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Trend #5 – Disaggregation and Death of the West

When we wrote about “Disaggregation and the Death of the West,” little did we know just how close to literally true our prediction would come. The ever-evolving Euro-mess could in fact result in a massive disaggregation in what is the ancestral heart of the West. When Samuel Huntington wrote The Clash of Civilizations, he wrote as if the west had become one thing: the ancient divide between the Latin West and the Northern West, for centuries one of the most important factors in European politics, had disappeared.

It’s back now. The civilizational and cultural differences between the Club Med countries and Europe’s northern countries are once more making news; Latin Europe and Latin America look more like one another and less like Germany and the Netherlands.

The EU will likely survive this re-emergence of an ancient divide, but it won’t be the same. The rise of Germany as once again the leading power in Europe, increasingly in a different league from France, Italy and Spain further complicates the picture.  No amount of fudge can seem to get such very different countries and economies to act as one.

And as the European project founders, America’s gaze wanders: on the heels of some successful diplomatic initiatives, the United States explicitly pivoted to Asia with the release of President Obama’s strategy document. Europe is not being abandoned, but it’s just not the focus any more. The document dryly notes that in the face of new demands that the Pacific theater will exert on U.S. armed forces, “our posture in Europe must also evolve.”  Europe is for most purposes simply not an important factor in Asian geopolitics; the US doesn’t consult with NATO allies about its Pacific engagements.

In the Middle East, the picture is somewhat different.  The US and its primary Cold War allies in Europe have been working together in countries like Libya and Syria, and have coordinated policy pretty successfully vis a vis Iran.  France, which pulled against US policy during the George W. Bush administration, now pulls with it to a much greater extent.  This has reduced tensions in the western alliance, but should not conceal the increasingly tenuous nature of transatlantic cooperation.  The influence of the Gulf Arabs plays as much or even more of a role in French policy as any sense of western solidarity or community of values with the US. France hopes to raise its profile in the Middle East as the US steps back; French diplomacy is extremely good when it comes to what could be called antagonistic cooperation.

The increased independence and regional focus of Turkey is another sign of the disaggregation and death of the west.  Ten years ago, the Kemalist secular establishment in Turkey still saw Europe as its destination and its goal was to be a western country of Islamic culture and origins. That is not at all what the forces ruling Turkey have in mind today, and Turkey is playing a larger role in the world of western Sunni Islam than at any time since World War One.

Another sign of the change: the collapse of globalism and the rise of regionalism. The global institutions at the heart of world governance in the post World War Two era represented the projection of Atlantic values and concerns onto the whole world.  In the World Bank, the IMF, the G-7 and the UN, Europe is powerful.  Three of the five permanent members of the Security Council are European countries and one is of mostly European origin. The G-7 included only one country (Japan) that was not European or European-sprung.

Today those institutions are both de-Europeanizing and being replaced by regional organizations with little or no European presence. Global institutions are generally becoming weaker and less effective, partly because as the European weight in them decreases, the differences in interests and culture among their members tends to paralyze them.  (The WTO is a good example of this.)

As the US shifts focus, Europe itself changes, and as new regional realities and priorities continue to come to the fore, the old Atlantic-centered world order continues to fade.  It is much too soon to see what the new Pacific (and Indian Ocean) centered world will look like, but the US is already acting like a post-western power in it.

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  • Jim.

    Without a strong agrarian France using the power of the Catholic church to keep Germany disunited, or an exceptionally strong England with a Special Relationship with the United States to keep Germany down, why is it any wonder that Germany (even a Germany severely reduced in territory, compared with the historic extent of the German-speaking peoples) is finally the dominant power in Europe?

    And why is it any wonder that non-expansive Europe, lacking the courage and energy that characterized the 18th and 19th centuries, is fading from the global scene?

    If Security Council seats are handed out on the basis of geopolitical realities, England and France (before or after denuclearizing) should cede their seats to Japan and Germany. When and if India surpasses Russia, that seat should change hands too.

    Otherwise, the Council risks becoming increasingly irrelevant as it loses the economic and global weight to implement its resolutions over determined and organized opposition.

  • Corlyss

    “the ancient divide between the Latin West and the Northern West, for centuries one of the most important factors in European politics, had disappeared. It’s back now.”

    Robert Kaplan was lecturing future generals in 2000 about the threat posed by what he saw as the evident revival of the ancient HRE-Ottoman Empire divide.

    Ten years later he addressed the emergence of the Asia/Pacific as America’s future preoccupation.

  • Cunctator

    Europe’s slow decline to strategic irrelevance is matched by its rather more speedy internal decay.

    Both are worrying: the former because the states there share our values and are obvious international partners in a world that is becoming more dangerous by the day: the latter because our values originated in Europe and we are, whether we like it or not, transplanted Europeans. It is hard to watch the follies of Europe’s political class and not shed some tears for what is being lost.

  • Tim F

    It would be interesting to continue this discussion with respect to the United States. Regional identities evolve, despite centralizing efforts by Washington. Energy producing states on the Houston-Calgary axis have increasingly more in common with one another than they do with either of coasts.

    I’m not one of those predicting the imminent demise of the US, but as the ambitions and cultures between regions become more diverse, it is not unreasonable to assume that the US itself will change.

