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Kim Jong-un: Threat to the free world (illustration by Michael Daley)

Can the West defend itself? On the face of it, the question answers itself: of course we can. The United States remains by far the world’s strongest military, technological and economic power, even if by some measures its superiority in these fields has been eroding ever since the zenith of American power — whether you locate that zenith during the glory days of the immediate post-war era, or more recently during the “unipolar” period after the collapse of the Soviet Union. No other alliance begins to compare in strength to Nato, not to mention other powerful non-Western allies around the globe, from Saudi Arabia to Japan. The West, moreover, is more than just the sum of its parts. Western civilisation continues to enjoy incomparable prestige, underpinned by scientific, artistic and humanitarian achievements that make the West even more dominant in soft power than in its harder forms. However we may choose to define “the West”, it remains by far the most influential constellation of states in the world, as it has been for centuries. Morally, if not militarily, the West is more dominant than ever.

And yet Donald Trump has called into question the very survival of the West. In his Warsaw speech last July, he declared: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilisation in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” One does not have to admire Mr Trump in the least to concede that these are good questions, to which the answers are by no means obvious.

The heart of the problem is visible in Germany, one of the most prosperous and powerful members of the Western alliance. It is considered impolite in Berlin to point out that, while the rest of Europe proposes, the German Chancellor disposes. Europe relies on Angela Merkel to resist bullies such as Putin or Erdogan. This means that the German interest prevails, as the Mediterranean economies rendered uncompetitive by the euro, or the Hungarians and Poles punished for refusing refugee quotas have learned to their cost. At the time of writing she was on course to win a fourth term, and in the next year she is due to exceed the 12 years in office of a predecessor who for today’s Germans is as unmentionable as he is unforgettable: Adolf Hitler.

Such stable leadership is of course reassuring for Germans, but also carries the risk of detachment, complacency and even arrogance. One of Mrs Merkel’s most controversial decisions was to welcome more than a million refugees into Germany two years ago. Although her policy has changed since then, she is unrepentant. When a voter challenged her during a TV debate to justify the security risk of allowing large numbers of undocumented migrants from the Muslim world to “infiltrate”, she replied: “No one in Germany is any worse off because of the refugees.” Not only the victims of terrorism and mass rape, but the many Germans who feel that their way of life is threatened by mass migration might disagree. The French journalist Natalie Nougayrède reported that the Germans she spoke to were reluctant to discuss the influx; many expressed pride in Germany’s “welcome culture”, but added: “It mustn’t happen again.”

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October 4th, 2017
7:10 PM
Wake up: Germany may be a status-quo power (really? Germans registered more patents U.K. can dream of). But England (and its sourounding island states) are a power of the past. Be sure: everybody on the continent understands that Britain is a radical island. At first we were sad. Then we were sorry. Now we do not care. good luck!

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