The roots and the aim of today's Europe
or: 1871 + 1919 + 1945 = European construction
In today's lecture at the university, we spoke of the European construction, the European institutions, etc. During the break in the morning, I then discussed with a colleague about European history, and the influence of Europe's wars on what is known today as the European Union.
We spoke of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 which obviously contributed to lead the world straight into World War II. In his famous book "Diplomacy", Henry Kissinger called the Treaty of Versailles a "brittle compromise agreement between American utopism and European paranoia - too conditional to fulfill the dreams of the former, too tentative to alleviate the fears of the latter". According to Kissinger, Germany had become even more potentially powerful after 1919 than before 1914. Before the "Great war", Germany could not really move without coming up against some major European power: Russia in the East, the Austrian-hungarian Empire in the South and France in the West. After 1919 however, Russia was weakened and out of the game for years, Poland was an invitation to be divided and shared at a given moment between Germany and Russia, and the rest of Europe was suddenly made out of little and weak states, whereas Germany was still a colossus in the very middle of it - not confined through any natural borders except the Rhine and with a huge appetite for revenge. France was the only one left as an obstacle to German might. Furthermore, the issue of Alsace-Lorraine didn't really make France an unattractive ennemy for Germany. The British had however returned to their Splendid isolation and the Americans didn't show any will to guarantee french security either. Versailles was therefore considered by the French to be an unperfect instrument in order to neutralize that neighbour which had repeatedly proven to be stronger than France taken alone (The German Kaiser had been crowned in Versailles in 1871 after german troops had humiliated and occupied Paris and in WWI, it had taken the united forces of French, British, Russian and in the end American armies to break the will of the German Reich).
I think it is Napoleon who once said: "Tell me the situation of your country and I will tell you what foreign policy you have". Thus from a french point of view, Germany was a deadly threat if it was not severely confined. In 1919, France concluded therefore that the only way to constrain Germany was to pressure for a mutilation and demilitarization of its territory, for a disarmement of its military, and for the payment of what was then defined (and for the first time invented) as a German War Guilt. As we know now, the Treaty of Versailles eventually turned out to lead to the exact opposite of its initial goal.
After World War II, Germany was again cut to pieces and mutilated and this time occupied by the Victors. The French had somehow even made it on the winner's side (thanks to De Gaulles's personality and to Churchill's famous francophilia). The Americans however realized that Germany had to be reconstructed and to become fit for the upcoming conflict with Communism.
The French then came up with a funny idea: The Schuman Declaration of 1950 was a french proposal to put the production of steel and carbon under a common authority - the reason being that in order to wage a war, those ressources would be heavily needed: This way, a war was to be made impossible between Germany and France in particular and within Europe in general. The Schuman Declaration is considered today to be the starting point of the European construction, which in many regards has to be considered as being quite successful.
I argued today that this declaration and the subsequent European treaties were in fact nothing else but a new method to achieve the same old essential goal: Neutralizing Germany. Of course it is more elegant (and maybe more likely to be successful) to neutralize your neighbour through common trade; but nevertheless, the aim was old-fashioned balance of power. That is of course the reason why the Brits did not see any real reason to be opposed to this french initiative, since the balance-of-power-discipline was a game they were masters in playing (It is interesting to recall that Maggie Thatcher was one of the sceptics in 1989/90 when Germany aspired toward reunification...).
One should not forget the overalll context at that time: Germany was militarily amputated and only its western part could seriously be taken into consideration. And there was of course the Cold War as well. Furthermore, the United States had substantial interest in having a stable Western Europe with a defensible Germany. The major role the American Superpower played in Europe after 1945 cannot be neglected: The United States was in fact conditional for Europe to arise.
But it is always interesting to recall the roots of "Europe" (three wars) and its original aim (balance of power).