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January 15, 2012


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Are you ruling out even border clashes that get calmed really quickly? In any event, I tend to agree. Maybe if Belgium gets really out of control? In 2040, after three consecutive lost or near-lost decades, there are massacres of the French-speaking Belgians while there is a Le Pen-type in office in France, who decides he needs to stand up for his cultural brethren, one thing leads to another and: war. That's the best I can do.

Nice to see you blogging regularly again, the new design is great.

How are we defining "western" Europe? as "Sweden-Germany-Austria-Italy and all points west thereof"?

Also, I notice you say "a western European government [killing] citizens of another European government". That suggests you're including not only western vs. western, but the larger category of western vs. European-but-not-Western. Is that correct?

Just checking on terms before I start chin-rubbing.

Doug M.

Good question, Doug.

Truly unthinkable unthinkable involves war (even a very limited one) two E.U. members. I just can't figure out how you would get there from here without some magic. Patrick came close, but is it really possible that the Belgian situation could turn violent? (Honest question.)

So I'd say I meant "between two current E.U. members." I can still imagine a conflict between a western European country and Russia. But even should the E.U. collapse (which is all too thinkable, albeit improbable) I can't see how you would get from there to war. What could make modern European voters (even in Hungary) cheer as the drones were dispatched to kill their neighbors?

And my brain hangs completely up at the idea of an interstate war west of the Elbe. (Although Patrick came close.)

Summation: Western v. Western seems unthinkable, but Western v. European-but-not-Western (which we saw as recently as 1998) is still not. I wrote sloppily. That said, I can't how a war would break out with or between the Visegrad states, in addition to the more traditionally-defined Western European countries. (This guy tried, I wasn't convinced.)

If you're allowing the plausibility of a civil war in the US as a 2nd order possibility, then I don't see how you can not allow the same for West Europe. There is far more insterstate/ethnic dislike in Europe than in the US. It is incredibly easy to get a North European do say nasty things about their "lazy" "Latin" brethren. A prolonged recession/depression that was perceived to be brought on by the bad financial habits of the Southern Europeans could lead to political support for nationalistic parties in the North. It's impossible to imagine what could happen over the next decade. Just as economists had thought another major recession wasn't possible with the new great moderation

Here are two possibilities on for size.

(1) A variant on Patrick's scenario: an anti-immigrant reaction in Europe strong enough to provoke armed intervention. That said, my imagination fails --- I honestly can't imagine political failure on that level. Even now, when you see it start, the counterreaction is ferocious.

(2) Austerity-provoked civil disorder escalating to something that requires intervention. Problem there is the same --- countries will pull out of the euro way before that happens, and there's not much of a basis for organized opposition to any western European government.

So I can imagine them in theory, but when I try to game them out, they look impossible.

Plasmaj: I'm with you in theory! (I posted the above before seeing your comment.) The thing is, I can't imagine the steps that would get you there in practice. How do you end with uniformed Germans (or their robots) trying to kill armed Greeks?

RE your first scenario, I don't think that's entirely implausible, but I can't see it in the next 50 years. I would think a prerequisite is immigration to the point where one country ceases to be seen as part of the west, ie Germany would have to become a nation of Turks. I mean it would have to be one nation --say France-- looking at another nation as fundamentally "other", not just a partner nation with an unfortunate subset of foreign immigrants within it. That seems like a process of more than a half-century. Without that, I can't see any upset over immigration being settled via war.

RE Belgium turning violent, there was that New Yorker article a ways back that said that violence was not an impossibility, but framed it in the sort of way that suggested that it was virtually impossible. It definitely seems unlikely.

Hey also re Friedman's book, is it any good on the other predictions? I have only read the summaries and reviews, and most of it seemed pretty far-fetched.

The scenario I'd see is Euro collapse, greek collapse, a nationalist/populist government takes over, increases tension in Cyprus and with (the former Yugoslav republic of) Macedonia. Simultaneously, the Germans start expanding their "sphere of influence" in Europe, (probably also for populist/nationalist reasons in the wake of the Euro collapse), forming alliances with, other Balkan states. Macedonia and Greece go to war, other Balkan nations are sucked in, and eventually Germany.

