It's not that Europe no longer matters, it's that it will matter differently

On Friday, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote an article in the Washington Post titled, "Why Europe No Longer Matters." Today, Monday, the headline in the Wall Street Journal was "Europe Wrangles Over Greece," the top two headlines in the Financial Times were "Medvedev rules out poll tussle with Putin" and "Greek PM's plea for unity to tackle crisis," the top headline in the Washington Post was a story about NATO entitled "Misfire in Libya kills civilians" and the lead story in the New York Times was entitled "Companies Push for a Tax Break on Foreign Cash" which dealt with a key challenge in the age of global companies.

Haass, one of the canniest and most thoughtful U.S. foreign policy analysts around, was responding to Secretary of Defense Bob Gates's valedictory jabs at Europe concerning pulling their weight within NATO. The point of the Haass article was that Gates's comments were not just a coda on his time in office, but the end of a "time-honored tradition" which involves Americans tweaking our allies for shirking their global responsibilities. The piece made all the usual points: Europe's influence beyond its borders will decline, Asia is rising, the threats NATO was established to address have vanished to be replaced by new ones it is not very well-suited to meeting, etc.

The problem with the piece is that while Haass is right in terms of each of these points, I think he comes to the wrong conclusion.

The headlines in this morning's papers attest to the fact that Europe still very much matters today. In a tightly integrated global economy, Europe's economic fate impacts ours dramatically. An economic meltdown there around Greece or Spain could easily create a global economic crisis and send the United States into a precipitous and uncomfortable double dip.

Further, while NATO is certainly bumbling in Libya and a challenge to work with, the fact that the United States saw it as the right vehicle with which to collaborate in North Africa and in Afghanistan suggests that the alliance is actually evolving in important ways. It hasn't been pretty, but as the United States recognized in both instances, there really is no effective Plan B for a United States that is reluctant or unable to go it alone in key circumstances. Further, as indicated by the U.S. focus on the Europeans as key partners with regard to economic development in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, not only is the alliance not just military but the United States recognizes that the Middle East is Europe's Mexico. Problems there are European problems in terms of immigration and terrorism more than they are U.S. problems. What's more, the response of European leaders in both instances indicates that despite historical Euroreluctance to get involved, current leaders see no choice.

Europe will play a key role in the U.S. strategy for dealing with the Palestinian statehood vote in the United Nations, is still the United States' most reliable ally in most international fora, is still a vital trading partner, and of all the other major powers in the world, is still the one most likely to collaborate with the United States on key economic, political or security initiatives.

Is Asia more important than ever? Absolutely. But the political paralysis in Japan, its limits on international involvement, China's role as a sometimes adversary, and India's state of development, regional concerns and inclination to remain aligned with other blocks on key issues suggest that even after the sun has set on the primacy of the Atlantic as the world's geopolitical center of gravity, an evolving trans-Atlantic alliance will remain vitally important.

Perhaps it was just an overzealous headline writer that put Haass on the record as suggesting Europe no longer mattered, but the substance of his text suggests that he is mistaking relative change for the more absolute kind. We are well past the Cold War realities that dictated that NATO was the most important international mechanism of U.S. national security, our most vital partner in a bi-polar world. But in the emerging multipolar world in which shifting alliances among major powers will tip the balance in all international affairs and in which a chastened, economically-strapped United States will require true partners to get anything done and in which our strong natural affinities and common interests are with Europe, it is short sighted and a mistake to write off what will remain an absolutely central relationship to the United States for decades to come.

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David Rothkopf

If Greece had nukes, they would be bailed out by now

Thomas Straubhaar, a top economist from Germany, attacked U.S. credit agencies after they lowered Greece's credit rating to junk status, down there with the Pakistans of this world. In fact, in the spirit of Greek street protesters, Straubhaar called for the "violent overthrow" of the credit rating companies like Moody's or Standard & Poor's, arguing that these companies actually undermine stability in markets.

Come on, Thomas, don't shoot the messenger. The problem isn't the credit rating agencies -- although one does wonder if they don't have itchy trigger fingers after having been late with their warnings during the 2008-2009 phase of the current protracted economic crisis.

The problem isn't the Greek finance ministry. The problem isn't the Greek legislature. The problem isn't the Europeans who are being dragged kicking and screaming toward helping Greece. The problem isn't even Goldman Sachs and the other banks who lent Greece more money than they could afford and even helped them hide a bunch of the financings off the books.

Nope, the problem is Greek nuclear scientists and radical terror groups affiliated with the Greek intelligence services -- or rather, the lack thereof.

Because if Greece had nuclear weapons and crazed terrorists hiding in every luxury housing development, you can bet we wouldn't be going through this long drawn-out process of figuring out whether the country was going to default or not.

We know this because of Pakistan. Pakistan is an absolute financial basket case. It is in many respects in as bad a shape as Greece -- and in some it is even much worse off. But do you hear anyone talking about Pakistan's financial problems? Heck no.

Of course, talking about Pakistan's financial problems is like talking about whether Anthony Weiner's socks match. It's not exactly the first issue that comes to mind. Having said that, the reason we are not sweating the meltdown of Pakistan's financial markets is that there is no way the United States or the world would let it happen. Because a financial collapse could trigger the kind of unrest that would put Pakistani nukes at risk, and that's just not tolerable. So the United States pumps billions into Pakistan knowing full well that it is this aid that helps keep the ship of state afloat. (And, money being fungible, if it also pays for expanding Pakistan's nuclear arsenal … well, apparently we're willing to look the other way. Again.)

Once again, one of the main messages of modern international affairs comes through loud and clear: Nukes pay. From Pyongyang to Tehran, enterprising leaders know that the easiest way to boost your country's profile, gain political leverage, and win cash and prizes is to toss a little enriched uranium in the old Cuisinart, let the satellites take a few snaps, and start rattling your radioactive saber.

The problem with Greece is that if the economy collapsed, if the government collapsed, if the country descended into chaos, no one is worried that a nuclear catastrophe would follow. An ouzo-induced hangover maybe -- which can be a pretty horrific thing -- but it's the specter of a mushroom cloud that really is the attention grabber.

Admittedly, if Greece goes down and takes a few big French banks with it (as the ratings agencies warned this week) and markets get jittery and the firewall around Spain gives way and then a bunch more French and maybe German banks fail and a new global banking crisis and maybe a depression ensues -- well, that would be bad. And would produce instability in many corners of the world, including, possibly, in Pakistan. And if the downturn is bad enough it might force the U.S. and others to give less the next time Club Nuke comes to extort. So, well, yeah, that would be worse.

But, that's all speculation. What we know for sure is this: If there were a centrifuge or a hundred under the Parthenon, the Greek government would right now be sitting on piles of cash and not squirming, knowing that their fate depends on the famously warm hearts and generosity of the German people (among others).