Opinion | Is this the last hurray of the Western alliance?

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The unity of the Western democracies in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is marvelous and long awaited. But the dwindling economic power of these nations may mean that this is the last hurray of the old order.

Economic power is what allowed Europe and the United States to dominate the globe. The development of modern science and the industrial revolution gave Europe and its American offshoot the economic ability to deploy overwhelming military power, enabling them to wrap most of the planet in their sphere of influence, often by subjugating nations like China .

The liberal, rule-based international order that emerged in the latter part of the 20th century rested on the continued global economic dominance of these nations. Other nations became richer, but Western Europe, the United States, and their Asian allies remained far ahead. In 1950, the United States alone had a larger gross domestic product on a purchasing power parity basis than China, India, and Russia combined. Add the rest of NATO and its Asian allies, and no power could successfully withstand their combined power.

That dominance was reaffirmed and expanded by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe joined the EU, while other nations liberalized their economies and became Western trading partners. In 2000, the nations currently imposing sanctions on Russia – the EU and most NATO nations, plus Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Switzerland and Singapore – produced 79.4 percent of global GDP.

Globalization has severely reduced this power over the past 20 years. By 2020, the same nations produced only 60.4 percent of global GDP. China’s meteoric rise accounts for too much of it, but India and other developing countries have also grown faster than the West. These nations are now powerful enough to withstand even the combined power of the West in terms of its conflict with Russia. That is why many of these nations abstained from voting on UN resolutions condemning the invasion and why they refuse to sanction Russia for its aggression.

These trends are likely to continue. If we focus only on the 30 largest economies, the International Monetary Fund estimates that nations sanctioning Russia currently account for 64.9 percent of economic output. By 2027, it expects that figure to drop to 58.5 percent. By 2040, China and India together are expected to have a larger GDP on a purchasing power parity basis than the United States and the eight largest other sanctioning nations combined. Add other new powers like Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey, and the global balance of power will no doubt change even more.

This development will end two centuries of Western global domination unless some of these rising powers join our club. If the powers of today that do not sanction create an informal alliance to compete with and displace the West, then expect the 21st century to become one with increasing political and military tensions. Preventing it is a prerequisite for Western statesmanship in the foreseeable future.

The West starts with some important benefits in this mission. India is a historical rival to China. It is also a democracy, though at times chaotic. Western criticism of Hindu nationalism, which appears to be the dominant political movement in India for the foreseeable future, risks driving this crucial nation away from us. Caution dictates that we maintain the alliance, even if it makes Westerners uneasy.

Similar conflicts between Western liberal social values ​​and Western geopolitical interests need to be addressed elsewhere. Brazil’s development of its massive rainforest is angering climate activists. India and Brazil also house more than half of the world’s cattle, a leading source of methane emissions. Do we want climate activism to drive these nations into China’s arms?

Western views on homosexuality could also complicate our geopolitics. Nigeria, for example, will be one of the world’s 15 largest economies and Africa’s largest by 2040. It, along with many other Islamic and African nations, will criminalize same-sex relationships. Harmful, yes, but should we let the problem alienate Nigeria from the West? China’s progress means that these nations will have an alternative to development funds and product exports. And China’s authoritarian rule will certainly not require its allies to adopt human rights reforms.

The maxim of Thucydides remains true: the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they have to. The West has been the global strong man for more than two centuries. Unless we adapt now and prepare for the future, today’s united response to Russia may be the swan song of the West.

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