Talking Points

Change comes to Europe. It'll be decades before we understand what it means.

It's been quite a week in Europe: Switzerland has edged away from its longstanding tradition of neutrality. Finland is on the cusp of asking for admission into the alliance after decades of standing to the side. Germany, after a nearly 80-year break from militarism, is suddenly beefing up its defense budget and sending arms to Ukraine. 

The rule of physics applies: For every action, there's a reaction. 

So it's natural that Vladimir Putin's decision to wage war on Ukraine has produced a massive series of reactions across the rest of Europe. But we might take a moment to contemplate the unintended consequences of all these changes, especially when they come so quickly and with so little debate.

At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty on Monday pointed out that neutrality for countries like Finland and Switzerland had benefits to those countries — and to the world at large. "Neutrality was for some of these nations a necessary condition for their independence, for their freedom from the rivalries among cousins that could send this duchy or that province into devastating conflict with one another," he wrote. (That was certainly true of Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, and wanted to avoid another conflict with its neighbor.) He added: "Neutral states also offered, before the advent of bodies like the U.N., 'safe spaces' for various dissidents or even negotiations for the larger powers."

Likewise, we all know the reasons for Germany's deep-seated reluctance to build up its military: The country is still grappling with its sins from World War II — a process that may never end, and maybe shouldn't. Laying off the arms race was an understandable way to deal with its guilt, and perhaps to prevent a relapse. "German pacifism is a real thing, and it pulsates through German society," the Atlantic Council's Rachel Rizzo wrote this week. "Throughout the years, there hasn't ever been broad public support for a more robust defense posture." Now there's a crack in that wall. 

This isn't to say that Finland will suddenly find itself at war with Russia, or that German militarism will automatically create new problems with the continent. We don't really know, and history doesn't always repeat itself. But the pre-Ukraine order in Europe didn't come about by accident — there were reasons why things were the way they were. There may be good reasons for that order to change; we may yet come to find that the old reasons still have meaning in this strange and scary new world.