IS PUTIN RIGHT?
100 years ago, the Versailles Treaty set the broad framework of the world we are living in. The old European empires were broken up creating the nation states that have now come together in the European Union. In contrast the Middle East was thrown into turmoil with colonial powers drawing arbitrary lines on maps and making contradictory promises to Palestinians and Jews.
In between there have been many upheavals as aggrieved nations sought to change the Versailles settlement. Nazi Germany briefly arose around the notion that Versailles was a harsh peace for an unconquered people. Japan felt unrewarded for siding with the allies against the Central Powers and attempted to conquer an empire in East Asia. China learnt the lesson of being a weak power 100 years ago. The Soviet Union was two years old but would briefly rise to great prominence in World War Two and the Cold War. The United States initially tried isolationism before assuming a world leadership role that is only now being seriously challenged.
So where are we now, 100 years after Versailles? Vladimir Putin thinks he knows. He said last week that liberalism is dead. Is he right? It is certainly in retreat. I think it is very significant that Putin feels no inhibition in admitting his country has no respect for the liberal traditions of the West. We all have known this for a long time, but to stake out a position in opposition to liberalism can only be because he sees its weakening around the world.
Donald Trump is very comfortable with Putin and the leader of North Korea. He espouses the doctrine of America First. China is engaged in a huge experiment improving people’s economic position whilst denying them democracy. The struggle over that is being played out in Hong Kong now.
Since decolonisation most of Africa has been run by military dictators and Brazil has just elected a President who is set to clear the Amazon rain forest with no regard for the people who live there.
So, the liberal order is in retreat everywhere and even in Europe there are danger signs. Yesterday our Brexit Party MEP’s turned their backs on Europe literally in the European Parliament. Putin is rubbing his hands with glee at the significant weakening of the EU that our departure will represent.
And where are we heading? Whether Brexiteers like to hear it or not, we are little in the world as it is today. 100 years ago, we called the shots at Versailles. Now our best interests dictate that we stay part of the powerful EU. Instead we are watching a Tory leadership contest where Johnson and Hunt are competing with each other to threaten a NO Deal Brexit.
No matter that the Vauxhall workers on Merseyside have been told in the clearest terms that a hard Brexit will threaten the new Astra being produced at Ellesmere Port.
There is a dangerous madness in the air, the liberal centre that Putin dismisses, needs to regroup quickly.