The Collapse Of 'The West'

Courtesy Reuters


UNDERLYING THE RECENT debates over Bosnia, the Balkans and Eastern Europe more generally, there is a much broader and unanswered question about the condition and future of the West. The proponents of intervention in the Balkans believe that, simply put, the West should go East. William Pfaff was surely speaking for many when he argued eloquently in these pages that the West should act through NATO-"the true Great Power in Europe today"-to guarantee existing frontiers in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, "so as to deprive transnational ethnic rivalry of its political and military explosiveness." The NATO guarantee to these new states should be backed up by force if necessary. Only such a policy, it is claimed, can both recover for the West the moral and political ground it has lost through its mishandling of the Yugoslav crisis and lay a base of stability for the future of Eastern Europe.

There are specific problems with such a course of action. But more important, the various policy proposals and position papers advocating such a course reflect a philosophical inertia, an inability or unwillingness to jettison old concepts and modes of thought in the face of utterly changed circumstances. In particular, such proposals for what amount to a new NATO are based on a most questionable premise: that "the West" continues to exist as a political and military entity. Over the last half century or so, most of us have come to think of "the West" as a given, a natural presence and one that is here to stay. It is a way of thinking that is not only wrong in itself, but is virtually certain to lead to mistaken policies. The sooner we discard it the better. The political "West" is not a natural construct but a highly artificial one. It took the presence of a life-threatening, overtly hostile "East" to bring it into existence and to maintain its unity. It is extremely doubtful whether

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