Western supremacy is receding, and with it comes the restoration of the primacy of force over law. Westernization is losing favour around the world. What are the options for Europeans?
For many years, the Western world's understanding of international relations was founded on the power balance created by the Treaties of Westphalia (1648). Beginning in the 17th century, these treaties established an inter-state order in Europe, marked by legal equality between states. Even if historical evidence reveals that this notion was adopted in the 19th century, the sovereign state was the cornerstone of the political order.
During Napoleon's conquering ambitions during the Napoleonic Wars, a coalition was created to ensure that no state attempted to disturb this balance. The concept of the European Concert, which was institutionalized in the Congress of Vienna in 1815, embodied this structure. These ideals have been kept to this day by the UN Charter, which recognizes the sovereign equality of the organization's members. Power relations and the balance of power controlled the international game.
China's development in Asia is posing a threat to America's position in the Asia-Pacific region. In a white paper on Asian security cooperation released in January 2017, Chinese authorities expressed their desire to dismantle Cold War-era alliances in order to supplant American control in the region (Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Australia). Small states should not hinder stronger powers, according to the White Paper, as this only serves to enhance China's hegemonic goals.
The Beijing Consensus, a mercantilist perspective of international relations that stretches back to the early 2000s, has allowed China to create relationships with countries that produce raw commodities without being restricted by ethical considerations. China has been regarded as a global giant, a game-changer, and a colossus. It requires space and must secure sufficient energy sources while feeding its massive population and addressing the needs of its increasing middle class. This is having a substantial impact on the country's interaction with the rest of the globe, without necessarily resulting in disruptive policies.
Russia is attempting to reclaim a sphere of influence as well. It will be able to do so by depending on Russian-speaking minority in Eastern Europe, the Donbass, the Baltic States, the Caucasus, and Crimea. The intellectual cornerstone is the "Russian world." It's a simple method for Russia to legitimize a right of influence (or perhaps more) over neighbouring countries' political situations. It's also a type of soft power that helps Russia project its image around the world.
Russia is primarily interested with restoring its position in the Middle East and Libya, and can sometimes impede diplomatically and occasionally interfere militarily in favor of a regime (Syria) or a faction (Libya) (Libya). India, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and even the United Arab Emirates are just a few examples of countries whose foreign policy is characterised by a robust assertion of power.
Western democracies have been rudely awakened, and they no longer look to be role models! Western supremacy has created an international order that is collapsing. These changes appear to be culminating in a world in crisis, characterized by a resurgence of power over law, as well as worries about multilateralism's ability to deal with global crises.
The modern world is in transition. The use of power strategies appears to be the most common. However, in order to have a beneficial impact on the world's evolution, Europeans – and Westerners in general – must continue to defend their values. All attempts in this direction will be worthless for the Old Continent as long as European foreign policy does not choose its identity, either as a European component of a Western bloc or as an autonomous balancing force.
The European Union must preserve its status as a world power in order to do so. The EU must be able to counteract the dominant states now that we have reverted to a balance-of-powers framework. With American protection, Europe, on the other hand, has never chosen the path of power. If European power exists, it is akin to soft power, which is based on persuasion and the power of attraction, rather than hard power, which is based on weaponry and money. On a global scale, this is insufficient to compete with and influence the rest of the world. Remember Raymond Aron's definition of power: "On the international stage, I term power the capacity of a political unit to enforce its will on other units."
The European Union's foreign policy cannot continue to be defensive. In this moment of change, new diplomacy for the twenty-first century has yet to be invented. For Europeans, who have a long history and are capable of mediating and facilitating all peace processes, this is an existential dilemma. Today's European diplomats can contribute to the continent's transformation into a force for peace. In this world of cloudy horizons, Europe, the cradle of the Westphalian order and the nation-state, has a role to play.
(Written by: The Decision Maker – International Relations editors)