Top French diplomat

The ‘Western moment’ is over

May 22, 2023
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The “Western moment is over” and the world is becoming increasingly multipolar, according to one of France’s most senior former diplomats. Gérard Araud, ambassador to Washington until 2019, spoke to UnHerd’s Freddie Sayers, and pointed to an ever-more unstable global dynamic, in which the US is no longer capable of ensuring peace.

On the “new world order”:

“After 1945, the world was dominated by two superpowers, the US and the USSR […] After the collapse of the communist bloc, there was only one superpower. It was what I call the ‘Western moment’, when the United States was dominating this order. Now it’s over, not because of the decline of the US or the decline of the West, but because of rebalancing. China is back; India and Russia are defending their own interests; and the West has to adjust to this new reality.”

On anti-Chinese hysteria:

“What the Americans need is a mixture of containment and engagement […] There is an anti-Chinese hysteria in the US, which makes it very difficult for any American president to genuinely engage with the Chinese […] I do believe that the US will remain the main power for the coming decades but it’s obvious that Europe, because of its demography and other problems, has shown its relative weakness, since it has not been able to defend its own territory without the support and leadership of the US.”

On ideological divisions over the Ukraine war:

“Since the beginning of the war we have had two Western camps. On one side you have Eastern European countries supported by the UK, which believe that only a decisive victory for Ukraine can be the reasonable outcome of the war. On the other side, I would say that France, the US, Germany and some other countries think that a decisive victory is impossible, that the most likely scenario now is a long war. And that a long war is a very, very negative outcome for Ukraine […] For the US, this war is a distraction. For them, what matters is China. And so they have been, in a sense, dragged into the conflict by Russian aggression, but they want to get out of it as soon as possible.”

On how Europe defends itself:

“The French have been a Cassandra in Europe for the last few decades. We have been advocating European defence, to no avail. The result is a bit pathetic. The European Union has some military capability but it is very limited because, in a sense, everybody is answering, ‘We have Nato and the American leadership; the Americans are doing the job’ […] The strategic autonomy of Europe and European defence is less than ever on the agenda. As long as the US commitment remains credible, the European countries are going to answer to the French, ‘No, thank you: we don’t want any European defence decoupled from the US.'”

On why Ukraine can’t win decisively:

“Even if the Ukrainians are able to retake Crimea and the Donbas, the war won’t be over, because the Russians will go on. There is no credible scenario where the Ukrainians may finish this war through a decisive victory with the Russians surrendering […] Even if Biden is re-elected, I don’t see the US pouring another $50 billion into the defence of Ukraine.”

On sanctions:

“Sanctions have become a policy by default. You don’t really want to fight, but you have to show that you are doing something. After this war, we should, frankly, have an analysis of the use and effectiveness of sanctions.”

On Donald Trump’s foreign policy record:

“The criticism of Trump by the Washington bubble, the think-tankers and so on, was really extreme. Trump had good intuitions [on foreign policy]. When he said, ‘Why should we defend Montenegro? Because Montenegro is a member of Nato?’, from an American point of view it’s a very good question […] The problem is that he has these intuitions but doesn’t build on that. He doesn’t know what bureaucracy is; he doesn’t know about diplomatic engineering.”


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