Is "the West" in trouble?

Is "the West" in trouble?

For the next three days, some of the world's most powerful leaders are gathering in Munich, Germany, to discuss an important question: is "the West" in trouble? And if so, is that a problem?

This year's Munich Security Conference – an annual gathering of key leaders and policy experts that's been held since the Cold War's heyday– is dedicated to the theme of "Westlessness."

No, that's not the mindset of an antsy Elmer Fudd, it's the idea that "the West" – that is, a group of European and North American countries united by a common, if not always consistent, commitment to liberal democracy, free markets, and the post-war international institutions set up for global trade, finance, and security – is fraying. That's happening for two reasons:


Internal divisions: Inequality and social polarization have fueled the rise of populist and "illiberal" parties within "the West." They are skeptical of the traditional, US/European-led international institutions and instead put national interests first. This is the story of Brexit and of Donald Trump, but it's also the rise of avowedly "illiberal" democracies like Poland and Hungary (which until 1989 were in the "East," but don't confuse the cartographer!).

External rivals: Authoritarian China's ambition to take center stage globally as the world's largest economy – and to dominate 21st technologies like 5G and A.I. – presents some implicit challenges to the Western-led global order. Meanwhile, a revanchist Russia has challenged "Western" power in Ukraine and Syria, while working to exacerbate social polarization and undermine democracies in both Europe and the US.

Is this a problem? For the Munich organizers, a fragmented "West" makes it more difficult to tackle a whole host of global problems like climate change, A.I. regulation, and the threat to democracies around the world. (Of course, from the perspective of the rising "non-West," many of the global institutions developed in the West are outmoded and exclusionary.)

One big question we'll see at Munich: What's the global future of Europe? Given the fragmentation of "the West," and the emerging rivalry between the US and China, as well as Washington's uncertain commitment to European security, is it time for the EU to play a larger global role on its own? Can it? We'll likely hear about this from French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the high profile attendees, as well as from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

But here's a question, for you: do you buy the idea of a coherent "West"? Do you think there is a risk of "Westlessness" in the world, or are there different perspectives you'd take? We are westlessly intewested in your thoughts.

Follow Munich with us! GZERO media will be covering the conference, which runs from Friday through Sunday, on our Twitter feed. Follow us for the latest.

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Watch Yau's story as he shows how his family and community enjoy life-enhancing access to both water and light.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. And I thought I'd talk a little bit today about the latest in Israel, Palestine. It's obviously been driving headlines all week. And of course, on social media, there's no topic that we all get along and agree with each other more than Israel, Palestine. It's an easy one to take on. Yeah, I know I'm completely full of crap on that. But I thought I would give you some sense of what I think is actually happening where we're going. So first point, massive fight, big conflict between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli defense forces. Not only that, but also more violence and a lot of violence breaking out between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Extremists on both sides taking to the streets and fairly indiscriminate violence, in this case, worst since 2014.

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Join GZERO Media and Microsoft for a live conversation on cyber challenges facing governments, companies, and citizens in a Munich Security Conference "Road to Munich" event on Tuesday, May 18.

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Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

Listen: Ask national security experts how they view China today and they'll likely the use a term like "adversary" or "economic competitor." But what about "enemy?" How close is the world to all-out-war breaking out between United States and China? According to US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), who served as Supreme Allied Commander to NATO, those odds are higher than many would like to admit. In fact, Stavridis says, the US risks losing its military dominance in the coming years to China. And if push comes to shove in a military conflict, it's not entirely clear who would prevail. Admiral Stavridis discusses his bestselling new military thriller 2034 and makes the case for why his fictional depiction of a US-China war could easily become reality.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What's the issue with the letter in France talking about the "civil war"?

Well, I think it is part of the beginning of the French election campaign. We have some people in the military encouraged by the more right-wing forces, warning very much for the Muslim question. That's part of the upstart to the election campaign next year. More to come, I fear.

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When asked about where a US-China war may start, US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.) doesn't hesitate: Taiwan. He suggests that China may believe the US is distracted by internal politics: "I think it would be a miscalculation on the part of the Chinese, but they may calculate that now is the moment." How would a move against Taiwan play out? Stavridis speculates how the Chinese military may plan to invade the island on the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which begins airing on US public television Friday, May 14. Check local listings.

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Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace. Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT/ 1pm ET

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Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace | Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT / 1 pm PT

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