Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by Jacques-Louis David

Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by Jacques-Louis David

The North European Plain – Europe’s Main Cause For War

To understand war in Europe, we must understand geography in Europe. One of the primary aspects of European geography is the great north European plain. The plain stretches from southern France, just north of the Pyrenees, to the Ural mountains in Russia. The plain has no good natural borders, leading to constant warfare and changing borders.

Apart from seas, oceans and mountains; there is one more reasonable natural border. Rivers. However, it only works if it is a major river that is difficult to cross due to its width, and covers a border long enough with its length. Within Europe, you will see the Rhine and Danube act as natural borders between the nation-states.


The Great Northern European Plain

The Great Northern European Plain

The Borders

The North European plain borders the Atlantic ocean and the North Sea in the West. In the south it is covered by the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Carpathian mountains. Further East are the Black Sea, the Caucasus mountains, and the Ural mountains covering the North-East. The northern side is covered by the Baltic Sea and the Arctic.

The map below covers the area in grey to give a clearer image of what the great north European plain is.

The Hordes From The Steppe

During the dark ages and ancient times, the Asiatic steppes of modern-day Russia and Kazachstan were a common cause of concern. The steppes hosted nomads that frequently enjoyed raiding Europe. The Huns came into Europe riding the NEP (North European Plain) and drove the other peoples of Europe into the Roman Empire.

The Mongols brought fear into Europe as they drove in over the NEP. The Bulgars settled in Europe after arriving through the NEP. The Scythians terrorized the ancient world, and they too did so from the NEP.  The foundation of Russia as a strong regional power was a blessing for Europe, as it finally closed the ‘steppe highway’ and protected Europe from random raiding and slaughter.

The Wars Of Europe

Nonetheless, raiding parties arriving over the NEPwere not the only problem for Europe. The lack of natural borders meant that the regional powers were in eternal conflict over where the borders would be. The greatest wars on the continent were acted out over conflict of the borders on this plain.

In World War 2, Germany attacked over the plain to the West, conquering France. Additionally, it attacked East, suffering defeat in Russia. In World War 1, we see the battlefields in the same location, with millions of deaths on the NEP. We see the same during the war of 1871, between Prussia and France. Further back, we see Napoleon moving over the NEP, marching on and on, until suffering defeat in Russia.

It continues further into Europe’s past with the Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648, decimating the population of the Germanic lands. Yet, even the Romans struggled on the frontier between Gaul and Germania. They realized the Rhine was a porous natural border and engaged in killing sprees much further into German lands as a way to prevent an invasion.

Have you ever wondered why Napoleon and Hitler both made the same mistake? Well, perhaps it is because they struggled with the same problem. They never reached a natural border to end their expansion and solidify their position. They pushed on and on, because there was no strategic alternative. Ending their assault, would put them in an position that would be near impossible to defend.

The Rise Of The European Union

You and I both know the EU likes to behave as if it has ushered in a new era, an era of peace. Truth is that the EU has indeed coexisted with an era of peace in Western Europe. Sadly, that did not help Yugoslavia. Regardless, the EU has not addressed a primary problem for peace in Europe.

Where is the Eastern border?

The EU appears to expand further and further East. Poland and the Baltic nations have already joined, extending the frontier. Next, Europe is engaging the Ukraine with an association treaty, attempting to pull the Ukraine into its sphere of influence. More worryingly, it is frequently speaking about Russia and Putin as if they were already at war with them.

You might wonder if the EU is falling into the same geographical trap that Hitler and Napoleon failed to see before. Searching for natural borders, where should European Eastern expansion end? At what point will the push go too far and create a too fragile empire to be maintained?