Is the West’s long decline now over? For years, experts have been talking about the fading powers of the great European powers. Today the narrative has dramatically changed.
EU 'rebirth' as Finland applies for NATO
Is the West's long decline now over? For years, experts have been talking about the fading powers of the great European powers. Today the narrative has dramatically changed.
It was an uneasy morning for Vladimir Putin. Yesterday, Finland applied to join NATO "without delay". A country that shares an 800-mile border with Russia will join the western alliance Putin opposes.
Finland's entry is seismic. Sweden is likely to follow. Putin's assault on Ukraine is bringing Europe together. As historian Timothy Garton Ash says: "The EU and NATO are becoming closer... we're seeing a consolidated enlargement of the West."
This seems to fly in the face of the idea, shared by many, that the West is in decline. The end of the Cold War and the growth of the EU promised a new world led by the West. But the values that the West promoted - human rights, freedom, equality, democracy and rule of law - have come under threat.
Inequality has grown: in the UK today, the top 1% of households have 230 times more wealth than those in the bottom 10%. Divisions in society have led to populist leaders willing to ignore or remake the law to suit them. Terrorist attacks in Western cities have made them feel less secure. And Brexit has seen allies engage in bitter disputes.
NATO has been criticised from all corners. Trump declared it "obsolete" and threatened its funding. But Putin's invasion of Ukraine seems to have changed everything.
This could just be the beginning. NATO might keep growing, as more countries seek protection. One day, even Russia might be able to join. Garton Ash says: "I think that NATO in principle should be open to a genuinely democratic Russia."
Others think that the decline is terminal. Unity in the face of Russian aggression is set against declining living standards, shrinking populations, divisive politics and the growth of other powers like China.
Is the West's long decline now over?
Yes: It is darkest before dawn. Putin's evil actions have given the countries and institutions of the West a new sense of a shared purpose and a mission. This new Western unity will reshape the world.
No: Decline is not always a straight line. The West might be united against Russia for the moment. But there are many challenges at home and abroad ahead that could easily shatter this show of strength.
Or... The fortunes of nations do not simply go up and down. Europe may have waned in power, but its people have a higher quality of life than they did when it ruled the world. Which is better?