An impending world conflagration – and all the result of Western neglect

Albrecht Rothacher argues that longstanding Western neglect and weakness in the face of rising aggression from authoritarian regimes threatens another world war. Post-1991 dreams of a new international order have been definitively shattered – and the West’s current positions do nothing to reduce the risks

Shattered dreams

The dreams of a rules-based world order, based on international law and under the auspices of the UN, with the EU as its self-righteous sub-agency, in which the Security Council in New York wisely settles the disputes, and the Americans intervene as world police, if necessary, have been completely laid to rest.

These dreams originated in the mid-1990s, following the Soviet Empire's collapse and the end of the post-Soviet and Yugoslav civil wars. They have taken thirty years to dissolve through a series of actions, inactions and responses in the face of diminishing returns.

The 1990s dream of a rules-based world order under the auspices of the UN has now been completely laid to rest

Slow decline and fall of the West

During the Gulf War of 1990/91, George Bush senior prevented Saddam Hussein's annexation of Kuwait. And in 1995, NATO bombs did the same with Slobodan Milošević's attempt to annexe parts of Bosnia. In 2002, George W Bush identified the Axis of Evil as Iran, North Korea and Iraq, where the situation destabilised after Saddam's overthrow and execution.

In 2011, Barack Obama, in collaboration with the British and French, overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. They followed this with an unsuccessful attempt to remove the Assad regime in Syria. During the same period, Vladimir Putin waged his second war against the Chechens in 1999/2000, and against Georgia in 2008. He followed this, in 2014, with the annexation of Crimea.

Turning point

The real turning point, however, came in Afghanistan in 2021. Prior to this, Donald Trump had announced the USA's intended withdrawal from the 20-year intervention in the country. Trump's successor, Joe Biden, brought the date forward to 31 August 2021. The American and allied headlong flight had echoes of Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975. It certainly showed the world a different face to American military might, international strategy, willingness to fight, and loyalty to alliances.

Like Hitler in 1938/39, Putin was waiting for a sign of his opponents' tactical weakness. Evidently, Putin interpreted hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan as the signal to extend control of territory on his doorstep.

Putin saw the West's hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan as a signal to extend control of territory on his doorstep

Western gestures of solidarity towards Kyiv did little to discourage Putin. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock promised a 'hydrogen partnership'. Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht gifted 5,000 decommissioned steel helmets and a field hospital. Also in Putin's favour was the thwarting, by Anglela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, of Ukraine’s 2008 application to join NATO.

The US seems interested mainly in how it can hold down its Chinese rival as a world power. This is why the increasingly Stalinist Xi Jinping dictatorship, despite all its threatening gestures and military encirclement, dares not yet engage in open Russian-style aggression against democratic Taiwan – for the time being.

The EU's disastrous foreign policy

The headlessness of the much-vaunted European foreign policy became clear after the Hamas massacres in Israel and resulting invasion of Gaza.

Ursula von der Leyen proclaimed the EU‘s full solidarity with Israel. Yet, EU states including Spain, Ireland, France and Belgium urged restraint, imploring for a ceasefire and humanitarian corridors. Sadly, their entreaties were lost in Israel‘s revenge campaign.

Europe has security and economic interests in de-escalating the conflict, implementing an effective two-state solution with Israel, and creating a functioning, demilitarised Palestine. But EU foreign policy will remain toothless and moralistic as long as it depends on the unanimity principle.

Power vacuums

There is a power vacuum in the Middle East. This is allowing Iran's corrupt mullah regime, hated by its own youth and the educated middle classes in Tehran, to initiate, without much risk, proxy wars by terrorist groups dependent on and armed by Iran. These groups include Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in northern Yemen. The Kremlin is encouraging these conflicts. It is not impossible, therefore, to imagine what could happen if Iran's regime possessed a functional arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Iran's corrupt and hated mullah regime is facilitating proxy wars by terrorist groups in Gaza, Lebanon and Yemen

A similar situation pertains in the Sahel. The EU undertook expensive military missions in Mali, Niger and Central Africa, ostensibly to combat Al-Qaeda terror in the Sahara. But these missions have led to only one thing. They have taught the officers how to stage coups, and to access the feeding troughs of power. African leaders can now throw out the weak Europeans, including their former French colonial masters, without thanks. Finally, they can welcome the more generous and non-moralising Chinese and Russians. Clan chiefs and village chiefs are then despatched to Europe, with a travel budget of $5,000, to generate foreign currency.


Is there a way out of the conflict in Ukraine? Yes. A ceasefire, demilitarisation of the disputed oblasts and Crimea, UN peacekeepers going in, the return of refugees and displaced people, and then, after a year, a referendum and the corresponding demarcation of borders under international supervision, with NATO guarantees. Indeed, everything was already there back in 1920.

The European elections of 2024 must bring about true political change. We need an end to the Christian West's culture of self-accusation and emasculation. We need protective and defensive European alliance.

The Swiss Confederation of 1291, the German Confederation of 1815 and the German Empire of 1871 are all emblematic. History shows that only by protective and defensive alliance have federal confederations of states managed to function and survive.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Albrecht Rothacher
Albrecht Rothacher
Independent Researcher

Albrecht gained his MA in sociology from the University of Bridgeport in 1978, and a PhD in international relations from LSE in 1982.

A stint at Deutsche Bank in the EU’s diplomatic service followed from 1984–2020, with postings in Vienna, Singapore, Paris and Tokyo, lastly as Minister Councillor, mostly dealing with economic and trade issues.

He then worked in Brussels as a policy officer, mostly concerned with economic relations with countries 'East of Berlin and Vienna'; lastly with Russia mainly.

He has published 24 books mostly on Asian affairs, economic and military history, but most recently a biography on the French presidents of the 5th Republic.

Current research work includes a collective biography of the Austrian chancellors of the 2nd Republic, and French colonial wars 1945–1962 (Indochina and Algeria).

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