500 Years of Western Dominance: Is it Coming to an End and What Comes Next?

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Glenn Diesen is Professor at the University of South-East Norway. His research interests include Russian foreign policy and the geoeconomics of European and Eurasian integration. He is the author of the new book The Ukraine War & the Eurasian World Order.

The interview was conducted by Felix Abt.

Felix Abt: A great European religious war and the first pan-European conflict over superpower status came to an end in 1648. After 30 years of devastating wars and chaos, especially on German soil, with millions of deaths and shattered economies, the Peace of Westphalia brought a new, rules-based order to Europe, as the Western political class would call it today. 


This included the inviolability of borders and non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign and equal states; it is regarded as a milestone in the development toward tolerance and secularization. 

How did this affect the new powers that emerged afterward and their quest for hegemony?

Prof. Glenn Diesen:

The lesson from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was that no one power could restore order based on hegemony and universal values, as the other states in Europe would preserve their own sovereignty and distinctiveness by collectively balancing the most powerful state. This was evident when Catholic France supported Protestant Sweden to prevent the dominance of the Catholic Habsburgs. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 gave birth to the modern world order, in which peace and order depend on a balance of power between sovereign states.

The Westphalian system prevents hegemony as other states collectively balance the effort of an aspiring hegemon to establish economic and military dominance, and universal values are rejected to the extent they are used to reduce the sovereignty of other states. 

Felix Abt: The principle, known as the Westphalian principle of sovereignty, prohibits interference in the internal affairs of another state, and every state is equal before international law, regardless of its size. Thus, every state has sovereignty over its territory and its internal affairs, to the exclusion of all external powers.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrel, sees the global South, or, more precisely, the global majority, as the jungle from which Europe must be protected.

But when the European colonial powers used violence to impose their will on other continents, they violated this ideal. Was this the beginning of this principle’s demise?

Prof. Glenn Diesen:

Westphalia should in principle be based on sovereign equality for all states. However, it originated as a European security order that later laid the foundation for a world order. Under the original Westphalia, the Europeans claimed special privileges and the principle of equal sovereignty for states did not apply to everyone. Sovereignty was deemed to be a right and a responsibility assigned to “civilized peoples”, a reference to the Europeans as white Christians. The international system was divided between the civilized and the barbarians. There was one set of rules for the Europeans in the civilized “garden”, and another set of rules when the Europeans engaged with the so-called despotic barbarians in the “jungle”. The interference in the internal affairs of other peoples and the development of vast empires was framed as the right and the responsibility of civilized states to guide the barbaric peoples towards universal values of civilization. This responsibility to govern other peoples was termed the “white man’s burden” and the “civilizing mission”.

In our current era, we have abandoned the civilized-barbarian divide, but we have replaced it with a liberal democracy-authoritarian divide to legitimize sovereign inequality. The West can interfere in the domestic affairs of other states to promote democracy, invade countries to defend human rights, or even change the borders of countries in support of self-determination. This is the exclusive right and a responsibility of the West as the champions of the universal values of liberal democracy. As the EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell explained: “The gardeners have to go to the jungle. Europeans have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world. Otherwise, the rest of the world will invade us”. 

International law in accordance with the UN Charter defends the principle of sovereign equality for all states. The so-called “rules-based international order” is based on sovereign inequality, which introduces special privileges under the guise of universal liberal democratic values. For example, the West’s recognition of independence for Kosovo was a breach of international law as it violated the territorial integrity of Serbia, although it was legitimized by the liberal principle of respecting the self-determination of Kosovo Albanians. In Crimea the West decided that self-determination should not be the leading principle, but territorial integrity. The US refers to liberal democratic values to exercise its exclusive right to invade and occupy countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya, although this right is not extended to countries in the jungle.  

Felix Abt: Now let’s approach the present: the influential British geopolitician and strategist Sir Halford Mackinder (1871-1947) explained the following: Great Britain was the largest and strongest naval power in the world. 


