think to pull together a cowed and dominated Europe. After all, the United States is not in the position to engage in a war to defend the sovereignty of a deeply divided Belgium, or a destitute Greece or Portugal, not when its own house is in such disorder and its own financial situation so shambolic. So long as Germany committed to the imperial project (and that is a big if), there are no large armies, save France, that would be in a position to resist it, especially if England were dealing with its own devolution pressures (for example, with Scotland). Russia is too busy working on its own imperial project to prevent Germany’s efforts at this point.
We will have to pay close attention to the mood in Germany, and whether their feeling of being wronged turns to a violent hostility at freeloading nations around the periphery of Europe. If that is the case, things could get very ugly faster than many think possible. Much depends on whether the Germans are willing to pay the political and economic cost of enforcing an empire on the unwilling periphery states of Europe, and on whether any force can be found to stop them if they try. If Germany aims to true, I am not sure they could be stopped at this point or in the near future, so long as they stay within the Euro-zone. It is only outside of that area that would seem to provoke greater conflict.