Power vacuum in WestI respect V. S. Naipaul a great deal, and I listen to his views. I notice that he is not invested in the notion that Western civilization is in decline. ''A civilization which has taken over the world cannot be said to be dying," he says. Well, I'm not so sure. Europe especially is in the middle of a deep cultural, economic and demographic crisis which is very real, and I see few signs of this situation improving. The USA is in a better position, but even she is affected by this. I do not discount the possibility that we could be witnessing a global shift of power, where Europe fades off the scene and East Asia takes over her spot:
Power vacuum in West
In today’s new world order, champagne and canapés with the Chinese finance minister is not something anybody in the West can afford to miss. So Gordon Brown, Britain’s Chancellor, and a posse of other finance ministers have flown to Beijing this weekend to attend a gathering of the Group of 20 richest nations. Being in charge of the public finances of a major European economy does not carry much clout in Beijing these days, or anywhere else in Asia, where weak growth and waning geopolitical influence is not something that is admired. The Chinese are right not to be impressed. The West’s largest powers have become strangely rudderless, incapable of reacting rationally to the great challenges facing the world. At home, they are failing to reform their struggling economies and crumbling welfare states; abroad, their brief awareness of the need for radical action after 9/11 has given way to complacency, boredom and – in Europe – a belief among the chattering classes that rooting out so-called Islamo-phobia among the majority is more important than a robust response to the Islamo-fascist threat from without and within, an increasingly fashionable attitude that culminates in the view that the Islamo-fascists actually have a point and that the West should atone for its sins.
The failure of the Bush presidency has confirmed America’s enemies of the its essential decadence: even under a supposedly hardline president, the world’s only superpower has been found wanting when faced with a real war on terror, lacking the moral strength to stay the course, financial muscle to pay the bills, the attention span to remain focused on the task and the willingness to take military casualties in pursuit of agreed national goals. The US last displayed such weakness and lack of leadership in the post-Vietnam years and paid a terrible price, as the Soviets spread their influence across Africa and almost succeeded in undermining support for Nato in Europe. The nadir was the Iranian hostage crisis, which rightly destroyed the Carter Presidency a year later. As Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to say, weakness is more provocative than strength.
The blunt realpolitik of 2005, a mere four years after the epoch-changing event of 9/11, is that there are now almost no conceivable circumstances under which the United States or Great Britain would launch major military action against any rogue state; they show no sign of knowing how properly to finish the job in Iraq, so why would they even dream of opening a second front? Iran and North Korea know that all too well, which is why they think they can behave with impunity, thumbing their noses at America and the West as they do so. The EU could not muster the military force to fight its way out of a wet paper bag, which leaves it entirely dependent on so-called “soft power”, that is the velvet glove (negotiation and diplomacy) without the iron fist, just about the worst negotiating position to be in.
While the West is plagued by lack of direction and indecision, the Asian powers – above all China – are going from strength to strength. We are on the brink of an historical watershed, the end of one era and the start of another. The process is being accelerated not just by the rise of Asia but by a US and EU which have lost their ways. Today’s unipolar world, in which the world’s only hyper-power lives beyond its means, with massive current account and budget deficits funded by Chinese and Japanese central banks, and no longer has the guts, patience, skill and commitment to root out global terrorism and failed states, is an unstable, transitional state of affairs. In ways that are uncertain and hard to divine, the balance of power is clearly switching from the Atlantic to East Asia. It will be a shift in power ripe for exploitation by those with the interests of neither the West nor East Asia at heart. No wonder al Qaeda is licking its lips.