East & West: Mr Varlı, you have written a book called the “War of Hegemony”, about the struggle for power between the West and a rising East and other powers like for example South America. Who is the East and how is the East threatening the supremacy of the West?
Ibrahim Varlı: The discussion of where the East is, or where the borders of the East begin, is quite old. It is not about the Orientalism bias, but about clear definitions. But that’s another debate. If we leave these arguments to the side and consider the general definitions, the East can be seen as a project. The Asia-Pacific region. Far East Asian countries. China, Japan, South / North Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Russia, Malaysia, Philippines etc … The economic successes in these countries, especially China, are weakening the grip the West has kept on the world economy for years. The gradual change of economic dominance is also causing political power shifts.
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E&W: How far does the “decline of the West” have to do with President Trump’s often denounced “isolationist” stance?
IV: The decline of the economic and political power of the West has nothing to do with Trump. The decline started long before Trump. Trump is trying to stop the decline of the supremacy of the US with protectionist reflexes as he sees this shift as a loss of hegemony. Trump also recognizes that the rising power of the East is forcing the United States to focus its commercial, economic, political and military influence everywhere. Clearly China’s huge economic power threatens the United States. Hence, Trump is beginning to build walls to protect the United States from these “dangers”.
E&W: People have talked about the decline of West for almost a century now, since Spengler at least. What makes the challenge from the East unstoppable this time? Economically, after all, a lot of wealth continues to be concentrated in Western hands, the West controls the global financial system and global market are dominated by Western products, American IT companies, German cars, British banks and much more. And militarily, US military spending still shatters military spending of all its potential rivals combined.
IV: True, twenty to thirty years ago, much of the global economy was still in the hands of the West, the West controlled the global financial system, and Western countries dominated the global market with their goods. For example, the US almost made up close to half of the world economy until the mid-70s. Today, however, this balance has changed and the share of the US in the global economy has dropped to 18 percent. The economic, commercial, military supremacy of the West is still a reality. However, this share is decreasing day by day. This is the whole point. Although the financial system is still in the hands of the West, production, goods and services are no longer produced in the East, but in the East. Japanese, Korean and even Chinese cars are about to leave behind the German automotive industry. Taiwan, a small island, has now a higher production capacity than Italy. Chinese banks are comparable to British banks. And the Asian Development Bank is a serious alternative to the World Bank. From Latin America to Africa and the Middle East, there are signs everywhere. China is already rivaling the US not only in Africa, but even in South America in terms of economic activity. All the indicators show this.
E&W: While the West cannot deny the inevitable challenge coming from a stronger East, it seems unwilling to see its sense of moral superiority questioned. People in the West imagine globalization as basically the whole world becoming like the West, with its emphasis on human rights, individualism, freedom and the rule of law. What problems do you see with this approach?
IV: The biggest handicap of the East is yes, liberties, rule of law and human rights. It will take a much longer time for the East to catch up with the West in this respect. As far as this aspect is concerned, the East is not progressing very much. In a moment where there East is closing the economic, commercial and military gap with the West, its record on human rights and fundamental freedoms is not really showing signs of improving. The East owes its economic momentum to its authoritarian, despotic, developmentalist model. There are many examples of this, from China and Malaysia to Indonesia, Korea and Taiwan.
E&W: Talking of globalization, the West has been extremely good in projecting of positive image of itself world: from Russia to South Africa, from Brazil to Vietnam, millions of people seem to be dreaming of “living like in the West”. What could the East offer in this case, what could become the global message of the East?
IV: In this case it is a bit more complicated, we have to understand what we mean by the West. Orban’s Hungary, Trump’s, Berlusconi’s and Salvini’s Italy, Kern’s Austria do not seem to offer a very attractive model. But it is right, people in the Rest of the world (vs. the West) seem to be wanting to emulate the West at least on a fundamental human level. People dream of a Western way of life. Someday the East will show improvements in human rights, along with economic development. But this will take some time.
E&W: Do you think the West can disunite facing its supremacy challenged? Can Europe go its own way, emancipating itself from the American protection?
IV: There are many signs that show that the Western world could end up more divided. The transatlantic alliance faces many disagreements, at least potentially. This is natural. The common interests of the USA under Trump and Europe are getting less and less by the day. Europe will not necessarily want to break away from the US. But the way the relationship between the EU and the US is structured now is contrary to the interests of Europe. When a potential conflict will arise someday, this be will become even more clear. The gulf between Europe and America will increase day by day. This is inevitable. Although at the moment the EU is a little bit shy and hesitant, it will finally find its way. It has to find, or it will keep lagging behind and working for the interests of the United States.
E&W: What role do you see for Turkey in this development? In what way can it a be a bridge between East and West? Turkey is firmly in the NATO camp after all, that is, formally it is a part of the West, the Western empire, or at least one of its closest allies.
IV: Due to its geographical location and its culture. Turkey will always have an important mission, both strategically and culturally. But this important mission has never been able to turn into a defining global and geostrategical purpose. Due to wrong policies implemented by the AKP, the increase in central power has had backlashes in terms of loss of influence, prestige and mission. Turkey in a way will always be condemned to remain between East and West and will suffer from this. However, it remains a solid member of the Western camp. From time to time, Eurasian alternatives are contemplated, but even if talk about a turn to the East becomes dominant, it will simply not be possible to break with the Western Alliance. The internal dynamics of the country would not make such a break possible.
E&W: Mr Varlı, thank you very much for the interview.