‘Westlessness’ and the ‘Meddle Kingdom’: Pompeo, Esper confront security challenges

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Are the two sides of the Atlantic drifting apart?  Do the political and security ties forged during the dark years of the Cold War still hold firm?  Is the Atlantic Alliance which preserved Europe’s freedom and allowed for its prosperity, now simply a historical footnote?

It appears that we are witnessing a period of “Westlessness.”  The West is becoming less Western and the world is becoming less Western too; that’s the challenging hypothesis of the recent Munich Security Conference, the world’s premier seminar of security issues.  It’s Germany’s counterpart to the Davos Economic Summit.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Munich. / YouTube

Westlessness is naturally a play on words but with a profound premise; namely that the West, most especially the NATO countries in Western Europe, are ambivalent to or estranged from the United States.

Significantly, the United States no longer feels the emotional attachment or security necessity to stay militarily close to the Europeans now some thirty years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet system.

I recall endless seminars in the 1990’s, “Is NATO still relevant?” or “Finding new roles for NATO.”  They touched on Samuel Huntington’s view “The West and the Rest” expressed in the seminal Clash of Civilizations.  Moreover, is the West simply a geographical concept or actually a cohesive political idea comprising like minded democracies?

The prestigious Munich Security Conference (MSC) held in the Bavarian capital every February,  becomes the epicenter of global diplomacy.  This year MSC widened the political Lens and presented the West as a political formation of sovereign democratic states, which are confronted by the malaise of their own success and the rise of new power centers such as China.   As German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated, “Western power and heft in the world, both economically and politically, may no longer appear as dominant as they once were.  But we should not forget that this current state of affairs is a result of Western success, not a sign of failure.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who led a large American delegation to the Conference scoffed at the idea that the USA was disinterested or disengaged from Europe; he stated, “I am happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly over-exaggerated.”

He exclaimed, “The West is winning. We are collectively winning. We are doing it together.”

Secretary Pompeo underscored key security challenges; “Let’s talk about territorial integrity, or rather, those nations that have contempt for it.  Russia has seized Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine and Georgia…China encroaches on the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia… China has had a border or maritime dispute with nearly every nation bordering it.”

In a separate address,  Secretary of Defense Mark Esper added, “under President Xi’s rule, the Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction – more internal repression, more predatory economic practices, more heavy-handedness, and most concerning for me, a more aggressive military posture.”

He added, “The Communist Party and its associated organs, including the People’s Liberation Army, are increasingly operating in theaters outside its borders, including Europe, and seeking advantage by any means, and at any cost.”

Secretary Esper stressed, “Let me state up front, though, the United States does not seek conflict with China.”

Clearly China grabbed the stage; be it Beijing’s military expansion in the South China Sea,

The Belt and Road initiative, the controversial Huawei 5G telecom networks, or the Corona virus spreading on the Mainland itself.

The MSC Security Report 2020 dubbed China the “Meddle Kingdom” as a play on words of the Middle Kingdom but stated succinctly, “With the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic, 2019 was a both momentous and challenging year for China’s leadership.  The anniversary festivities on 1 October gave President Xi opportunity to flaunt China’s continuing rise towards normative, economic, and military power on par with the West.”

Beyond China, the MSC document outlined a list of global flashpoint to watch in 2020; Afghanistan, Kashmir, Libya, Burkina Faso, Ukraine, Yemen and Venezuela.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg praised U.S./European ties at the MSC, “Any attempt to distance Europe from North America not only weakens the trans-Atlantic bond, but it also risks dividing Europe.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Maas added, “In the field of security and defense, close transatlantic cooperation with the United States and other European partners will remain crucial.  NATO has guaranteed security and prosperity in Europe for 70 years; it has been our life insurance. Our goal remains a strong European pillar on which our transatlantic alliance rests.”

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]