If it takes a cheap phonetic pun to get the point home, so be it. Last year, the Munich Security Conference, the world’s leading forum for international relations, warned against “Westlessness”. Everything since this report has confirmed the danger, as the rate at which the world is becoming westless – and therefore restless – continues to accelerate.
The most recent sign is AUKUS, the new geopolitical alliance of Australia, Great Britain and the USA, which China has as an obvious opponent. There it is again: the old Anglosphere, in contrast to the wider West. The undertone is that when it comes to staring down real threats – in the 21st century as it is in the 20th century – it’s these old bonds of language and culture that bind.
France under President Emmanuel Macron is expected to be just as angry at being snubbed as it was ever under Charles de Gaulle or other Gallic roosters. As part of AUKUS, Australia will buy nuclear submarines from its Anglophone counterparts instead of conventional submarines from France as previously agreed. Macron recalled his ambassadors in Washington and Canberra and is now preparing for an extended sulk.
In the coming weeks you will hear a lot from him about “European sovereignty” and “autonomy”, nebulous slogans he used alongside his more atmospheric brooding about the alleged “brain death” of NATO, which is still the most concrete manifestation of a strategic West . If Macron had his way, the European Union, which is now not burdened by these annoying British people, should finally become an independent geopolitical and military power on par with the USA and presumably be led by France.
The usual suspects in some other European capitals have picked up on his rallying cry, especially since the shameful withdrawal of the West from Afghanistan. There, too, the Europeans felt betrayed by the Americans, who did not bother to consult or coordinate with their allies when they withdrew. Predictably, the call for a “European army” has returned. This latest iteration is about starting with an EU 5,000, a kind of elite force that could have secured Kabul airport without American help. Forgive my skepticism, but the Spartan 300 will never be.
It is understandable that Europeans are frustrated that they are not taken so seriously, either by opponents like Russia and China or by friends like the US and Australia. But instead of passing out smoke, honestly look at yourself to find out why.
You could start by asking Lithuania, the former victim of Soviet imperialism, which is now a proud member of the EU and NATO. It is the newest European country to receive full bullying treatment from Beijing. The reason for this is that Vilnius has allowed Taiwan, which is considered a breakaway province in China, to set up a representative office. In retaliation, if that is the word, Beijing withdrew its ambassador, restricted Lithuanian trade and tightened the vice in general.
The US immediately offered its assistance to Lithuania. And the EU? The member states are not so sure about that. After all, they do a lot with China – Germany’s largest trading partner – and believe that Lithuania could have been more diplomatic. It was up to the Slovenian Prime Minister, who currently holds the rotating EU Council Presidency, to plead with his counterparts at a meeting in two weeks to stand up for Lithuania.
So it goes country by country, crisis after crisis, threat after threat. Europeans do not see the world and its dangers in the same way and do not feel involved in the problems of the West. Just look at Berlin, which has rejected the pleas from the US, Poland and others and built a pipeline connecting Germany to Russia, the most direct threat to peace on the continent. Moscow wants to start pumping gas within weeks.
The shock of Trumpism in the USA is certainly one reason for the trend towards Westlessness – the former President Donald Trump never understood, let alone appreciated, the concept of a “West” that stands for open societies and world order. But the Europeans bear at least the same guilt. They have not enabled their armies to wage a real war without the Americans. And they have taken no responsibility for addressing the greatest geopolitical threats, which are now China.
Germany is the best example. It is probably the only country that, thanks to its economic weight, could induce the EU to become stronger and thus “autonomous”. But it has no interest in it. Instead, it saves on its army and pretends that the world’s problems need to be solved by others, and mainly the US. In the debates of the Chancellor candidates before the election on Sunday, there was nothing to be said about foreign or security policy. That’s a shame.
While it has lasted, the West – not in an ethnocentric but in a normative sense – has made the world a better place overall. Their continued fragmentation is therefore a bad sign of stability and peace. The US should keep trying to save this West, even if others like the UK and Australia are wise to come up with a Plan B. But in the end it is the Europeans who have to decide what they want – and then do what it takes to become credible.