  • J R Yankovic

    As usual Jim. is interesting. And almost as often gripping and compelling (as I think he is in this instance). If the “abdication” of Britain and France is proceeding as he describes, then we have every reason to worry, and not a little temptation to panic. But it’s hard for me to resist the impression that both countries have certain “hidden reservoirs” of strength: reserves which, I believe, if properly managed and cultivated (and assuming the British Union doesn’t dissolve in the meantime), can put the wider “West” as a whole in a very good place to weather the transition from a globalizing world to one that – though its various components will remain inextricably interlinked economically – will be nonetheless based on regionalized regroupings and realignments, as Prof Mead describes them. It seems to me that any country that – in virtue of both its history and its present economic and cultural relationships – straddles several different global regions, and is able to interact more or less cordially with some or all of them, has a certain built-in advantage. I can think of 7 such, at least potentially, trans- or multi-regional countries at the present time:

    United States
    Britain (or what shall be left of it)
    India (this may require a separate post)
    Russia (most problematic of the bunch – unclear whether and how far it can shift from rival to colleague)

    At the same time there are a number of countries in the Pacific-Indian Ocean region seeking to preserve their identity, influence, leverage and independence against the post-Red Chinese hegemon. That doesn’t mean they can do it all by themselves – or even together in the most amicably effective way – without the help of other countries farther out. Countries whose very aptness to help may lie in the fact that they’re situated not QUITE so close to the action. Note that virtually all the “frontline” nations – Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Burma, Taiwan and South Korea – have a history of colonial ties with one or more of the first 5 countries listed above. Nor are they exactly on bad, embittered or even sullen terms with the majority of them at present . (South Korea’s and Taiwan’s with Japan are admittedly highly problematic – to put it politely – but even there, are we safe in assuming the Japanese have learned NOTHING from their mistakes? Or that S Korea and Taiwan have learned nothing from 60+ years of closehand observation of Red, post-, and pseudo-post-Red China?) Now all of these “frontliners” also know it means to enjoy a modicum of independence and sovereignty; they’ve also tasted, either directly or at secondhand, something of what it’s like being a satellite or client. I don’t think it takes much imagination to surmise that they prefer the former. And will go on doing so, provided the countries best-equipped to help them don’t persuade them otherwise – as even we wise Yanks have been known to do – by resorting to easy extremes of either arrogance or indifference. I think the frontliners are also experienced enough, and have a strong enough sense of nationhood, to know that the hegemon with the lightest touch isn’t necessarily the one who’s closest to you in either culture or geographic proximity. China isn’t ALWAYS a faithful dog’s best friend.

    So what do you think? Is there a chance that the 60-year-long era of anti-Westernism is drawing to a much-needed close? At least among those countries – like many along the Pacific-Indian Ocean rim – who are beginning to understand that sometimes regional independence requires a more-than-regional solidarity? That to avoid being crushed by a transcontinental behemoth, it can help to have one or more transoceanic patrons? But if the US, Britain, France, the Netherlands and a properly-motivated Japan – all hopefully more together than separately or competitively – aren’t uniquely equipped to discharge this role, who is? As for alternative “patrons,” can we safely assume they’d be more skilled than we are, or less clumsy and overbearing, simply because they have NO colonial past?

    The point of this exercise would NOT be to exclude or alienate either China or Russia. An economic and defense community comprising the major powers of the Pacific and Indian Ocean rims, and supported by the relevant countries of North America and Western Europe, would hopefully draw both Eurasian giants ever closer to itself by its own sheer magnetism – i.e., its own dynamic and prosperous economies, cultural vibrance, gift for self-government, and shared respect for human rights, human dignity AND human creaturehood (of which the latter three, I believe, can only either stand together or fall separately). All of which advantages, you’ll notice, neither the Chinese nor the Russian PEOPLE seem to be quite as indifferent to as they were formerly.

    Nor am I nearly as much worried about the ASEAN+ countries coming apart (they seem instinctively to know which side has the butter) as I am about the US and Far Western Europe failing to come together – at least enough to be on the same page of this issue. But I’m also concerned about the continuing dependence of all their economies upon certain freedom-loving partners of long standing. Did I say freedom-loving? Well, at least anti-Communist . . . or at any rate anti-Russian . . . From where I can see, ANYTHING the US, Britain, etc, can do to de-leverage (is that the right word?) their economies peacefully from Chinese and Saudi Arabian influence would be a balm in Gilead. And that, if nothing else, to the PEOPLES on both sides of each trade relationship. Why do I suggest that? Because in an important sense, I believe, you are whom you trade with (and who can be sure at any given time – much less forecast – which is dog and which is tail?) In short, if you plan to remain more democratic than oligarchic, it helps to have more or less democratic trading partners. Besides, in exchanging too freely with countries whose ELITES, in any case, have long-term agendas antithetical to your own – e.g., the Saudis – you can never tell HOW ELSE you may be helping them. Or WHAT ELSE they’re doing that you may be helping to perpetuate and disseminate. We can even find ourselves being too delicate – imagine it, us Yanks! – about the wrong things. For instance, isn’t it amazing how brutal the proverbial cultural insensitivities even of highly-placed Americans can be – even Americans who are themselves are highly cultured and educated (in which case I wonder if those same crudities aren’t deliberate) – EXCEPT when it comes to Salafism?

    I don’t mean to make light of our present points of contention with Iran. Or about our global need to isolate Iran economically and strategically. But to my simple mind, any Riyadh we can manage to wean OFF its present (self-destabilizing?) addiction to Wahhabi agendas is sure to be a better Gulf partner, and not just through the period of standoff but well into the post-confrontation period. As distinct from a once-ally who is now a regional power-broker cum adversary.

    Anyhow, hope that makes sense.

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