Alphen, Netherlands. 12 December. Something big will happen. Very big. It will probably be big and nasty, and it is probably coming to a town near you. If you do not believe me then look at the dark side of globalisation that since the year 2000 has driven the West into retreat and rapidly shifted the world balance of power.
The failures of campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya; the successful Russian seizure of Crimea and much of Ukraine; the murder of 298 people aboard MH17; the collapse of Syria and the expansion of Russian influence across the Levant at the expense of the West; the creation of a Russian, Iranian, Syrian axis; the egregious use of disinformation and cyber warfare against NATO and EU members with little by way of response; the development of an expeditionary-capable Russian military; the emerging Chinese-Russian strategic accommodation; the strategically-vital loss of Turkey to the West; the cutting of 40% of Europe’s military capacity and some 30% of Europe’s military capability; the banking and Eurozone crises and the collapse of European economic growth since 2008; the various ‘peasants’’ revolts via Brexit, the election of Donald L. Trump, the loss of the Italian referendum, and the rise of the populist left and right; aggressive Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea allied to a massive enhancement in Chinese military capability following 27 years of annual double-digit increases in defence expenditure; sequestration in the US and the loss of US military supremacy; the rise of global-reach Islamism, most notably the development of Al Qaeda and Islamic State networks that now reach deep into Western societies; proxy wars across the Middle East and North Africa as geopolitical and regional powers compete in the vacuum caused by the retreat of the West; the weakening of Western-led institutional security as major states begin to withdraw from the International Criminal Court and Machtpolitik again becomes the main currency of power and change in international relations; the growing ungovernability of European states as multiple identities undermine social cohesion, a fracturing of Western society reinforced by the ‘post-truth’ anarchy of social media; hyper-immigration allied to the loss of faith of indigenous economically-enfeebled populations in the judgement of ruling elites; growing food and water stress…and so on and so on.
The result? In Europe there is certainly a fin de siècle feeling these days as if a not-so-golden, but by no means bad age is fast coming to an end to be replaced by a new, but ill-defined ‘something’ that will be far more sinister. Perhaps thinkers back in 1910 or 1935 had the same sense of foreboding and frustration that I do as I survey the ‘something big’ consequences of the interaction between power and weakness, change and events.
Why do I feel this way? You see analysis for me is not simply about wading through a catalogue of events and trying to impart some sense to each in turn. It is about insight driven by the interactions between events set against a backdrop of history and data, which is in turn illuminated by the grand strategies of power and weakness. The really strange thing about Europe today is that it is wilfully weak, as though it has lost the will to compete in a hyper-competitive world. It is a strange almost ideological weakism born of an intellectual political, over-institutionalised elite too many of whom seem detached from power, people and perspective, lost in another world of theoretical, see the world as they would like it, rather than what it is, politics. The politics of ‘isms’.
And yet this year alone should have awoken Europe’s elite from their strategic slumber. Shock has followed shock as the great plates of economic, social, and military structure have begun to crack under the growing tectonic political tension between the hoped for and the what is. Europe today is not about the management of decline, it is about the management of paralysis.
Set that paralysis against the megatrends driving change in the World and the events and processes impacting upon Europe begin to form a toxic mosaic. The ‘something big’ that these megatrends is spawning will change the relationship forever between the once powerful, the newly powerful, and the wilfully weak, between values and interests, and between the ‘man’, the state and, quite possibly, war.
Too many of Europe’s elite still seem unable to see such change. They remain in thrall to a beautiful, Utopian, Panglossian idea of globalisation in which open borders, multiculturalism, and interdependence will somehow lead to a promised land in which all the old vices of humanity would simply melt away. Now unleashed the mega-forces of globalisation cannot be stopped and they are by no means all benign. Rapid population growth and shift, the digital destruction of law, order and borders, rapid shifts in wealth patterns, global-reach terrorism and criminality, the spread of weapons of mass destruction many of them reflective of new technologies are all symptoms of dark globalisation in which aspiration and desperation merge, and which erodes the very structure and order the West gave to the world.