Probably with a breakdown of French-German relations in the wake of the Euro collapse, with each blaming the other. Then with some increased Russian adventurism. Those factors leading Germany (possibly with US support) to a more "Eastern" strategy that gets it involved in alliances in the Balkans.

Eric, what would a sphere of influence even mean? It's too vague. Any hint of aggressive war by a politician, and their career is over. Where does the domestic coalition come from? This is where unthinkability comes in: I just can't imagine how you construct such a coalition. Even assuming the collapse of the E.U., you gotta wave a lot of hands to explain why politicians and their electorates suddenly start deciding death and destruction aimed at the neighbors will win votes.

Moreover, where's the UNSC? What happened to NATO? I can imagine Greece becoming like 1990s Serbia, in which case a war could happen ... but that's a repeat of 1998, not 1914.

There isn't any populism-nationalism around expansion or militarism anymore, not in Old Europe. And a resurgence, well ... I find it unthinkable. Why? How? For what? It isn't 1939 anymore, and I don't see a plausible route back to it.

I can be convinced, but not by a deus ex machina that revives a psychology that's been dead for decades.

I've been canoodling about this. "Some damn silly thing in the Balkans", yeah? Cyprus, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia.

Macedonia isn't the sort of thing that starts a shooting war. (Civil war, now. But Ohrid continues to hold.) Kosovo still has a tripwire force of foreign soldiers, and likely will for a while. Also, a formal and binding settlement (north Kosovo for recognition and everyone joins the EU) seems quite possible in the next decade. That leaves Cyprus and Bosnia.

Cyprus is currently getting a little better -- not settled better, but living together better -- but in 50 years, a lot could change. Cyprus goes septic -> Turkey vs. Greece. I think we can agree that, while mercifully unlikely, this is far from unthinkable.

Bosnia... well what you need there is state collapse in Bosnia, followed by Civil War II. Unlikely but certainly not unthinkable. The European record in 1992-5 is not exactly inspiring, so if this got started it could go on for a while. Long enough to draw in outside powers? But what would their motivations be? Other than the Serbs, and the Croats. And you'd need dumb-ish nationalist governments in both Belgrade and Zagreb. (Really dumb, in Zagreb -- less at stake, more to lose.)

Let's see. Odds of violent state collapse in Bosnia in the next 50 years? Let's say 1 in 5. Odds that, once started, it goes on for a while? Even. Odds of Serbia getting seriously involved? Say one in three. Of Croatia? Say one in ten.

That would give one chance in 300 of Serbs shooting at Croats. Which is pretty unlikely, but not unthinkable.

But none of these involve current EU members. H'm.

Doug M.

Dead for decades? Le Pen. Definitely racist, if not warmongering, and populist. On the scale of the nazis, sure, it's gone. But the attitudes remain. The Greeks are already kinda nationalist, yes, now, that manifests itself as whining about what the Macedonians call themselves, but they obviously do have a chip on their shoulder. Populism is hardly dead anywhere, and I find the notion of a Greek populist politician inflaming tensions with Turkey and Macedonia plausible. As far as the Germans "sphere of influence", something along the lines of the EU breaks up, with a french/english/low countries/scandinavian EU-lite surviving, and the Germans trying to build the Central European Economic Union as a counterweight to a more militant Russia. And I'm happy with a 1990's style German intervention in Greece, we're still talking uniformed Germans shooting armed Greeks. And besides, 50 years is a long time for attitudes to shift. A 60-year old politician in 2062 is 10 today. That 10 year old's political philosophy is going to be mostly shaped by things that have not happened yet. All we need is a plausible avenue over 50 years for the attitudes that could lead to a war. I'll try to sketch out a timeline later...

Thing is, Le Pen is not warmongering. His daughter, even less so. Populism is no longer militaristic. That seems to obviate your point.

