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The West’s Comeback: Renewal Starts at Home

Author: Charles A. Kupchan, Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow
February 14, 2012
Aspenia

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A version of this article in Italian appears in La Stampa.

Prominent publications on both sides of the Atlantic are full of anxious ruminations on the future of the West. And for good reason. Europe and the United States are simultaneously passing through a prolonged period of economic and political weakness. Meanwhile, many of the world's rising powers are enjoying steady economic growth and enlarging their geopolitical sway. The possibility of a "post-Western" era looms on the horizon.

Zbigniew Brzezinski and Marta Dassù have recently made thoughtful contributions to this debate in the pages of La Stampa. Brzezinski counsels that the West should fortify itself by expanding eastward, extending its reach to Russia, Turkey, and Asian allies ready to check China's rise. Dassù counters that the West should look not only east but also south, embracing Brazil and others in a broader "panatlantic" community. As it has done throughout its history, Brzezinski and Dassù agree, the West should strengthen itself through geographic expansion.

Both proposals are reasonable, but neither gets to the heart of the matter. The future of the West will ride on the health and vitality of its traditional North American and European cores. Although both Brzezinski and Dassù recognize the need for the United States and the EU to get their own houses in order, they inappropriately deflect attention from this priority by suggesting that enlargement rather than internal renewal is vital to the West's future strength.

Moreover, even if the West is able to regain its internal vitality and enlarge its footprint, it will still have to manage the transition to a world in which power will be more equitably distributed. In addition, non-Western approaches to domestic and international governance promise to pose growing challenges to the international order erected during the West's watch. The West may still have its best years ahead of it, but the material and ideological dominance it has enjoyed for the last two centuries is not sustainable.

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