In a Multi-Polar World, the West Must Return to Realism| Benjamin Sanders
One power no longer holds sway over our world with the complete dominance that America had 15 years ago, and this can be most clearly illustrated in Afghanistan, where, as Washington and its allies finally withdraw, Beijing is chomping at the bit to get in. A Taliban delegation recently held talks in Tianjin with the Chinese Foreign Minister, and it’s safe to say twenty years ago neither China nor Russia were in a position to do any such thing, with the latter still reeling from the domestic madness of the 1990s.
It was that madness, though, which taught Moscow how to reimagine itself as a power fit for the 21st century. Yes, it has strong centralised state control with authoritarian tendencies, but it also has a strong free market economy as well – with modern China having a very similar model. I recently finished Catherine Belton’s ‘Putin’s People – How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West’, which details the period from the late 1980s all the way to the early 2010s. Although it has a left-leaning slant, the book has become popular for a very good reason. It shows how, foreseeing the failure and fall of communism, and needing a new direction for their country, the Russian Intelligence Services helped create the Oligarchs who went onto ransack the country in the 1990s. The evidence in the book shows that the Oligarchs were, essentially, a lab experiment which managed to escape and get out of control.
The KGB, and then the FSB from 1995, scrambled to retake their country from the resulting predatory corporations. It took one of their own, a certain Vladimir Putin, to eventually get the job done. If you want to understand what strength in leadership really is, and how all of this culminated, then the video of Putin lambasting businessmen in person on television – and forcing them to sign an agreement in regards to a local factory – is a must watch. In Russia, businessmen, from the local shopkeeper to the billionaire oil tycoon, are expected to follow the national interest. Failure to do so results in your assets being seized and a lengthy prison term or exile. In China, the same expectation is required, except the system is even more severe, with being temporarily ‘disappeared’ or even executed a possible outcome. The founder of Ali Baba, Jack Ma, fell victim to the former consequence recently when he criticised the ruling Communist Party’s financial regulators.
This then is in stark contrast to the West, where just 6 months ago its most powerful democratically elected leader had his social media accounts seized, and then terminated, by the private companies who provide them. President Trump’s failure in office to reign in the social media giants – re-designating them as public utilities would have been enough – led to them having the last laugh. Western leaders have been for decades riddled with indecisiveness and naivety, and as a result they suffer absurd and undignified consequences such as this. If China and Russia hadn’t brought their tech giants under control, the same would have happened to their leaders as well. However it didn’t, because their leaders are strong, and understand that tough action is sometimes needed.
I’m not advocating for overtly authoritarian or autocratic governments in the West whatsoever, but there are aspects of such regimes which can be modified and used in a democratic society. For example, legislation which keeps billionaires and their corporations within certain boundaries, and prevents them from banning your Head of State from social media, might be one of them. A West which cannot guarantee whether its own leaders are allowed social media accounts is a West not fit for purpose. Conservatives love to praise the free market, with some libertarians naively seeing it as the quick fix for everything. However the reality is that it can go too far, and as Russia experienced in the 1990s, if left unchecked it can have disastrous consequences for the population-at-large.
Sure, Jeff Bezos and Amazon have created 1.3 million jobs, and provide a service which is second-to-none in its sector. Yet if the public perceive the company is taking advantage of its position, and not paying what is perceived to be their fair share of tax, don’t be surprised if voters move left on economic issues. A country needs dynamic entrepreneurs and an innovative private sector, but the country’s national interest must always come first. A good example of this was Margaret Thatcher’s decision to requisition private cruise liners for military use in the Falklands’ War, despite the disruption this would cause the companies who owned them. These days one can only imagine the legal and media chaos such a pragmatic move would unleash – even during an emergency situation.
Whether ‘experts’ want to admit it or not, Russia and China have managed to successfully incorporate a dynamic private sector with a robust public sector into their national life at the same time, which allows them to act pragmatically without fearing activist lawyers or any other domestic force getting in the way. For decades, political battles in the West between the Left and Right focused on whether a large or small state was the best option. Although these arguments were needed and had merit, the problem was that as the culture of liberalism progressed unchecked, the Right’s focus on achieving a small state led to other urgent issues being swept away and pushed off the agenda. The Right has a free market economy for sure – it won that battle – but it struggles to assert itself everywhere else because it refused to fight the battle that Putin won in his early years as President. (The battle to have a state apparatus that serves its own country’s interest, not the interests of globalism and liberal Oligarchs).
With liberalism essentially now victorious from a cultural perspective, the West is currently plagued by guilt and naivety. As a consequence, many people now seem to think that being a democratic state and being tough are a contradiction, when countries like Israel and Hungary clearly show that they are not. The Channel migrant crisis is the perfect example of a country which has tied its own hands behind its back, for fear of upsetting the feelings of literally anybody. The result – of course – is chaos and rapidly rising hotel bills.
The reason that authoritarian governments in Russia and China poll strongly with their people isn’t usually because their authoritarian, it’s because they simply manage to keep a lid on things that the West is now too weak to deal with properly. If there were migrant boats en masse sailing from the Philippines across the South China Sea to Guangzhou, the Chinese Government would apply every diplomatic, economic and military option to stop them. In a country where the corrosive force of political correctness does not exist, dealing with certain issues is straight forward and easy.
In a multi-polar world, where two or three major powers will be jostling for the top spot over the next few decades, Western countries need to become realistic instead of idealistic. This is all possible within the democratic framework we have, what’s simply needed to implement this approach is confidence and will power. We don’t need the domestic tyranny of Communist China or the corruption of Putin’s Russia to achieve this. What we need is a sensible balance between tough action and a free society, and more importantly, we need politicians with the strength and ability to get it done.