Hartwich on the return of the west

Oliver Hartwich writes:

The Cold era is often associated with the arms race between East and West. While that military confrontation between the two blocs was a key element of the Cold War, it was not the defining one.

At its core, the Cold was a philosophical divide: liberalism vs socialism, democracy vs totalitarianism, freedom vs oppression. …

Thus, Western countries reconfirmed their adherence to their set of liberal values through their common institutions. Meanwhile, despite political differences, there remained a common core of values spanning almost the entire domestic political spectrum.

In a way, it did not matter if the Republicans or the Democrats governed the US. Or whether the Social Democrats or the Christian Democrats led West Germany. Or whether the socialists or the conservatives ran France. Their countries’ basic adherence to the Western values set was never in question.

During the Cold War, the old West remained highly coordinated internationally, and it was relatively cohesive domestically.

But just as having a common enemy unites, so the lack of a common enemy can drive apart. And that was the story since the end of the Cold War.

This is spot on. We have focused too much on what divides us, rather than what unites us, having lost that common enemy.

That is the backdrop to Putin’s aggression on Ukraine. Putin had perceived the West as divided – because he had helped divide it where he could. And he saw a West that was so weak it barely demurred when Russia swallowed Crimea in 2014. A West that liked Russian money, needed Russian gas and was not prepared to stand up for its own values. A West that allowed Putin to get what he wanted.

Despite that, Putin seems to have miscalculated. Instead of humiliating the West once again, Putin’s is – so far – achieving the opposite: it is reviving it.

This is thanks to the heroism of the Ukrainian people and their President, Volodymyr Zelensky.

A CNN commentary summed it up perfectly: “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his courageous nation have already done more to transform the West’s policy toward Russia than 30 years of post-Cold summits, policy resets and showdowns with Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

The invasion of Ukraine may go down in world history as just as significant as 9/11.

The West, which after 1989 lost sight of its values, may have found them again. By confronting the external enemies of liberal democracy, it may regain its own liberal-democratic strengths.

If that is the outcome of this conflict, the West will be ready for the next geopolitical challenges to come. And President Xi will think twice about his ambitions in the South China Sea.

I hope this does give China pause, but we have to seriously consider how we become less reliant on China, so that if China does invade Taiwan, we can take action without being economically crippled.

A free trade zone between the US, the EU, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada would be a good start.

The West may also rethink its own domestic priorities again. It has taken a brutal and existential challenge to sort out what matters – and what doesn’t.

If that is the outcome, then at least out of Putin’s atrocity, out of his monstrous and barbaric war, may come something good. And that would be a comeback of a strong West, committed to its values. And with Ukraine as a free, liberal, democratic nation under the rule of law – just the kind of country the talked about and that the EU should want to have as its member.

Putin’s on Ukraine, and Zelensky’s heroism, force us all to take a stand. It leaves no room for neutrality, even if dressed up as an independent foreign policy.

When ever-neutral joins the EU in their sanctions against Russia; when Finland and Sweden now think about joining NATO; when Singapore firmly puts itself behind the West; when pacificist Germany and Japan rearm themselves: As all of this is happening, times have fundamentally changed.

The only choice left for countries to make is which side they will be on.

There are 84 countries defined as “free” by Freedom House. We should be doing more with them and less with the others.

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