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For any power bloc, the sustainability of foreign policy objectives is an overriding concern. But why has 'Western' power waned across multiple theatres, and does 'the West' even exist as it once did, asks Cory Turner?
Since the advent of the Cold War, 'the West', headed by the United States, has remained in a position of primacy. But with the emergence of new threats across multiple fronts, complicated by unforeseen consequences and difficulties abroad and at home, it is now inaccurate to claim that these nations can sustain their old approaches to foreign policy.
Since 2003, the United States and its close allies have faced what are at times insurmountable difficulties. The character of armed conflict has changed drastically. Incoherent and blind direct interventionism into the Middle East has only created further problems down the line, but which have only been dealt with in the same blanket terms. With the emergence of the horrific, deadly efficiency of the Daesh ('ISIS' etc), these countries have abandoned their old policy, but haven't committed to a new, coherent one.
The US-led coalition against the emergent threat of the Daesh has contributed spectacularly towards a recent string of victories, most notably from the several Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. The Daesh has lost key hubs for which they previously secured vital support to their fighters thanks to the West's contribution, facilitating the fight back against the group. However, the Kurdish groups often lack the heavy specialist equipment they require to sustain an effective front. If 'Western' states wish to see a decisive victory against the Daesh, they must commit to more than just airstrikes.
But this is by far not the only way of defeating terrorist threats. The Daesh draws fighters from even secular, liberal democratic nations. 'Western' and 'Eastern' leaders alike will need to think introspectively to curb the push factors that make this group appealing, and so curb their influence domestically.
In many European nations and the US, they must consider new strategies to stop the stigmatisation of Muslim populations, who are often targeted and blamed by the growing far Right wing, or else an endless spiral of misunderstanding and blame push people towards support for such groups, which exploit the naivety of the young when this happens.
Thus, changing character of warfare has created not just issues with tackling terrorist groups abroad, but has manifested into issues domestically. The US and the UK in particular have expanded their intelligence programmes, sparking a debate between ostensibly preserving their prized rights and civil liberties and tackling new threats.
Not only must they tackle extremism at home, but they ought to strike a balance between the protection of the public and using what could be a vital tool in blocking the advance of extremism. But such governments are not open and honest about such a debate, preferring to simply impose such measures on their publics, leading to greater distrust between the public and their governments.
It is clear then, that 'the West' has had to adapt to these changes. They support regional actors against the Daesh so as to not fuel further hatred down the line, albeit not committing entirely to it, and haven't extended to threats in other regions.
It must also be sure to maintain an effective standing force. Conventional threats still persist in other areas, most evidently in the face of Russian expansionism, and so severe cuts to Defence budgets must not undermine 'Western' capabilities to project power as a coherent force. One of the lessons from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars was that you cannot use a single strategy to deal with wildly different threats, and the decisive, recognisable military might that Russia wields would not effectively be curbed by the same one used against terrorist forces.
Ethical, social and military shifts are not the only issues at stake though. Economic constraints have chained multiple nations' capacities for warfare. The UK government continues, despite the protests of US statesmen and its own personnel alike, to push forwards with cuts to its Defence budget. They give a dire warning against shrinking the UK's ability to project any serious challenge to new threats, most notably in its decision to stay silent on the Russo-Ukrainian War.
Cuts, the persistence of low pay, poor care for service personnel and military failures have plummeted morale to a low not seen for decades, and the same economic restraints are similar in its allies. Such economic difficulties come at the fulcrum point of the global shift in power. The viability of the Euro is threatened by the looming plausibility of a 'Grexit'. Even the European Union's credibility as a united hub of power is being undermined by the rise of the far Right across Europe, most damagingly in the UK, as the possibility of a 'Brexit' also draws near. (Polls for the Greek referendum close two hours after this article is posted)
Without properly addressing these issues, foreign policy across 'the West' will become very haphazard; what was once a powerful global power bloc has dwindled to a divided, loose alliance of European countries and the US. Even now, the emergence of a 'two-tier' NATO is looming, as some states ramp up their military capabilities, and others seem non-committal to their allies. Governments must not be too obsessed with eliminating deficits at this time by debilitating their armed forces.
Thus, without recognising new ethical, social, political issues, and the need to have variable strategies for different regions, 'the West' has become less recognisable than it once was. These nations have become much more divided over recent years as they refuse to construct a joint, coherent foreign policy. Whilst many have claimed to have learned the lessons of recent wars, they have only stopped doing what they had once done in only the Middle East. They haven't developed a fluid foreign and defence priority, a failure the EU is most guilty of, despite its great potential.
Thus, the new Divided West has paved the way for the Rise of the Rest, spearheaded by China, with Russia tailing it. The time has come for this new 'West' to admit to its publics that it can no longer effectively sustain its old foreign and defence policy globally. Instead, a new direction must be taken, which projects power in a more concise manner, allowing for regional variation, and the containment of local conflicts. This theme of the Rise of the Rest will be reviisted in part 2 later this week.