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At first glance, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems to have led to an unexpected moment of unity among Western nations. After years of disagreements and talk of decline, Western countries responded to the invasion with tough sanctions and a unified front. Germany has announced a dramatic increase in military spending, Finland and Sweden are seriously exploring NATO membership, and even the Brexit tensions between the EU and UK have faded into the background. In the words of Andrew Neil: ‘Now Britain stands tall, America is a reliable ally once more, the EU has found new purpose, NATO is more united than ever, and Germany has rediscovered its backbone.’ Commentators everywhere seem eager to christen this a triumph of ‘Western values’ – such as democracy or freedom – over backward, authoritarian values said to define Russia or China.
But beneath the surface, many note tensions and contradictions. Germany resists the toughest sanctions and many disagree on the possibility of an oil and gas embargo on Russia. Emmanuel Macron seems eager to maintain diplomatic ties with Putin. Poland and Hungary, despite welcoming millions of refugees, have been hit with tough EU penalties related to rule of law disputes. Spats have broken out in NATO, too, with the US scuppering Polish plans to send fighter jets to Ukraine. The US and EU remain split on how to deal with China. What’s more, the ‘united front’ seems dangerously unstable, with key leaders like Joe Biden making remarks such as ‘that man must go’ only to row back shortly after. On top of this, many question whether there is even such a thing as ‘Western values’, what they are, and who shares them.
Has Russia’s invasion led to a new moment of Western unity? Will it last? Are deeper geopolitical tensions likely to return, or are they perhaps already shaping the West’s response to Russia’s invasion? Does the West have the leadership, capability and agreement to tackle a serious escalation in the current war? What would a revived Western unity mean for the world, and does it herald the return of aspirations to be ‘the world’s policeman’? Has the invasion demonstrated that reports of the decline of the West were exaggerated, or will declinists be proved right in the end?
Nick Busvine OBE
partner, Herminius Holdings Ltd; advisory board member and writer, Briefings for Britain; Sevenoaks town councillor; former diplomat, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Professor Bill Durodié
chair of risk and security in international relations, University of Bath
director, Academy of Ideas; member of the House of Lords
Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, First World War: Still No End in Sight
journalist; former foreign correspondent, BBC; author, Man on Ice, Asian Waters and The Third World War; Asia specialist