Clash of the Wests

Tobias Bunde writes in the Tagesspiegel that a new anti-West has risen to “defend” and redefine the West. 

Until recently, there has been general agreement that the West is a community of liberal democracies committed to human rights, the rule of law, a market economy and cooperation in international institutions – an idea, rather than a regional or cultural sphere.  This interpretation of the West, however, now has a powerful opponent, writes Tobias Bunde, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for International Security at the Hertie School. Like the antipope of the Middle Ages, who claimed to speak for the Catholic Church, an anti-West has emerged, one convinced it is defending the real West.

This anti-West doesn’t see the West as bound or defined by common values, but rather by ethnic, cultural or religious criteria, Bunde says. He cites, among other voices, a speech by US President Donald Trump in Warsaw in 2017, stressing the importance of the West, but in different terms than his predecessors. Trump said the West must defend against those who want to “erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are”. Increasingly, Bunde says, "Make America Great Again" or "Take Back Control" suggest threats from outside cultures, technocrats, or “liberal” social values, to name a few.

While many people are concerned about the erosion of democratic principles and the rule of law in Western countries, it is the illiberals who now seem to have the upper hand in an ever more polarized world, he says.

On the foreign policy stage, Bunde says, this hinders foreign policy strategies that outlast several legislative periods: Who wants to conclude treaties with states in the future if there is a high probability that the next government will terminate them again? On the international level, representatives of the West are also questioning essential elements of cooperation between Western states. For the European Union as a community based on the rule of law, the undermining of the rule of law and separation of powers in some member states is an existential danger. Lastly, the West seems to have lost its will to shape global politics. If it can no longer define itself, how can the community agree on a common global political agenda, he asks.

Redefining the West will be a generational task that begins at home, he writes.

Read his op-ed in the Tagespiegel from 13 February here.

Read a version of the article in English in the Munich Security Report, “Westlessness”, published on 12 February ahead of the annual Munich Security Conference.

Tweet: A new “anti-West” has arisen to “defend” the West, writes Tobias Bunde in an op-ed in Der Tagesspiegel. This has vast implications for foreign policy and international cooperation.


More about Tobias Bunde

  • Tobias Bunde , Postdoctoral Researcher, Centre for International Security