I don't understand your argument about counterweights and economic unions. That stuff doesn't lead to war. Norman Angell realized that a while back. What led to war was a combination of (a) giant military machines that were (b) under incomplete civilian control in (c) an era that still glorified combat. None of those things hold in western Europe.

You need to fundamentally alter today's pacifist attitudes and completely destroy modern international institutions. (The U.N. has actually done a great job of preventing interstate war.)

What could do that?

Eric, your suggestion seems to boil down the following: Greece goes dingo, invades Macedonia.

This seems unlikely in the extreme. Doug can explain in greater detail, but even in dire economic straits, I can't imagine why a Greek government would choose to invade Macedonia. What would they hope to gain? There is, as you know, no significant Greek population in the country. I am trying to envision Greek voters cheering on Youtube videos of Greek conscripts shelling Macedonian villages for no particular reason --- I'm failing.

War with Turkey, of course, is a different issue ... but it would be unlikely to see British, French, or German intervention. It also doesn't involve a current E.U. state.

Ditto some sort of foreign intervention in a Macedonian civil war. That's certainly imaginable, but it wouldn't end in Germans shooting at Greeks.

I can be convinced, but right now I still can't imagine a Greek-German military conflict between now and 2060. I may lack imagination. Doug?

What if we get the United States in the game? A delusional neocon US administration somehow gets the idea that Greece or France or Italy is aiding al Qaeda, and starts taking out their military assets with drone strikes, and convinces the UK to provide assistance.

Matt, honestly. Can you really imagine that happening? I can't. Explain to me how it would.

My question is quite serious, as you can tell by the comment thread. So, please, explain why that scenario is possible.

No, you're probably right. I can imagine the bit where it's the US that goes dingo, probably motivated by some gigantic terrorist attack, but there would probably be more international skepticism about targeting a Western European country than there was with Iraq. And even with Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a long run-up in which the US attempted successfully or unsuccessfully to get UN cover.

Not so long ago, there were reports that the CIA had established a spy network in the UK because it thought our security services insufficiently macho (I paraphrase). Remember that they - you, your guys - disappeared someone right off the street in Milan and got caught doing it.

Beyond that, I can imagine revolution (check out Hungary, Romania, or Greece at the moment) more easily than I can war.

Wait, what happened to my comment? I went through the whole letters/numbers verification and saw it posted. Is it that it goes through moderation first? Because I would be really disappointed if the internet ate my comment with the scenario for some conflict involving Spain and either Portugal of the UK.

There's no moderation --- I have no idea why it disappeared! Damn internet ghouls. Can you repost?

Alright, I'll try to remember what I posted. Maybe the post was too long. I'll break it down.

Hmmm, right. So it may not count but in 1969 the Irish government had plans to send regular infantry into (London)Derry and Newry to protect Catholics and to send special forces into Belfast to attack certain targets during the height of The Troubles. This of course would have sparked a conflict with Britain, but at the time neither the UK nor Ireland were in the EEC (EU predecessor) so it may not count. There were also the Cod Wars between the UK and Iceland but Iceland still isn't in the EU even though by the 1970s the UK was (although both were in NATO from the beginning).

Oh I think I see what happened. It was internet ghouls. The first time I asked it to preview it didn't give me the letters/number verification so I asked it to post after previewing it and then I got back "we cannot accept this data" after which it sent me back to preview but this time with the letters/numbers verification. It must have gotten eaten up when I tried to post it first without the verification.

Anyway, continuing...

