The collapse of the Soviet threat freed Europe of the last of the hegemonial pretenders. That fact, With the economic and political integration occurring in Europe, offers the prospect of a continent free at last of major war. This doesn't mean that Europe will be free of conflict, however, and conflict in Europe can lead to violence, as we have seen.
Despite NATO assurances of its own indispensability, "instability" is a poor substitute for Soviet tanks when it comes to justification. Although there won't be the political will to disband it entirely, the alliance seems likely to shrivel into a relic of its former self, an institutional artifact of the Cold War.
Conflict in Europe seems likely to arise from non-military economic, demographic and political factors. The collapse of Soviet hegemony unleashed ethnic nationalisms, as we have seen in the USSR itself, and civil war is presently raging between Serbia and Croatia in Yugoslavia. Although legal means are lacking to intervene in what are technically internal matters, it is unlikely that outside military intervention would promote peaceful settlement of an intractable dispute with a long history.
The reconstruction of Eastern Europe will continue to pose a formidable challenge to the European community. It seems unlikely that the path to democracy and free markets will become easier in the short term, and living conditions are likely to get worse before they improve. Civil order is likely to break down and fragile democracies will give way 10 authoritarian regimes and repression. Refugees will flee to the West, provoking the growth of right-wing and perhaps neo-Fascist movements. Peace and economic development, not armed forces, are needed to deal with instability.
The problems of European security seem likely to pose a formidable challenge to liberal democracies and the values of Western civilization, and they cannot be solved in isolation from Third World, demographic, environmental and global economic problems. There will be more than enough trouble to go around.
Leonard V. Johnson is chairman of Canadian Pugwash and author of A General For Peace.