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The breakup of the West?

Is Europe’s special friendship with the US crumbling? Photo: Reuters

Is Europe’s special friendship with the US crumbling? Photo: Reuters

There is a film called How the West Was Won. The film is set between 1839 and 1889 and follows four generations of a family as they move from western New York to the Pacific Ocean. Then in 2003, the rock group Led Zeppelin released an album with the same name with recordings of original performances from the band’s tour of the US in 1972.

In the meantime, in an economic and political sphere the West came to mean something else. And it is this that I am referring to in today’s article.

With Winston Churchill announcing in 1946, that an iron curtain has descended from the Baltic Sea to Trieste in the Adriatic Sea, the West has come to symbolise freedom and economic prosperity. After that, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Council of Europe and the European Union were set up. These were a clear statement of the unity of the West in its values and its view of the world.

So we used to refer and still refer to Western Europe and its special alliance with the US. Even countries that were not in the West geographically, such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand, but were similar to the West in their democratic values and their economic policies, were seen to be part of this so called West.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the desire of the people in countries in the Eastern part of Europe was to adopt a Western type of lifestyle. At the time the West was seen to be invincible and united, both from a political perspective and an economic perspective.

Today I ask the question whether we have started to experience the breakup of the West. What makes me ask this question is the events at the G7 meeting held in Canada last weekend.

First, US President Donald Trump, stated that Russia should be invited once more to attend such a meeting. Russia had initially been invited to attend this meeting of the world’s largest most advanced economies. In fact the meeting used to be called to be called G8 meeting.

Is an alliance with Russia more important to Trump than one with the other Western nations?

When Russia annexed Crimea in the Black Sea, Russia was suspended from the G8 meeting and the meeting became the G7 meeting. Russia was never seen as part of the West and Trump’s request to re-admit Russia once again is a clear break from his Western allies. Only Italy supported Trump’s request. Is the US President keen to please Russia at the cost of displeasing the other members of the G7? Is an alliance with Russia more important to Trump than an alliance with the other Western nations?

There was then the decision by Trump not to sign the final communique at the end of the G7 meeting. The bone of contention was the import tariffs imposed by Trump on a number of products imported from the EU, China and South Korea. The fact that one of the participants at the G7 meeting did not sign the final communique is itself significant and is probably a first in the history of such summits.

Even the words used by Trump on the issue of these import tariffs is fairly hard. In this regard he stated: “The European Union treats us very unfairly. Canada, very unfairly. Mexico, very unfairly” and “Right now, we are not going to live with the deals the way they are.”

On his part, French President Emmanuel Macron stated: “The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a six-country agreement if need be.”

He also called on other members of the G7 to stand up to Donald Trump’s trade policies in the face of what he described as the threat of a new US “hegemony”.

Therefore the storyline that emerges from the G7 meeting of last weekend is one where the so called West is no longer as united as it used to be and where the special friendship forged over the decades is gradually crumbling. Hence my question as to whether the West is breaking up.

Where we go from here is all very uncertain. Will the trade war between the EU, Canada, South Korea and China on the one part and the US on the other part get any worse? Will the US seek to forge new alliances that would be preferred to the traditional Western alliance? How will China and the EU behave towards each other in the coming years? Will all this lead to less international trade among nations?

As a country we need to watch these developments closely as they could have an impact on the Maltese economy. I strongly believe that a break-up of the West would be detrimental to Malta.

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