Yes, it is true that the hollow people who ‘lead’ Pangloss, or rather who calculate electoral success, are indeed to blame for much that is wrong. However, the forces now at play are far, far bigger than the little people we Europeans have by large charged with ‘leadership’. For that reason alone we the citizens must also bear some responsibility for allowing ourselves to be treated like children. Unable to conceive of, let alone cope with the forces now at play leaders have instead chosen to mask change from us in the hope that when the inevitable is rendered unavoidable it will not be on their watch. They treat we the people like children because we the people prefer to be treated like children, to go on pretending that change is in fact no change, even as we drown daily in evidence of change all around us.
The result is that Europe today has become Eurovision Europe, Strictly Come Dancing Europe, a ‘nul points’, song contest Europe in which the mediocre is acclaimed and false friendships proclaimed. As realism has been rejected for weakism the once great temples of our ambition and hope have become empty shells forced by the siphoning away of their power to endeavour to maintain the appearance of power, but in fact hollowed-out to the point of collapse. The United Nations is not. The European Union is yesterday’s child simply unable to cope with a new age of grand disorder and popular anarchy. Our tired leaders trot out tired mantras about NATO the cornerstone of our security and defence, even as they turn the Alliance into a gigantic and transparent bluff by denying the very tools needed to fashion that defence. And, with each passing day we grown weaker and more vulnerable to ‘something big’.
It is the forces of reaction that seem to best appreciate the scale of the ‘something big’ that is coming our way for it is ‘progressives’ are now the out-of-touch reactionaries. As the gap between the ‘progressive’ and the reactionary grows the elite retreat ever higher up their Utopian tower into irrelevance, spouting ever grander, ever more vacuous sentiments, whilst reaction occupies the lost ground of hope promising an embittered people they can go on being children for just that little bit longer. Only if globalisation can be made to work for the teeming masses will ‘progressives’ again progress. Instead, by retreating ever deeper into the la-la Neverland of politics the ‘progressives’ have ceded the field to the reactionaries who by their very nature tend to understand the dark globalisation of which they are part.
This elite retreat is often masked by the sneering language of dismissal, to call anyone who challenges fading elite authority as ‘populists’. And yet only populism can re-connect power and people. If the elite are to regain lost authority they too must embrace some form of populism. Why? Because the case must again be made for elites. In Europe that means embracing those that simply point out the inconvenient but blindingly bloody obvious that the elitist European grand dessin has failed utterly to help Europe meet the challenges of the age. If that is populism then I am guilty as charged. Indeed, what I want, what I have always wanted, is for elites to get better so that they may better cope with the ‘something big’ that is coming; to prepare, to plan, and ultimately to prevail.
The real enemies of the people are not the elites, we need them, but rather the grand reactionaries this age is spawning. Marine le Pen in France, Vladimir Putin in Russia, maybe Donald Trump in America, all tap into a popular and correct sense that the weakism of traditional elites is responsible for much of the failure they see around them. Their analysis is sound, even if in reality they offer nothing but political dust. The most important difference between weakist liberal elites and the grand reactionary populists is that at least the latter have the political courage to recognise ‘something big’ is coming, even if they will certainly make ‘it’ far more nasty than ‘it’ need be, when ‘it’ eventually arrives.
Ultimately, it is the creed of weakism that is to blame for the retreat of the West in which I believe and of a Europe that is and must be central to that West. It is retreat caused by elites who wilfully choose to look at a receding sunny sky and refuse to turn round and see the dark storm that is fast approaching behind them. Who endlessly file away big dangers in the not-for-today, too difficult, somebody else’s problem for another day dossier. Who spend far much time obsessing over their own status rather than trying to make the million small changes for the better that really decide between power and weakness.
Is it too late? No, but only if our leaders wake up and break-out of their determinedly, wilfully, short-termist, little thinking dressed up as weighty grandiloquence mindset. This week in Brussels another EU European Council will take place. Yawn. Will they discuss something big. Yes, of course they will. Will the do anything about it? No, not really.
Something big is coming to a town near you. I do not know what it is, but it is big and it is coming because we Europeans have chosen to be victims of this world not shapers of it. But then again I am not at all sure who the hell ‘we’ are anymore, and that is an entirely different but parallel story.