Instead of endlessly invoking Western values, the democratic world ought to respond to global tensions by restoring its true economic and political strengths.
In March 2018, I wrote a comment entitled, “Is the world safe from major war?” Even earlier, from the start of GIS in 2011, we warned about the problems that could lead to an outbreak of large-scale conflict.
At that time, conventional wisdom still held that globalization would prevail and a full-bore confrontation between the major centers of power was unlikely. The denizens of the rich world lived under the illusion that the Western-led, rule-based international order and its liberal democracy model would only spread further. The word “war” was banned from the serious dispute, and Europe let its defenses deteriorate. United States President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just nine months into his enthusiastically anticipated presidency. Convenient invocations of “Western values” disguised inaction, crowding out political and security realism.
Now, it is certainly important to uphold humanitarian principles. But it appears that, hypocritically, double standards are applied. Obviously, “realpolitik” sometimes leads to a degree of cynicism in international relations. China is an important trading partner and investor; its persecution of the Uighur Muslim minority is left unanswered by Western governments – aside from some verbal admonishing for the consumption of their political clientele. No sanctions or other biting measures have been imposed. Also, the brutal persecution of Christians by the regime in Beijing is hardly mentioned, just as its longtime oppression of the Tibetans. At the same time, the Western media and politicians give ruthless treatment – often without seeing the complete picture – to smaller nations, such as Turkey.
This is not only unfair but also an unintelligent perception of the global conflict.
New powers, not only Russia and China, started to challenge the Western hegemony.
At the latest G7 summit in June of 2022, an alliance of liberal democracies was announced. The group comprises the U.S., the EU member countries, the United Kingdom and other Anglo-Saxon countries such as Canada and Australia, and Japan. Now recognizing the fissures in the democratic bloc, these countries find themselves in, as they call it, “a systemic conflict” with China and Russia.
During the Cold War, we talked of the free world struggling with oppressive communism. Now, somewhat arrogantly, we talk about democracy opposing autocracy. The danger of such a pretense lies in the erosion of freedom in an increasingly dogmatic Western system; we are witnessing the morphing of a democracy into a centralized bureaucratic technocracy.
It is hardly surprising that different countries and cultures adopt different political systems. For a long time, the West developed a narrative of having a superior system and insisted that other regions mimicked it to participate in the rising prosperity. After the 1991 implosion of the Soviet Union – a dangerous power bent on expanding its oppressive model globally through military force, subversion and the utopian lure of world revolution – this assumption seemed to have become true.
Things have not, however, turned out this way. New powers, not only Russia and China, started to challenge the Western hegemony, mainly represented by the U.S. While the American superpower maintained its strength, the European position dwindled.
However, the West – and especially Europe – still sees itself as mandated by what it perceives as its unmatched values to retain the position as the supreme arbiter of good and bad. In my opinion, governance systems, in many cases democracies, that protect the life and freedom of their citizens are preferable to any others. But it is dangerous to make such a pretense the crux of foreign and security policies.
Presently, we see the Western bloc, forged at the fateful G7 meeting by U.S. President Joe Biden, standing against Russia, China and their satellites such as North Korea and Belarus.
This pits the Western bloc of some 1.4 billion people against a Eurasian bloc of some 1.5 billion people. But how does that augur for the remaining 5 billion of the world’s population?
The Western doctrine of global values, excellent as it might appear and work for the West, is seen by many other countries as an illegitimate intrusion into their affairs. This irritant gives opportunities to China and Russia to increase their influence in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Note that India, which seeks military collaboration with the U.S. against China, does not support the sanctions against Russia.
A strong narrative exhorting one’s political position carries its dangers. It led Russia to invade Ukraine to its own catastrophic detriment. The belief in the supreme value of Western democracy is also dangerous in foreign affairs. It breeds intolerance and disrespect and weakens the pragmatism necessary to seek mutually beneficial solutions in conflicts. We must not forget that many cultures consider the Western values pretense as neocolonialism.
We had better be careful. Indeed, the U.S. is still the most potent military power on the globe, thank God. But what about Europe? We must consider our competitive position instead of feeling morally superior and judging other countries. Some have already learned the hard way that Europe has become far too dependent on Russian energy because of political rent-seeking and visions of green utopias. Another unhealthy dependence is on fertilizers; Europe primarily imports these from China but also from Russia, to meet its basic agriculture needs.
Even more important for Europe is that its countries truly observe democratic and free market values at home and do not sacrifice individual freedom and responsibility on the altar of expediency.
Regretfully, the West is quickly negating its past; European countries surrender their unique characteristics and patriotism to mediocre multiculturalism. Patriotism means loving and respecting one’s country and region and being proud of it. It does not imply a feeling of superiority toward other countries or cultures, as extreme nationalism would have it.
Surveys show that in some European countries, the proportion of citizens declaring their readiness to defend the homeland and values in combat has become alarmingly low. In Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy, the figure is below 20 percent; in France, it is below 30 percent. A clear majority can only be seen in Finland, Turkey and Ukraine. These shattering findings show the detrimental effect of cultural alienation.
The trend originates from an amalgam of excessive, limit-setting legislation.
The West has adopted a dangerous “liberal-democratic” arrogance that is poorly attuned to desires and aspirations in other regions of the world. While many would much like to participate in the prosperity acquired thanks to free markets and entrepreneurship, there is still hesitance about grafting the Western solutions back home. Here, we return to the aforementioned feeling of neocolonialism.
Paradoxically, while loudly praising its values, the West is busy undermining the foundations of its historic success: individual freedom, self-responsibility, entrepreneurship, competition, property rights, freedom of opinion and speech are in retreat. The trend originates from an amalgam of excessive, limit-setting legislation. Also, extralegal pressures that limit academic freedoms and impose curbs on opinion and speech, such as radical gender movements, exaggerated political correctness, “cancel culture,” “wokeness,” and the like.
What to do?
As in the Cold War, we are entering a new era of fragmentation. China and Russia want to consolidate and increase their geopolitical weight. Their narratives – aside from displaying the two powers’ aspirations and claims for hegemonic positions – also refer to the real and perceived weaknesses of democracies.
The West also must consolidate its positions. When the G7 forum was created in 1973, its seven member states generated more than 70 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP). Since then, the figure has shrunk to above 40 percent. Other parts of the world have been increasing their share quickly and asking for more say in global decision-making.
The danger that the free world will not succeed in the global conflict does exist, and war cannot be excluded. The western systems have been weakened by technocracies that continuously replace democracy and limit freedom.
The old democracies must do much more than promote their pretended values. The systemic confrontation with China and Russia is accelerating. It will be important not to alienate the rest of the world with patronizing arrogance, protectionism and flimsy policies. Western countries also need to improve their internal workings and fix their social, economic and fiscal policies to renew the strength of the democratic systems.