What democratic West needs for resilience and renewal


If the West engages in the world’s struggles without a geo-strategic concept, chaos will reign, according to Dr Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor.

“Vladimir Putin’s view of international politics is often described as a recurrence of 1930s European nationalist authoritarianism. More accurately, it is the heritage of the worldview identified with the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky,” he contends. “Its passionate call for a new spirit of Russian greatness based on the spiritual qualities of the Russian character was taken up in the late 20th century by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.”

But the institutions of the West must be updated and adapted to deal with the challenge posed by newly assertive China and Russia, he adds:

Conceived as a deterrent to a threatening Soviet Union in the process of increasing its arsenal of nuclear weapons to supplement its numerically superior land forces, Nato has been both a legal obligation and an expression of the joint determination of the free nations of the West to enhance their values….The realities of population, resources, technology, and capital assure a decisive global role for an involved America and a militarily engaged Europe. It will not, however, come about without an agreed strategic and political concept.

Credit: USIP

The West, if the West is thought of as a set of governments that have solved the Madisonian dilemma of creating a government that is strong enough to rule effectively but that does not abuse the people under its authority, is a rare accomplishment, notes Stanford University’s Stephen Krasner.

Openness to goods, factors of production, people, and ideas, has been a hallmark of the west. It is not, however, clear that unconstrained openness is consistent with the maintenance of a liberal orders, he writes for a Hoover Institution Workshop on the Future of Western Civilization:

Too many people may be economically hurt by the free flow of goods; too many people might be threatened by the free influx of people; too many tacit norms might be undermined by large scale immigration; too much misinformation might result from the free flow of ideas. The maintenance of a liberal order might require some constraint on the flow of goods, factors or production, people, and ideas but liberalism provides no guidance on what these limits might be or even how to think about them.

Is this the end of the west? Or at least, of the Anglo-Saxon west? Oxford University’s Timothy Garton-Ash asks. The neoliberalism which exercised a kind of global ideological dominance between the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008 was a characteristic Anglo-Saxon product, he writes for The Guardian:

It is itself the root cause of the genuine, widespread discontents which populists have exploited to gain power in both Britain and the United States. So the argument goes, not without some schadenfreude – especially in France. But be careful, chers amis, what you wish for. You may envisage a post-Anglo-Saxon 21st-century gloriously illuminated by the enlightened policies of Macron and Justin Trudeau. Yet the Fortinbras who commands the stage after the self-destruction of the Anglo-Saxon Hamlet is more likely to have the face of a Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Could the West find a model for resilience or renewal from an unlikely source?

Japan is not and cannot be number one: its deflation and demographic decline are real. But as other rich democracies wrestle with a populism largely absent from Japan, it is worth looking again at how it handles those “basic problems of post-industrial society”, and asking afresh: is Japan a model to follow? The FT ponders.

“Japan has taken the same hit as everyone else but it took it in the 1990s. It has been absorbed by a more cohesive social system and by creating a two-tier labour market,” says Bill Emmott, the former Economist editor, who in the 1980s was sceptical of Japan’s economic rise. “Poverty and inequality has increased but not to desperation level. There hasn’t been a gross sense of unfairness.”

The EU prides itself on being a community of values, specifically “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities,” and it has tried to extend these values to other parts of the world, notes Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform.

The reshaping of Europe after the Cold War ended relied on the partnership between the EU and (US-led) NATO: both organisations played a vital role in integrating newly democratic Central European states into the Western community,” he adds. But the EU has not yet adapted to the erosion of the international liberal order from which the Union has benefited, he contends.

Individuals or institutions interested in defending a global liberal order should consider a new focus and emphasis on education for democratic citizenship, including global citizenship, argues Brookings analyst Fernando Reimers:

This means supporting educators so that schools can advance human rights, educate about shared global challenges, educate for engaged citizenship, focus on dispositions and values as much as skills, and attend to the conditions that make it possible for schools to be effective in achieving these goals. 

“In today’s rapidly changing world, Nato must engage in a permanent reexamination of its goals and capabilities,” Kissinger argues. “The shift in the structures that comprise the contemporary world order should impel Nato and its members to ask themselves: What changes other than the control of the territory of its members will it seek to prevent, and by what means? What are the political goals, and what means is it prepared to assemble?”


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