Europe's Shattered Dream of Order

How Putin Is Disrupting the 
Atlantic Alliance

Europe in the cross hairs: wielding a pistol at a protest in Odessa, May 2014 Yevgeny Volokin / Reuters

Until recently, most Europeans believed that their post–Cold War security order held universal appeal and could be a model for the rest of the world. This conviction was hardly surprising, since Europe has often played a central role in global affairs. For much of the last three centuries, European order was world order—a product of the interests, ambitions, and rivalries of the continent’s empires. And even during the Cold War, when the new superpowers stood on opposite sides of the continent, the central struggle was between two European ideologies, democratic capitalism and communism, and over control of the European lands in between.

Still, it was not until 1989 that a distinctly European model of international conduct emerged, one that represented a radical departure from the assumptions and practices that still held elsewhere. In June 1989, communist authoritarians in China crushed that country’s nascent pro-democracy movement; that same year, communist authoritarians in Europe gave way without a fight as the Berlin Wall fell. For Europe’s leading intellectuals, this moment signified more than the conclusion of the Cold War; it marked the beginning of a new kind of peace. “What came to an end in 1989,” the British diplomat Robert Cooper wrote some years later, “was not just the Cold War or even, in a formal sense, the Second World War” but “the political systems of three centuries: the balance of power and the imperial urge.”

Indeed, the Cold War ended without a peace treaty or a parade—it seemed at the time a victory for both sides—and Europe’s new system washed its hands of old notions of sovereignty. Continental leaders were not interested in creating new states, as they had been after World War I. Nor did they move people around to secure existing ones, as they had done following World War II. Instead, they sought to change the nature of borders themselves, encouraging the free flow of capital, people, goods, and ideas. Political maps fell out of

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