Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, by George Friedman

A review of Flashpoints, which offers an overview of the conflicts that have marked European history and looks ahead to some potential new ones.

In Flashpoints, geopolitical forecaster George Friedman takes a long look at Europe to answer three questions. How did it once achieve global domination? What was the fatal flaw that caused it to lose its way between 1914 and 1945? And what does the future hold?

He warns that, though Europe would like to believe the worst of its bloodshed is behind it, neither it nor the world can afford complacency. Many flashpoints still exist, he argues, especially in borderland regions where ethnic populations live together uneasily within long-fought-over borders.

Examples from his own family show that he comes to his understanding about the volatility of borderlands honestly. For instance, his mother’s father was born in Pressburg but had his children in Pozsony. After the First World War, the family left Bratislava. All were the same city with a different name, depending on who controlled it — the Austrians, Hungarians or Slovaks.  

The author, who is also the chairman and founder of a private intelligence company, spends perhaps too much time on the conquistadors while answering the global domination question. But he has some interesting insights about the amorality of nationalism and the European tendency to want it all.  

In 1912, Europe’s colonial holdings totalled 40 million square kilometres and it was the master of the world. After two world wars, the Russian and Spanish civil wars and other conflicts left 100 million people dead, a diminished Europe was tired of war and wanted to believe it couldn’t happen again.  

But Friedman thinks some seeds that led to all that conflict still lie buried. While the EU held the promise of peace-producing prosperity and has achieved some success at integration, it has been threatening to unravel due to conflicts among countries with competing needs. Germany wants to fight inflation and protect its export markets, while Greece wants debt relief and policies that boost employment. Old rivalries are reemerging, as well as the sense of German superiority that proved so disastrous in the past. Extremist political views are gaining ground.  

Some of the borderlands discussed, such as the English Channel, may be pushing the point. Does anyone really expect Britain to be invaded?  

But the threat of a militaristic Russia reasserting itself in an attempt to regain lost ground is a very real one. The next pressure cooker to watch: where the eastern borders of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania converge on the western borders of Ukraine.  

The author tells of travelling to Mukachevo in western Ukraine, where his ancestors once lived. On one street were two large churches — one Roman Catholic, one Orthodox — where the congregations were competing to see who could pray the loudest. Eventually loudspeakers were employed. Clearly, he concludes, some old rivalries have not been settled.