it could have been anything


Europe’s geopolitical map, just 20 years after the breach of the Berlin Wall, looks like a foregone conclusion today — the natural upshot of Communism’s demise and the spread of liberal democracy. The Central Europeans are snugly in the European Union; NATO presides over a largely peaceful continent; and though spats between the West and an authoritarian Russia occasionally flare, this is surely understandable given all the givens. But this order of things was hardly inevitable, as Mary Elise Sarotte, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, reminds us in “1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe.” Between the wall’s opening (November 1989) and Germany’s unification (October 1990), history lurched forward with no fixed destination. Sarotte describes a host of competing conceptions of post-cold-war Europe that flourished, mutated and perished in the maelstrom of events that led up to German unity. In the end, the visions of President George H. W. Bush and Chancellor Helmut Kohl prevailed — which may not necessarily have been the best of all possible outcomes, though Sarotte stops short of this conclusion.

more from Paul Hockenos at the NYT here.