‘Westlessness’: is the west really in a state of peril?

The Guardian

Top diplomats disagreed over the global relevance of the west at the Munich security conference

Patrick Wintour diplomatic editor
Sun 16 Feb 2020


Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European commission, beside the Romanian prime minister Ludovic Orban (left) at a state dinner in Munich. Photograph: Johannes Simon/Getty Images

The chosen theme of the Munich security conference – once a party for Nato and now a Davos for the world’s diplomats – was “westlessness”. The organisers wanted to capture the fear that the west is now so divided and challenged by the rise of China its whole existence has become imperilled.

It was not a concept that won universal acclaim. Margrethe Vestager, the EU vice-president, hit back in one session: “I never thought about ’westlessness’ before. Are we here discussing our own depression and asking the rest of the world to join in as a sort of collective mindfulness exercise? I don’t really don’t get this.” European values – the rule of law and the integrity of the individual – had spread across the world, she insisted.

Similarly the Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg, refused to succumb to defeatism, pointing out that when refugees flee their chosen destination is normally Europe.
But there was no denying the mood of angst that prevailed in the conference hall, and the sense that new centres of disruptive decision making were emerging to which the west, and especially Europe, were too slow to adapt.

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