As the World Turns: Will the West Prevail?

It has been assumed, since the end of the Cold War, that globalization is irreversible and that technologies, cultures, and markets are spreading, merging, and interacting at an ever quicker pace. This is certainly true. But what if, in addition to globalizing, the world is also splitting into separate and antagonistic sub-worlds? Two of them in particular, which ironically came into existence and have been growing as free riders in the Western-shaped universe, now pose a threat to the West.

First, there is what we might call the Wastelands. These are the many countries that have descended into chaos in the last quarter-century, and those that may follow them at any moment. As early as the 1990s, Samuel P. Huntington pointed out that disorder was sprawling in the border zones between civilizations. In the ensuing years, Robert D. Kaplan wrote even more specifically about what he termed the “coming anarchy.”

The 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States, which originated at least in part from chaos zones, drew the attention of global decisionmakers to the strategic threats implied by these areas. The “Arab Spring” revolutions of 2011 and events such as the terrorist attack in Benghazi were reminders that chaos is spreading rather than receding, and that, in the space of some twenty years, it has become a permanent fixture of the world.

Foreign Policy has been running for several years a “Failed States Index” (FSI)—renamed the “Fragile States Index” this year—that lists those countries where government and society do not work, or work very badly. According to the 2013 index, at least sixty out of one hundred and seventy-eight countries fit into that category. In other words, one out of three…

Michel Gurfinkiel is the founder and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think tank in Paris, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.