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The future of the West in a fragmented world

  • Washington
  • 10 July 2023

        Contemplation of the future of the West becomes especially vital for a fragmented world in the throes of rising geopolitical tension. The situation’s foremost victim is globalization, which for thirty-odd years seemed to have arrested history but whose dynamics have come forcefully back to center stage. A new era has begun in which a commercial trade guided by the invisible hand of the market has been replaced by the visible hand of governments with agendas centered on a new security architecture based not only on defense but also on the promotion and protection of strategic sectors by means of industrial policy. However, it would be a mistake to say that the only possible outcome of the current fragmentation is a loose collection of isolated competitors. Indeed, the sheer extent of global challenges, such as climate change, calls for the broadest cooperation possible.

        The construction of a new world order could begin with closer cooperation between the two shores of the Atlantic, which already have a substantial track record of working together and of playing a leadership role not only in trade but also in security, technology and sustainability. Italy can have a key part in this alongside the United States due to the bonds that unite the two nations as well as to some specific Italian strengths: the embrace of the circular economy, the capacity to marry tradition with innovation in a range of industrial sectors and the considerable economic and political influence across the Mediterranean basin. 

        The EU’s role in strengthening the transatlantic relationship must be complementary to that of its member states, especially now as the continental political project appears to be in need of a leg up over remaining hurdles. The necessary evolution must begin with a reflection on the continent’s new security apparatus, which, following the invasion of Ukraine, has awakened from a sort of Kantian dream. Western unity in confronting the Russian threat cannot obscure the EU’s sluggishness in matters of common defense. A situation that must be dealt with not least in light of the financial and military costs associated with the region’s future stabilization – a burden that a United States entangled in a face-off with China cannot sustain with the same intensity it did in the Cold War years. 

        2024 is going to be a crucial year. The European elections, major elections in various member states, and the American presidential elections set up multiple uncertainties as far as transatlantic relations are concerned. Nevertheless, optimism prevails among observers. A strong and lasting relationship like the one built after the Second World War may encounter difficulties but it will not easily be undermined. After all, despite episodic snags, the US and Europe seem aware that only together can they confront and overcome the great challenges of the future, from climate change to the digital revolution, from geopolitical crises to complex relations with China. Today’s common goal must be to offer a new global trade and cooperation system in which free trade can evolve into fair trade thanks to new standards capable of reviving the spirit of Bretton Woods that in 1944 erected a new global economic and financial architecture.

        Nor must the role of new technologies, starting with artificial intelligence, be ignored. These offer governments better tools for analysis and action in terms of economic and security policies; but they also pose a credible threat in light of the vulnerability of their long value chains and authoritarian regimes’ potential for action both in terms of domestic repression and in relations with Western democracies. The competitive leverage the West still holds remains that of freedom. Only freedom can nurture a pure science limited not merely to offering better solutions based on conventional knowledge but rather one capable of expanding knowledge itself and ensuring the progress and prosperity on which the Western model was forged. 

        Read the AspeniaOnline dossier The future of the West in a fragmented world

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