World on brink of 'post-Western age'
The world is “on the brink” of a “post-Western age”, a leading German think tank has warned.
“Some of the most fundamental pillars of the West and of the liberal international order are weakening … [and] the willingness and ability of Western democracies to shape international affairs and to defend the rules-based liberal order are declining,” Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German diplomat who now chairs the Munich Security Conference (MSC), said.
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“We may, then, be on the brink of a post-Western age, one in which non-Western actors are shaping international affairs,” he added, referring to countries such as China, Russia, and Turkey.
Ischinger’s warning was contained in a study by the MSC published on Tuesday (14 February), ahead of the think tank’s annual symposium on transatlantic security this weekend.
He said that if US president Donald Trump made good on his promise to pursue “a more unilateralist, maybe even nationalistic foreign policy” it could spell the end of the post-WWII era of Western solidarity.
The MSC study added that if Trump made a deal with Russian leader Vladimir Putin over the future of Ukraine it could also mean the end of a rules-based international order more broadly speaking.
“This could signal a new era of great powers determining the fate of smaller ones,” the study said.
Looking at the war in Syria, it posed the question that, in the absence of Western leadership: “Should a genocide be perpetrated somewhere in the world in the coming months, would anybody step in?”.
Trump has flip-flopped in his comments on Nato, saying both that it was “obsolete” and “very important.”
The proportion of Trump supporters who believed that the US should decrease its Nato commitment (24%) or withdraw from the alliance (13%) formed a large segment of his constituency, however.
In a wider trend, which the MSC linked to stagnating incomes and to fears of globalisation, public support for authoritarian rulers climbed by some 10 percent in the US over the past 20 years. It climbed by much higher factors in some parts of Europe, such as Romania and Spain, and even rose in Germany.
“The main dividing line in politics runs less and less between left and right but between a liberal cosmopolitan pole and a populist (or even xenophobic authoritarian) one,” the MSC said.
“Populist parties are now part of the government in about a dozen Western democracies. And even in countries where populists only received a small share of the vote, they often exert a defining influence by … pressuring mainstream parties to adopt different policy agendas.”
The MSC also said that public support for the parallel “international economic order”, as embodied in the World Trade Organisation and in multilateral trade treaties, such as Ceta (EU-Canada) or TTIP (EU-US), was “unravelling”.
It said that disinformation campaigns were fuelling the trend.
It noted that Russian propaganda in Germany had helped the populist AfD party reach 30 percent support and that 31 percent of German left-wing voters now trusted Putin more than German chancellor Angela Merkel.
It said Russia’s main foreign propaganda channel, RT, was outspending France and Germany’s top international media, France Medias Monde and DW, and was far more popular than either on YouTube.
It added that China’s state media, CCTV, had a bigger budget that RT, France Medias, DW and the BBC combined, however.
It also noted that the Trump administration was guilty of spreading fake information.
“If politicians, for instance, lie about crowd sizes, say demonstrably wrong things about previously held positions and suggest that falsehoods are merely ‘alternative facts,’ can citizens and allies trust them?”, it said, referring to a Trump spokesman's lies about the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
“The main threat is that citizens’ trust in media and politicians might further erode, creating a vicious cycle that threatens liberal democracy,” it said.
The MSC noted that the EU had also suffered a blow to its credibility in the Brexit vote, but that it was trying to bounce back via deeper integration on economic issues, immigration policy, and security.
In one piece of good news for the EU, it noted that Brexit had prompted feelings of “Regrexit”.
Citing post-UK referendum polls, it said EU approval ratings last summer rose to over 60 percent in countries such as Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, and also in the UK itself.
It said the number of people who wanted to leave the EU had also shrunk in Poland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the UK.
"If the EU wants to prove to itself and to its skeptics in and outside Europe that it is capable of being a 'superpower that believes in multilateralism and in cooperation,' as [EU foreign policy chief] Federica Mogherini recently put it, a common foreign policy strategy backed with sufficient military power is widely seen as a strategic necessity,” the MSC said.
“EU countries will have to set aside their differences, including concerns that the new plans will divert resources away from Nato … When, if not now, should Brussels’ clout in the world ever be on top of the menu?”, it said.