Friday, 17 February 2012

1948. A Choice of Futures

Fans of speculative fiction will be familiar with the concept of alternative futures, where a change in the past creates a different present to the one we know.  In 1948 George Kennan wrote a paper, then classified Top Secret,which looked at the world of the time and mapped out the dangers and options for what was then the newly established 'Empire of the USA'.

Kennan (February 16, 1904 – March 17, 2005) was an American adviser, diplomat, political scientist and historian.  He served as deputy head of the U.S. mission in Moscow until April 1946. And between April 1947 and December 1948,  Kennan was an advisor to George C Marshall, Secretary of State. Kennan is regarded as the architect of the Marshal plan, the post war financial support that countries in Europe received in the post war period. 

At the time the USA was at the top of its game, with a supercharged industry and the sole possessor of the nuclear weapons that had cost it plenty to produce but would be, until 1949, be its sole privilege. As Kennan writes, the USA had 50% of the world's wealth and 6.5% of the world's population. Thus, the USA was in a position to buy the sort of future that it wanted. And, having just brought the latest war in europe to a close,  it had a special interest there.

The Marshall plan, which would cost the USA some $13 billion, was fundamental to the rebuilding of post-war europe. The USA was very concerned about the possibility of the spread of communism at the end of the second world war. In Germany, Italy and elsewhere communism had growing support. To have won the war but ultimately lost europe to communism would be failure and people like Kennan felt that european industry, particularly German industry, needed to be quickly rebuilt unless communism was to spread across into western Europe.

Kennan's  PPS23 memo, 
contains some insights into how the USA looked at the rest of the world in 1948. Modern day eurosceptics may find it interesting to see how an American thinker looked towards a federated Europe, with active participation by Britain.

"Some form of political, military and economic union in Western Europe will be necessary if the free nations of Europe are to hold their own against the people of the east united under Moscow rule.
It is questionable whether this union could be strong enough to serve its designed purpose unless it had the participation and support of Great Britain.… Britain could be encouraged to proceed vigorously with her plans for participation in a European union,

Well, we know how that turned out. But alternate possibilities are also conjectured by Kennan.

"If we were to take Britain into our own U.S.-Canadian orbit, according to some formula of “Union now”, this would probably solve Britain's long term economic problem and create a natural political entity of great strength. But this would tend to cut Britain off from the close political association she is seeking with continental nations and might therefore have the ultimate effect of rendering the continental nations more vulnerable to Russian pressure'

The Union Now reference, is a pre-war proposal by an American journalist, Clarence Streit, who "proposed a Union that, along the lines of American federalism, brought together the democracies of Europe, North America and former parts of the British Empire, under a single government with the power to grant citizenship and wage war; its membership would expand as more nations joined the democratic camp." (Those former parts of the British Empire being the white parts.) 

This future then, would be a uniion, with a common currency, freedom to work anywhere, and no trade tariffs between the sovereign states. It's a kind of super EU which includes  North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand as well. Although, as George Orwell pointed out in an essay Not Counting Niggers, the whites would retain the privilege and the black population of the British and French empires would continue to be exploited.

In 1948 there were fears, shared by the Soviet Union, that a united Germany would present a future danger. Kennan again, "If there is no real European federation and if Germany is restored as a strong and independent country, we must expect another attempt at German domination." Other options in Kennan's paper are, the possibility of a federal Europe where Germany is broken up into much smaller pieces. Perhaps along the lines of the occupation zones of the time. With the Federal Europe to include this weakened, partioned Germany.

In the end, of course, a partitioned Germany with the western part as a cornerstone of the EU is what we got. Later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a Germany united with many of its former components restored and with a large part of Europe united in a common currency.

The Marshall plan, which came with strings attached, played a big part in shaping present day Europe. But it's not all turned out according to Kennan's futures. He didn't predict the demise of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent admission of so many of the eastern, former communist block, states to the EU. (the law of unintended consequences/beware of what you wish for) And that Union Now idea melted away. Paving the way for a much larger EU, eventually including more parts of eastern europe.

Today's European Union has a larger economy than the USA, see table. The union has succeeded beyond all expectations. wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP

GDP (millions of US$)
 European Union16,242,256

 United States14,526,550

 China, People's Republic of5,878,257

The eurosceptics in Britain will, no doubt, continue to predict the imminent demise of the EU, and many will long for that special relationship between Britain and the USA. Interesting that it could have gone that way  if different choices had been made, back in 1948.  

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