The problem with trying to think about interstate war in Europe is that no interstate war in Europe has come about intentionally since 1939 and even then the previous one (1914) was actually unintentional. After all who in 1910 would have thought that some domestic terrorist killing an Austrian Archduke would end up in war between Germany on the one hand and France, Belgium and the UK on the other? Back then persons could probably have seen a Franco-German war arising over disputes central to them such Alsace-Lorraine or the Moroccan Crises, but in the end the spark was something very peripheral to the issues between them. War kind of just "came out of left field" so to speak. It was certainly fueled in 1914 by a psychology that as you rightly pointed out has since died out (for the most part) in Western Europe. But any future interstate war in Western Europe is likely to be that the belligerents sort of stumble into/arises by accident. I doubt you would have lots of average citizens cheering on youtube videos of military action by their side (although I can well imagine even a small number doing so even in a case of war between the UK and France..) but any such war is likely to be short (as modern weaponry and the art of warfare means we won't see 1914-1918 in Western Europe again, even the Western Fronts in 1939-1945 were relatively short lasting only for 1940 and 1944-1945). It would probably also be determinedly fought until negotiations can quickly establish a ceasefire or peace (witness how the UK didn't just roll over when the Falklands became a war zone in 1982).

The problem is that even a short war needs popular support. In 1914 you had these giant military machines all ready to go, and the German one, at least, was not under civilian control. Today, with the partial exception of air forces, European militaries are simply not set up to pivot into action against other Western European countries.

I'm trying to imagine how a situation would get out of control, and generally failing. The only scenarios that seemed remotely possible involve the rise of a government that is so incredibly unpalatable in its domestic policies that other European countries intervene to remove it ... but even those are hard to imagine. (Frex, the Belgian scenario that Patrick posited.)

Latin America is full of militarized interstate disputes that could, absent the presence of the United States, lead to war. Western Europe has had, well, none since the Cod Wars ... and even then, you need a really expansive definition of "war" to give the Third Cod War its name. No?

Well we aren't going to get countries declaring war on one another if that is what you mean. No country has declared war on another since 1945 (unless you count Noriega saying that "a state or war" exists between Panama and the USA in the 1980s or Sakashvilli saying something similar in 2008 between Georgia and Russia). Even if a war lasts 3 days and is undeclared it would still be interstate war if you had the official armies of both countries shooting at each other.

We still have disputed territories in Western Europe that could form part of the focus of any future conflict. Current trouble spots which might perform such a role are Northern Ireland (and there are actually a couple of minor territorial disputes between the UK and Ireland concerning some areas along the border), Rockall, Gibraltar and Olivenza.

Any future conflict is likely to take place against the backdrop of a eurozone collapse. This would probably be followed by an EU collapse which would remove a lot of the obstacles that prevent conflict (the various economic bonds, freedom of movement and capital, etc). So maybe in Spain we could see the economy going down the drain and harsher austerity being implemented. Riots ensue eventually, the government collapses, chaos continues, a new government pulls Spain out of the eurozone and tries to institutes capital controls and border controls, more chaos and that government then falls. At that point you have an environment fertile for a coup.

Now King Juan Carlos is unlikely to countenance any coup (he would probably push for the formation of a unity government by all parties before even dreaming of considering approving a coup). But a coup could take place if the king is out of the country (maybe away making a plea to the IMF??). One of the planned or attempted coups in the late 1970s or early 1980s actually envisioned this as the coup was to take place while the King was in South America. Once a coup happens though it is likely to collapse once the king speaks out against it, but then it may hold together if the coup is successful in restoring order. At which point the junta will go through the usual public protocol for all military juntas: "we plan to restore democracy after saving the nation, blah, blah, blah, etc, etc". They might even try to woo back the king or maybe bar him from entry. Of course the king may not even be a problem for them if republicanism experiences a resurgence in Spain should the king become associated with the bad period/experience of the "Euro Collapse" and austerity. We could see a republic being formed if the king is voted out in a referendum. Then we would have men with guns in charge in a situation where there are border disputes with neighbours to which some Spaniards would probably flee to escape military rule or the generally bad economic conditions. Without the EU the "open borders" ideology goes out the window and we would see armed border patrols/border guards attempting to keep out illegal immigration and stop people smuggling. Maybe some Spanish civilians be killed under unclear and disputed circumstances along the border with Portugal or Gibraltar. In such an incident mayb Spanish border patrol soldiers open fire and from there who knows?

