Westlessness or Restlessness?
Published: Mar 16, 2020 07:33 PM

Chairman of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) Wolfgang Ischinger addresses the closing session of the 56th MSC in Munich, Germany, February 16. The 56th MSC closed as attendees didn't share consensus on "Westlessness," the theme of this year's conference. The debates on "Westlessness," which refers to the loss of common standing of what it means to be part of the West, would likely continue. Photo: Xinhua

The 2020 Munich Security Conference (MSC) attracted a lot more attention this year than in past years for a number of reasons. Some said it was 20-member US delegation, others argued that it was the title of this year's MSC Report "Westlessness." I think the exchanges between the EU and the US were the most dramatic aspect of the conference.  

The 2020 MSC report itself was an exaggerated EU alarm about the "plight" of the West that bordered on a hoax. Of course there's no such word as "Westlessness" which leaves the world to wonder what it's supposed to mean. 

The report refers to Westlessness as a loss of cohesion, a loss of a mission and sense of direction among the Western countries. It's more than these things. It's the EU's overture to the US to narrow the transatlantic divide. It's also a call for Western countries to overcome their internal divisions and make the West more Westful. It's about making the globe even more Westernized or West-dominant. It could also be taken as a call to unite Western powers to deal with China, the so-called Meddle Kingdom, and Russia, the "Putemkin's State," to quote the 2020 MSC Report.  

In my opinion, the concept of Westlessness suggests the West is at a low ebb in its history. The word of Westlessness is a synonym of the restlessness of Western elites, who seem to be in need of deep, intellectual reflection on their role in the world today. The EU appears to harbor fear that the West may become Westless, but has yet to acknowledge that the West has disappeared. This is making the EU less confident and more anxious. Westlessness is a likely outcome and this looms large in the minds of Europeans, if not Americans. 

Though the concept of "Westlessness" seems intended to be a call for more Westfulness and greater dominance in the world, I think it's a call for more Europeanness and less American Trumpism. At the 2020 MSC, French President Emmanuel Macron called for bolstering EU's sovereignty and independence from encroachments by Trump's America. He also called for a dialogue between the EU and Russia. This seems to have been an attempt to make the West more European, thus more Westful and universal, rather than parochial or Trumpian. If the US were to adopt multiculturalism at home and multilateralism abroad as the EU has, the disappearance of the West would slow and the restlessness and anxiety hovering over the EU and the rest of the world would evaporate. For the EU, the root cause of Westlessness is Trumpism. Restlessness is the result of a fear of the loss of the West and best describes the psychological condition of the EU. When Trumpism is gone, the West will return and the EU will become a place that has Westfulness and restfulness.    

In the deepest analysis, Westlessness refers to the loss of unilateral leadership of the West in world affairs and thus the loss of its sense of superiority of the West. Restlessness hovering over the West inevitably ensues due to the waning of this superiority complex it has held for centuries.   

Europeans must be clear that China and Russia are not anti-West and are not seeking Westlessness. The two countries are products of Westernization to an extent unrealized by Europeans. China and Russia are seeking the rightful respect of their civilizations from the West and the rest of the world. They are not trying to "destroy" or "own" the world as some US conservatives suggest. Both China and Russia are as supportive of multilateralism as the EU.  

So, perhaps, there is no such a thing as Westlessness, at least not now. It is a likely prospect but may never occur. It all depends on how one looks at it. The West has not disappeared because we live in a world of structured interdependence with an increasingly common destiny and a world where the West is already a part of the East and the East is also a part of the West. The West, as a cultural construct, like all other cultures, is no longer superior. It should accept the fact that it is on equal terms with all other countries and civilizations. The West needs to learn that the West has more presence in the non-Western world today than it can imagine. Westerners need to be warned to tame their obsession with winning or losing. They are advised to learn to appreciate mutual interdependence and push for deeper convergence between the West and the rest! Stop being restless by giving up your deeply rooted superiority complex and genuinely embracing equality! Take it easy and you will be restful! 

The author is a professor with the School of Communication, Chapman University and Adjunct Professor with Shandong University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn