The West is under threat, and its end will impact India as well: Anne Applebaum

In an article earlier this month, Anne Applebaum, Washington Post columnist on foreign affairs and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, raised an alarming question: ‘Is This the End of the West as We Know it?’ The article, which is being widely debated and discussed, argued that the liberal world order sustained on western military alliances and shared values is under severe threat. Post Brussels, she’s been arguing against the increasingly loud calls for isolationism in European nations. She tells Malini Nair that far from being alarmist, her analysis is based on a very realistic reading of recent political developments.

You’ve said that we are two or three bad elections away from the end of the liberal world order, with the possibility of Donald Trump’s victory in the US polls, the likelihood of Britain’s exit from the European Union and Marie Le Pen’s victory in the 2017 elections in France. It sounds like a doomsday scenario.

All the things I said in the article are realistic. Donald Trump as possible Republican nominee and later president is a reality, Britain’s exit from the European Union after the June referendum could be a reality, and so could Marie Le Pen’s chances at the polls in France. She has promised to leave both EU and the NATO, and opposes free trade and supports protectionism. I am currently in Amsterdam and it is clear that the Dutch Party for Freedom (a far right party) is leading in all polls on next year’s election. I didn’t invent any of these but all these political situations are leading to my argument.

Why is the idea of the West coming to an end bad news for other parts of the world?

When I say West, I mean the ideas that underpin it — European borders, for instance. For 60 years, since the end of the last World War, Europe has stuck to its agreement to not wage wars or change borders by force. Then the NATO military alliance is important for international stability, for your part of the world as well. The international trade agreement in 1930 ensures there is no protectionism. These lowered barriers to trade are very important for all including India. If they go up again both India and China will be affected.

I mostly write about Europe, but the same arguments apply to Asia. If the US withdraws and becomes more isolationist, then there will be no block on Chinese domination of southeast Asia.

The basic premise of your argument is Trump’s possible triumph in the November elections. The idea of him as president was a joke once, it is no longer funny or impossible. How did this happen?

It is possible that the US Republican Party leadership started promoting ideas that voters aren’t really excited about. Tax cuts for the rich, for instance. Or the Republican stance on Obamacare. Also, the party rallied around Jeb Bush too early and the idea that it was promoting oligarchy and ‘family’ offended the people. No one took Trump seriously enough — he was vulgar, violent, a fool. It is hard to see what he stands for because he doesn’t stand for anything. He stands for protest against everything; a lot of it is angry rhetoric that just amounts to insults. Some of his ideas are of course near impossible — a wall to mark the boundary between the US and Mexico for instance. But maybe a part of the country is not interested in policies, just protests. Also remember he didn’t win a majority in the primaries. He just won 30% of Republican Party votes.

It isn’t just the US, rightwing politics is on the rise across large parts of Europe and in India as well. To what do you attribute this?

There could be different reasons for this. One factor is the nature of media, especially social media. It is now easier for people with extreme points of views to dominate communication. It is also a delayed reaction to globalization. People get the sense that factories in China are affecting their jobs in Bengaluru. Or that they are losing ‘control’ over their lives. For instance, you are seeing anti-migration views and movements even in countries that are not facing mass immigration and the problems related to it, like Slovakia and Poland. I don’t claim to be an expert on India, but I do know that there has been a decline in leftwing ideals and the larger movement it was a part of, and of mainstream left-leaning parties like the Congress. In their absence, people look for other parties that promote other kinds of big, different economic ideas.

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