We could also have a Turkey-Iraq type situation if a Euro Collapse reignites Basque separatism. Then we might have ETA or some successor group operating across Spain and from Spain's neighbours such as Portugal and France. Then we might see Spain under a junta (like Turkey does under democracy) contemplating limited raids across the border against known/confirmed terrorist/separatist locations (rather like Turkish raids into northern Iraq against the PKK). It wouldn't be a situation where Portugal or France actually support the Basque separatist (much like how Iraq doesn't support the PKK), but the junta might just give the go ahead to an operation to take advantage of a limited window of opportunity. If the raid encounters local soldiers however a firefight could ensue and you could get armed Portuguese and armed Spaniards shooting each other. From there events might spiral out of control for a short time before sanity is restored.

I honestly can't imagine the Spanish army trying to seize power. Latin American countries had about as a bad a time as you might imagine in the 1990s; no coups. One might argue that it's been a while since Spain was under a dictatorship, but it hasn't been that much longer than, say, Argentina; nor is it like Spain is isolated from Western democratic currents. It seems impossible.

Even if one can imagine a Spanish military government, it also seems impossible to imagine immigration flows causing a war. The U.S.-Mexico border is militarized, sees multiple violent incidents (including one recently in which U.S. guards shot a youth in Ciudad Juarez, but that incident was not isolated), and is exceedingly violent on the Mexican side. Yet there is no risk of war.

Even if there was a shooting on the French side, why would even a military Spanish government choose to escalate? The political incentives aren't there, any more than in the U.S.-Mexico case.

I dunno how comparable Argentina in the 1990s would be to Spain in the event of a Euro collapse. Argentina's GDP seemed to shrink by about 5% or less in the period (though the pain was sharp and the decline in [i]real GDP[/i] was about 21.9% apparently). I've seen estimated bandied about that a euro collapse could see countries losing 40-50% of GDP. For the first year alone. And that's just nominal GDP, not real GDP.

Also it isn't quite correct that there were no coup attempts in Latin America at the time. Between 1990 and 2002 there were attempted coups in Argentina (1990), Panama (1990), Peru (1992), Paraguay (1996 and 2000), Venezuela (two in 1992 one of which was led by Senor Chavez and one in 2002) and Ecuador (2000).

In Argentina during the height of their financial crisis in December 2001 Argentina's president had considered deploying the military (which would have opened up a can of worms if the military chiefs hadn't pointed out to him that it was actually forbidden unless Argentina's police services were overwhelmed - which they weren't and it would require Argentina's congress to authorize the intervention; an impossibility given that the congress was controlled by the opposition). Eventually Argentina went through 4 presidents in just 2 weeks between December 20, 2001 and January 1, 2002 (three of them being provisional presidents and the original elected president and one of the provisional presidents having been forced to resign as a result of demonstrations).

Darn it, meant to italicize "real GDP" in my post.

Anyway, it doesn't have to be that the Spanish army aims to seize power, but in a situation where governments collapse like they were houses of cards and you have lots of riots and demonstrations, someone high up in the Spanish army might feel it's their duty to restore order. So the army might just find itself in a position of control, rather like what happened in Egypt in 2011 except under circumstances that would probably make Argentina in 2001 look like a peaceful day.

We can't imagine the Spanish army aiming to seize power now but that's because now Spain is relatively stable within both the EU and the eurozone and a financial crisis hasn't exploded there to become a political crisis.

But if estimates like a 40-50% loss of nominal GDP in year one alone are correct then a euro collapse would literally be uncharted territory where pretty much anything could happen. To put it into context during the Great Depression US nominal GDP seemed to decline by about 8-12% annually between 1929 and 1932 and real GDP apparently declined by about 30%.

You're right about the attempts, of course; but none succeeded. In fact, only two really came close to success. That wasn't random; that was a combination of domestic institutions, public opinion, and international pressure. All of those are much stronger in Europe, even in the wake of an E.U. collapse.

I have trouble seeing why the Spanish military would want to seize power, even in the wake of a 50% collapse of GDP; and even if it happened, how do you get from there to war? Wars don't happen by accident. Somebody has to want it. Nicaragua-Costa Rica; no war. China-U.S.; no war. Why would either the Spanish or French gov't's want a war?

"You're right about the attempts, of course; but none succeeded. In fact, only two really came close to success. That wasn't random; that was a combination of domestic institutions, public opinion, and international pressure. All of those are much stronger in Europe, even in the wake of an E.U. collapse."

But in the wake of an E.U. collapse that would see a loss of GDP worse than even the Great Depression then domestic institutions may be weakened and public opinion could change.

I'd argue that given your ranking of another civil war in the United States reaching the first level of unthinkability (too improbable to be worth serious consideration but with plausible scenarios that can be imagined) then a coup in Spain in the wake of an EU collapse would be at least on the same scale, if not more plausible (by the way that scenario you gave a link for seems less plausible than other scenarios one could think given that right-wing militias in the USA are unlikely to be secessionist and to be disillusioned about foreign wars)

"I have trouble seeing why the Spanish military would want to seize power, even in the wake of a 50% collapse of GDP;"

Well it wouldn't just be a 50% collapse of GDP and that alone probably wouldn't be the cause. As I said you would need a lot of things to happen in a given sequence for the conditions to even be right for a coup to potentially take place (and then a lot more things to happen for the coup to last more than a couple of days). I would imagine that the 50% GDP collapse scenario reaches the first level of unthinkability because it would require the Spanish government to continue with austerity policies which obviously wouldn't be helping. That's very, very unlikely, but not impossible (governments have been known to do stupid things). It would then require a swing in support for the euro from it's current majority support (over 50% of Spaniards would rather keep the euro than revert to the peseta according to this WSJ article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203501304577084203008752274.html ) or for a new government to come to the conclusion that despite the majority of its citizens supporting the euro, that it has no other choice than to switch to a new currency. At that point we could get a 40-50% loss of GDP. And as I said earlier such a scenario would not even remotely resemble Latin America in the 1990s to early 2000s when those coup attempts were made (none of those countries experienced anything close to a 50% loss of GDP in just one year and the concurrent collapse of their banking system and public trust in government). Therefore Latin America at that time is probably not a good model for what would happen in Spain in such a scenario.

"and even if it happened, how do you get from there to war? Wars don't happen by accident."

Given the right conditions they could happen by accident. Nuclear war almost started by accident at various times. And it would be a lot easier to get to war from a situation where at least one country is governed by a military junta and the countries involved have pre-existing disputes and are no longer bound together in a stability promoting free trade organization than it would be if all the countries involved are run by democratic governments and have no disputes and are together in a stability promoting free trade/economic integration organization.

"Somebody has to want it."

Usually. But neither Krushchev nor Kennedy really wanted war, but they came pretty darn close to getting one.

"Nicaragua-Costa Rica; no war. China-U.S.; no war."

What about India-China? Or India-Pakistan? or India-Bangladesh? There have been numerous small skirmishes, some lasting days, which could be characterized as small wars. There is also Israel-Lebanon (concerning uncertainty over where the border is and thus leading to incidents which can eventually lead to larger conflagrations - so some Lebanese militants spot an Israeli patrol which they believe to be in on the Lebanese side of the border, open fire and boom we have a minor skirmish which can lead to other things).

"Why would either the Spanish or French gov't's want a war?"

I didn't say either would want a war. Neither did I really focus on France. I focused more on Portugal-Spain and the UK-Spain.

Let's say the euro and GDP collapse and resulting social disorder, growing dissatification with Spain's government and the economic situation coincides or partly leads to a rise in violence in the Basque country. Then we have our improbable coup (not impossible, but on the first level of unthinkability). So with the military in control there is a return of central government policing (or "interference") in the Basque country. ETA could claims that this violates the autonomy that the Basque country was given and returns to armed resistance. An ETA cell in Portugal carries out attacks in western Spain. A Spanish patrol engages in a gun battle with members from this cell who flee across the border into Portugal, followed by the Spanish patrol. Inside Portugal they encounter a Portuguese patrol which opens fire. Now you have some possibly dead Portuguese and Spanish soldiers in a firefight. And there we have the potential for a small interstate war in western Europe, which if not handled properly could turn into a larger skirmish with dead civilians on both sides. And on the first level of unthinkability.

