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Is There A West? (Part II)

Even if the West can reunite on a post-Cold War basis, will it be able to steer the global system in a Western-oriented direction?

October 30, 2007

Even if the West can reunite on a post-Cold War basis, will it be able to steer the global system in a Western-oriented direction?

Return to part I.

Globalization has meant that a global public is emerging through the vast expansion of the mass media. Genocide cannot occur unnoticed for long. Human rights are now a rationale for the intervention into what used to be the internal affairs of sovereign states.

The NATO intervention into Kosovo established the principle of limited sovereignty — and this was done without a UN mandate. As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated in a speech he gave in Chicago in 1999 during the Kosovo conflict, the Kosovo intervention was a “just war” because it was not based on any territorial ambitions — but rather upon values.

He went on to argue for a new doctrine of international community — based on the explicit recognition that today national interest is to a significant extent governed by international collaboration.

The West has become more unified around the need to use force to intervene in humanitarian cases — but only with an international mandate.

American and European forces operate together in the Balkans, Africa and parts of the Middle East. In this area, the West has begun to reconverge and to recognize that its common values require a concerted response.

They may be further unified by the resistance of China and Russia in the UN Security Council. It is, however, an open question how willing the U.S. Congress and the American public will be to commit military forces to promote humanitarian goals after Iraq.

Nonetheless, the West remains a value community — and this sense of community is likely to grow as it is confronted with such affronts to western values as those posed in Darfur.

As the notion of security is transformed by globalization, the West will increasingly realize that it has a common interest in banding together — rather than hanging separately.

While these new threats are not necessarily unifying, it should be remembered that the Soviet threat also created divisions in the West over both assessments and tactics.

Divergences over détente are but one example of the fissures that existed even during the Cold War. DeGaulle’s challenge to NATO was another example of important divisions.

What was required was not only a common threat but leadership which was able to shape a strategic consensus and overcome the differences of interest built in by geography, history, economics and culture.

There is another aspect of the question: the relative decline of the West in the emerging international system of the 21st century. If the 20th century was a western-centric one, it was one which saw the steep decline of Europe’s power and international role — and its replacement by the United States as the center of the West.

This era of globalization is more profound than the first one of the early 20th century. The integration of capital and commodity markets is far more extensive today than it was before World War I. And the revolution in information technology and the means of mass transport are both quantitatively and quantitatively different.

Like the first wave of globalization, this one is creating new great powers — but this time, re-emerging India and China are the winners. With the new century, the rise of China and India and other non-western powers is creating a new international system in which there is a growing mismatch between the western-centric system of international institutions and the rise of non-western powers.

Thus, even if the West can reunite on a new post-Cold War basis, will it be able to steer the global system in a Western-oriented direction?

The Iraq war has resulted in a substantial decline in the perception of both the extent and the legitimacy of U.S. power. Of course, Robert Kagan and other analysts still contend that U.S. power remains at the center of the international system and that the world is still unipolar. Still, there can be little doubt that both U.S. self-confidence and the confidence in — or at least fear of — America outside of the country have greatly diminished under the Bush Administration.

The new global political culture in which we live resists imperial and hierarchical leadership, requiring instead a more consensual style of leadership. This is especially the case in regard to leading the West.

All in all, the transatlantic economy remains strong and is growing. And there remains a West in terms of a broad community of values, especially regarding democracy and democratic norms.

Democracies, however, will not tolerate a unilateral and imperial style of leadership. This is especially true in an era when there is no compelling security threat which might justify a certain subordination in return for protection.

The U.S. image in Europe will probably improve somewhat after the departure of the Bush Administration. And a new generation of leaders on both sides of the Atlantic is poised to reshape a more pragmatic transatlantic relationship.

Both sides are facing the same pressures from globalization, including coping with large-scale migration and immigration, aging populations, environmental pressures and more.

Yet, if the new U.S. leadership does not recreate a new global partnership with Europe based on a more balanced relationship across the Atlantic, then the West will split into at least two Wests — to the detriment of both.

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