The Spring of the West’s Disorder

Anyone looking for meaningful events on the world stage during the first three weeks of May has found an embarrassment of riches. This brief chronology will start with three events likely to have some lasting impact—which in our time means that they will be remembered at least for the next three to six months. These events illustrate the cardinal fact of today’s international relations: The self-destructive neuroses of the U.S.-led “collective West” engender disorder and prompt its rivals to forge ever-closer links.

Shortly before welcoming President Vladimir Putin in China (May 16­­­­–17), Xi Jinping reiterated—not for the first time—that the most defining characteristic of today’s world is “chaos.” Last Thursday, addressing the cameras with Putin at his side, he indicated their intention jointly to counter it. “Right now there are changesthe likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years,” he said, “and we are the ones driving these changes together.” At a joint press conference at the end of the visit they said that they were building “a new security architecture that is balanced, effective and sustainable.”

The Chinese foreign ministry noted in a statement dated May 16 that Xi and Putin had met more than 40 times over the years “and stayed in close communication, providing strategic guidance that … is not only in the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples, but also conducive to peace, stability and prosperity of the region and the world at large.” Putin’s delegation included almost all senior cabinet members, top military brass, and industry leaders in energy, space, and agriculture. Xi, who went to Moscow for his first foreign visit following his own reelection last year, extended a lavish welcome to Putin outside the Great Hall of the People with an honor guard, a 21-gun salute, and a line of cheering children.

The meeting came three weeks after Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing, during which meeting he said he had warned China against helping Russia. Xi has all too visibly shrugged off U.S. accusations that it is enabling Russia’s war effort while benefiting from discounts on Russian oil and gas. Both leaders have praised the fact that Chinese exports into Russia are expanding, reaching $240 billion last year (with all of it paid for in their respective currencies, not dollars).

While there is still no formal military alliance between China and Russia, de facto it has been in existence at least since the formal proclamation of their “friendship with no limits” in March 2023. The relationship is somewhat reminiscent of the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale. Signed in April 1904, that agreement paved the way for the two powers to forge diplomatic cooperation against German pressures in the decade preceding the Great War. While the agreement was not a formal alliance, King Edward VII’s unconcealed Francophilia played a role in encouraging close relations on various fronts. Eventually this made it virtually impossible for Britain to stay neutral when Germany marched against France in August 1914.

On the same day that Presidents Xi and Putin were discussing their joint efforts in the development a new global security architecture, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement to mark the “International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.” The project was launched in 2005 by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA), the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), the World Congress of LGBT Jews and the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL)Transphobia was added to the name of the event in 2009 and biphobia in 2015, resulting in the acronym in its current form (IDAHOBIT). (Presumably it will expand.)

“NATO will stand up for the rights of LGBTQ people,” Stoltenberg declared. “NATO exists to defend 32 nations, and our peoples’ right to live freely & in peace,”Stoltenberg posted on X“On the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia, and every day: all love is equal. LGBTQ+ people deserve respect & dignity, and I am proud to call myself your ally.” Stoltenberg praised NATO’s progress in promoting diversity and inclusion and its efforts to ensure that the alliance truly represents the one billion people it protects.

It would be interesting to find out whether NATO’s second most populous member nation, Turkey, which also has the second largest military establishment in the alliance, supports Stoltenberg’s statement, and whether it promotes diversity and inclusion as defined by him.

While Putin was still in China, another step into the twilight zone of current Western decrepitude was provided by France. Paris accused Azerbaijan of fomenting violent protests, which have engulfed its Pacific island territory of New Caledonia. France occupied the islands in 1853 and systematically populated them with French settlers who soon outnumbered the indigenous Kanaks.

Protests by the native Kanaks—around 40 percent of some 270,000 inhabitants—erupted on May 14 after the French parliament voted to allow French settlers who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in local elections. Five people have been killed, hundreds injured, and massive damage inflicted. France declared a state of emergency on May 15 and deployed 500 soldiers and policemen to reinforce the existing 1,800 police and gendarmes there.

France promptly accused Azerbaijan of instigating unrest. French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told the France 2 TV on May 16 that Azerbaijan, alongside China and Russia, was “interfering” in New Caledonia. “This isn’t a fantasy. It’s a reality,” he insisted. “Even if there are attempts at interference,” he added, “France is sovereign on its own territory, and so much the better.” “We completely reject the baseless accusations,” Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry spokesman Ayhan Hajizadeh predictably responded. 

The accusation appears bizarre, as Azerbaijan has minimal presence in the Pacific. It is almost 9,000 miles away from New Caledonia, which is located between Australia and Fiji, and has no representation there. In the past Azerbaijan has criticized “French colonialism,” in response to France’s support for the Armenians in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. In July 2023, Baku hosted a conference of pro-independence activists from Martinique, French Guiana, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia. There has been no visible follow-up, however, and so far France has not provided any evidence of Azeri, let alone Russian or Chinese involvement.

Lest we forget, on a visit to Africa in July 2022 France’s President called Russia “one of the last imperial colonial powers.” “I speak on a continent that has suffered colonial imperialism,” Emmanuel Macron added. Of course, for him New Caledonia is not a colony, it is a “French overseas territory” —just as French as Picardy or Provence, except on the other side of the globe.

It is a poor testimony to the ability of France to command the loyalty of its overseas subjects if an effectively landlocked Muslim country (Azerbaijan has access only to the Caspian, an inland sea) of 33,000 square miles can project its power at such a distance, and so effectively, as to cause chaos and bloodshed in New Caledonia.

In truth the events in New Caledonia—and in France’s former West African colonies such as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad, which have radically reduced their links with the former metropolis—are the predictable result of an ungovernable wider geopolitical fragmentation. Its two facets are deglobalization and de-Americanization.

The macro-categories of “the West and the Rest” are not useful here. Europeans remain divided among themselves, while the Rest shares but a vague anticolonial and, frankly, anti-white kinship of resentment. Old Europeans, and notably France, have dominated the last five centuries of history and fear not being able to govern the sixth. But still … for the heirs to Louis XIV, Napoleon, and De Gaulle to cite Azerbaijan as the culprit for their security woes in a distant spot of their much-reduced empire is simply pathetic.

As the editorialist of the Italian geopolitical journal Limes elegantly summed it up last April, America’s  narratives are out of time and out of tune, depressing at the academic-elitist level, marked by the neurosis of one’s own universally understood canons, from the reductio ad Hitlerum to Thucydides’ trap:

We do not dare imagine what will become of this anti-history for dummies when the campaign against classical studies that is raging on campuses has yielded irreversible fruits. What is at stake here is soft power, the effective weapons that push others, including enemies, to consider you worthy of imitation. The power that magnetized peoples of all latitudes for decades after the Second World War is spent. The imaginative vector of the American dream does not work at home, let alone abroad. The film and musical pedagogy of the 1950s, a magical decade in the American historical memory, is film club material. Its current surrogates are, at best, diversions.

In the end, according to Limes, mass culture, made immediate and pervasive by the Internet, contributes to carving out spheres of influence in the post-American world-in-gestation. On the narrative front, America has already lost, while most European satellites don’t even run in the contest. Steady disintegration of the demos is inevitable: if you don’t respect yourself, you can’t command the respect of others. The community does not exist, “the West” is a collection of selves.

There is still a glimmer of hope. Find it in my upcoming column in the June-July print issue of Chronicles.

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