Remember your proposition was:interstate war in Western Europe has reached the second level of unthinkability. I've just tried to outline a scenario which, all things considered, would probably be on the first level of unthinkability.

There is some argument-shifting, however, so let me clarify.

An economic collapse on the order of the Great Depression did not overthrow the governments of the U.S., the U.K., the then-Dominions, Scandinavia, the Low Countries, or France ... anywhere, in fact, that the system was long-established. Japan is the exception, and Japan has an ideology military establishment with no modern parallel. I do not understand why the Spanish military would want to assume power in the wake of an economic crash. In other words, a coup in the Latin American sense still seems unthinkable.

That said, I can imagine extensive disorder (viz Alex Harrowell) leading to martial law. In extremis, that could take the form of a coup, if civilian leaders refused to act. So a military government is, I agree, thinkable.

The problem is getting from there to interstate war. An exchange of shots is not a war. Tamping down border incidents is extremely easy if neither side wants a war. I do not see why a government in Spain would want a war, or could maintain popular support if it started one. Such a government would have just risen to power in the face of a violent threat to civic order; attacking the neighbors seems a bad way to maintain order in such a situation. Especially in a country like Spain, where the military has no popular legitimacy.

ETA, by the way, would have an extraordinarily difficult time operating from Portugal. Basque Country borders France. Moreover, police cooperation with both neighbors is extremely close. What could change that?

P.S. The discussion of Asian countries seems like a red herring; I've never said anything about the probability of interstate war in Asia. I discussed Latin America --- where war is far from unthinkable --- to point out just how bloody hard it is to start one. No matter how large the provocation, without some level of ill-will on at least one side conflicts are very hard to escalate.

Good points all. The economic collapse though which would result in a loss of 40-50% of GDP in a year would actually seem to be on a scale of twice the order of the Great Depression in the United States and France did go through a political crisis in the 1930s Depression years in which a coup was feared. As Spain (and Portugal) have established democracy only fairly recently in the 1980s(compared to France, the UK, Scandinavia, the Low Countries), it would seem to me to be most vulnerable to a crisis which could lead to a coup or as you suggested martial law.

Even if a border incident or three did go on for a couple of hours you are right; it would take quite a few more steps to go from there to Spanish bombing missions throughout Portugal. But border incidents in the wake of martial law/coup/military takeover was the closest I could think of to giving the conditions which make a war more likely (should a government in the end decide to prosecute one).

"P.S. The discussion of Asian countries seems like a red herring; I've never said anything about the probability of interstate war in Asia."

It wasn't a red herring. You wrote "China-U.S.; no war". China is in Asia, so there was some discussion of the probability of interstate war in Asia (actually it was more about interstate war in general I think), hence I wouldn't imagine that examples from Asia were somehow not up for discussion. I brought up the Asian examples because those are the best examples I know of with border incidents that could develop (and have at times developed) into small wars (or in the case of Lebanon into larger wars). But on reflection you are right that it requires some level of ill-will for those conflicts to escalate as happens with Israel and Lebanon, India and China, India and Pakistan but not with India and Bangladesh (their historical interactions have been less poisoned). I suppose in the level 1 unthinkable scenario we've been discussion of military rule/martial law in Spain it would then require level 2 unthinkable events (or maybe a lot of level 1 unthinkable events such that it is effectively all level 2 unthinkable) to generate enough ill-will between say Spain and Portugal or say Spain and the UK over a sustained period of time so that a border incident actually could escalate into something even approaching conventional interstate war.

By the way you once said there was an interesting story behind why the Philippines didn't adopt the US dollar, any chance you will post it? :) I love collecting coins and would be very interested in why the peso survived in the Philippines but not in Puerto Rico.

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