Mass Migration Will Make Europe Unrecognisable, Could Lead to War
Last week in Washington, I met an old friend who is one of the smartest strategy wonks I know. His business is crystal ball-gazing.
During our conversation, he offered some speculations about what could happen to our world over the next decade or two which made my hair stand on end.
He predicts that the seismic turbulence in the Middle East will continue, and indeed worsen, unless or until the West is willing to commit stabilisation forces to the region. He calculates that an army of the order of magnitude of 450,000 men would be necessary, to have any chance of success.
In the absence of such an effort — for which he admits the political will does not exist on either side of the Atlantic, and is unlikely to do so in the future — he believes that the tidal wave of migration to Europe from the Middle East and Africa will continue, with consequences much greater and graver than any national leader has yet acknowledged.
He suggested that war within our continent is not impossible before the middle of the century, as southern European nations are swamped by incomers, and Greece stands first in line to become a failed state.
We can defer for a moment the question of whether my friend’s most frightening scenarios are likely to be fulfilled.
What was sobering about our conversation is that here was an uncommonly well-informed man who believes that the earthquakes shaking the Middle East, together with the scale of economic migration from Africa, could undo all our comfortable assumptions about the stability of the society in which we live, including our confidence that Europe has turned its back on war for ever.
The most obvious lesson of history is that events and threats always take us by surprise.
Consider the shocks we have experienced in modern times. Almost nobody expected the Irish Troubles; the Argentine invasion of the Falklands; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the dramatic rise of Muslim extremism; the 9/11 attacks in New York and 7/7 bombings in London; the global banking disaster of 2007-8; the break up of the Middle East that began with the 2003 Iraq invasion.
I never cease to be amazed by the continuing willingness of institutions all over the world to pay fat fees for speeches from the American academic Francis Fukuyama, who in 1992 published a ridiculous best-seller entitled The End Of History, which proclaimed that liberal democracy and free-market capitalism were now triumphant and unassailable, having shown their superiority to all alternatives.
Everything that has happened since shows that Fukuyama was as wrong as could be. Across large swathes of the globe, authoritarian regimes flourish like the green bay tree. Democracy has never looked rockier, even in the United States.
My think-tank friend in Washington observed last week: ‘Democracy only works where there is a broad consensus about the distribution of wealth and power.’ And it is because this consensus faces unprecedented stresses in consequence of migration in Europe, that he believes some factions may resort to violence, even outright war.
It seems foolish to dismiss this warning out of hand. The threat posed by mass population movement is huge and intractable, and it is hard to have much faith in the deal struck yesterday between the EU and Turkey which seeks to halt the huge numbers reaching the shores of Greece.
What it will actually mean is that 77 million Turks will have the right to travel all the way to Calais unhindered should they so wish.
Tens of millions of people in Africa, too, aspire to move to Europe in search of a better life, and huge numbers are already crossing the Mediterranean via Libya, Algeria and Tunisia.
The entire Middle East is in a ferment, and it is impossible to see any reason why peace should be restored any time soon. This week, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia’s forces are beginning to withdraw from Syria, where their aircraft have been conducting a murderous bombing campaign against rebels fighting the Kremlin’s client, President Bashir Assad.
Western governments are pondering the implications of this surprise move. British analysts think Putin judges that his air strikes have put Assad in a position to negotiate from relative strength. Yet whether he stays in power or goes, it is hard to believe that Syria will again function as a single state.
Most likely it will fragment as Libya has fragmented, with rival factions continuing to contest territory. There are no ‘good guys’ in Syria, which makes it hard to anticipate an end to the violence which has driven millions to quit their homes.
There are signs that the Kurds and Iraqis are making headway in the struggle against Islamic State which, sooner or later, will probably collapse. Yet such is the fervour of Muslim extremism across the region that some successor movement is sure to arise, with terrorist branches making mayhem in the West.