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July 11, 2024

The West is sleepwalking through its own terminal decline

While the rest of the world looks to the future, Western nations are becoming increasingly irrelevant

By Robert Amsterdam

We in the West are all becoming increasingly irrelevant. We are entering a dramatic new age, but it will not be one in which we have a second Cold War, because the concept of the Western nation state itself is declining. We are becoming ever more non-functional, unable to move forward or to meet the needs of our citizens. It’s cold comfort, but this degradation of governance doesn’t just affect us; it’s happening in Russia, China and Iran, too.

[See also: Two years on from Russia’s invasion, the fog of war has thickened in Ukraine]

While failing to deal with the issues that matter most, governments and the media constantly exaggerate more trivial problems to the public. And we are fragmenting the world’s economy, through sanctions and the politicisation of economic interchange. World Trade Organisation director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said that this general use of the economy and the dollar as instruments of warfare will cost the world GDP 5 per cent. And that is a conservative figure.

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So, what do companies and HNWs do in today’s market? Take a look at what’s happening in Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia – in fact, Southeast Asia as a whole. These countries have adopted a policy of what we call ‘multi-alignment’. They are going to build relationships around with everybody – they’re going to work with the Chinese, they’re going to work with the Americans, they’re going to work with the Russians. And, my God, are they all benefitting. Foreign direct investment in Southeast Asia is up 50 per cent in the past few years.

[See also: There are still lessons to be learned from the Coutts vs Farage debacle]

They do this because there is no benefit in simply working with the West any more. We are too doctrinaire. We establish far too many barriers to entry.

Western countries are no longer able to read the room. We are underestimating these newly emerging countries who are no longer content to be our pawns in the world economy. They are participants. They are now major players.

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Western politicians aren’t thinking about the future

Look at Indonesia. They’re not going to export nickel the way they were. Look at Zimbabwe, controlling lithium. Look at China, tightening its minerals grip. Western politicians are thinking not about tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, but solely about how they’re going to hold on to their constituencies. The United States has become so dysfunctional that it has completely lost its way in foreign policy. We are in the midst of what has been called a poly-crisis. The West’s economies failed in 2008, and we have never recovered that legitimacy. Rather, we’ve lent legitimacy to countries like Russia and China that have far more controlled – if even more corrupt – economies.

[See also: When can too much transparency be a bad thing?]

We are seeing the decline of the great powers, a shifting economic relationship with emerging markets. Amazingly, we have a convergence going on. The United States is now giving up on some aspects of capitalism and engaging in a massive intervention in their own economy to make it greener.

Understanding and studying American subsidies, and what that means both to Europe and to the rest of the world, becomes incredibly important. So does the new diligence directive the EU has just come out with.

This is why my firm and I, on behalf of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have gone after Apple; to assert the sovereignty of the world’s largest French-speaking country. Because you can’t operate with eyes wide shut any more. The West’s behaviour in the Congo and Rwanda has been shameful. We have created such massive barriers to entry in Africa with our anti-corruption laws. Congratulations, governments: you have handed investment in that continent to the Russians, the Chinese and the Indians.

[See also: It’s time for the US and the western world at large to re-establish competence]

We need to change the basic rules of our operation. We need to go back to our original DNA, and we need to respect rule of law.

We live in a world of narratives, which is something governments, businesses and individuals need to understand in order to stand a chance. The decline of the nation state, the growth of AI and the rise of social media at the expense of traditional and trustworthy publishers means that we are in a scenario with an innumerable number of competing narratives. The cost of creating and proliferating a false or misleading narrative has never been lower. The chance of facing negative consequences for doing so is negligible. And in this environment – which lacks an authentic source of inspiration – almost anyone can hijack the agenda.

We need to open our eyes. We need to seize the role of inspiring not only our young people, but ourselves and our corporations to think with a far longer horizon. We need to claim the future – or someone else will.

Robert Amsterdam is an international lawyer and the founding partner of Amsterdam & Partners LLP

This column first appeared in Spear’s Magazine Issue 92. Click here to subscribe.

Spear's Issue 92 cover
Spear’s Issue 92 / Illustration: Diego Abreu

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