As international trade was mainly carried out by sea, Britain could, as he stated, “bring practically any country in the world to its knees by isolating it with a naval blockade”. He preached: “Whoever rules over Eastern Europe (including Ukraine) rules over the heartland.” 

Did the British Empire heed this strategy and how? 

Prof. Glenn Diesen:

Control over the seas has been the key source for domination by maritime powers. The British and their American successors both pursued policies of controlling the vast Eurasian continent from the maritime periphery. The “freedom of navigation” is doublespeak for dominating the key transportation corridors and choke points that are required for reliable trade and transportation of troops. The main strategy for containing Russia since the early 18th century has been to deny its access to international maritime corridors. In Europe, Russia has access to three seas: the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Arctic. NATO expansion to Ukraine and expelling the Russians from their Black Sea Fleet in Crimea would have made the Black Sea a NATO lake, the former NATO Secretary General argues that with the accession of Finland and Sweden, NATO could blockade Russia in the Baltic Sea, and the US is currently building military bases across Norway and the rest of Scandinavia to counter the Russians in the Arctic. On the other side of the Eurasian continent, the US has similarly developed two “island chains” to contain the reliable access of Russia and China to the sea”.

But the challenge is not merely to dominate the seas, but to also prevent land corridors as an alternative. Russia’s expansion into Central Asia in the 19th century and construction of trans-continental railroads threatened to connect the Eurasian continent by land, as Russia moved toward India and the Pacific Ocean. Mackinder feared that Russia’s land-based connectivity on the Eurasian continent could end the strategic benefit of controlling the seas. As countries like Russia, China, India, and Iran are connecting the vast Eurasian continent with land corridors, the US dominance of physical connectivity as the source of hegemony is once again challenged.

Felix Abt: Zbigniew Brzezinski, who advised five US presidents between 1963 and 2017, was Mackinder’s most significant successor. His book “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives” was published in 1997, and in it, he candidly and clearly laid out the objectives of US geostrategic affairs. He states, in essence, just what Halford Mackinder originally said.

Brzezinski shared Mackinder’s view that a Eurasian community that would effectively connect Russia and Western Europe would pose a threat to American dominance.

This was also stated by the later most influential American geopolitical strategist George Friedman, founder, CEO and Chairman of STRATFOR (1996-2015), before the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs: “The primary interest of the United States through the last century – that is, the First War, the Second War, and the Cold War – has been the relationship between Germany and Russia, because united, those two would be the only power that could threaten us – and so we have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”- “For the United States, the primordial fear is the combination of German capital, German technology, Russian natural resources, and the Russian workforce.” He concluded that “Preventing Russia and Germany from coming together” is essential.

US Containment
NATO is ready to enforce the US strategy with missiles and other military means. And the NATO ballistic missile defense system (BMD) can also be used offensively.

In light of this, the Ukrainian conflict is essentially an extension of American geopolitics, which aims to carry out Mackinder’s aforementioned stanza, “He who rules Eastern Europe rules the world.” What are your thoughts about it?

Prof. Glenn Diesen:

Preventing Germany and Russia from 

Controlling Eastern Europe means that much of the Eurasian continent becomes landlocked. US control over Eastern Europe implies that Russia can not bridge Europe and Asia, but rather becomes an isolated land-locked region at the dual periphery of Europe and Asia.

Brzezinski outlined the strategy for developing and preserving US global primacy, which relies on the age-old wisdom of divide-and-rule. Brzezinski wrote that the US must “prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and keep the barbarians from coming together”. Historically, the British and the Americans have worked to prevent Germany and Russia from coming together as it would form an independent pole of power. Hegemony requires conflict between Germany and Russia, as Germany becomes a dependent ally and Russia is weakened. This logic is also applied to why it is beneficial to perpetuate tensions between the Arabs and Iran, or between China and its neighbours. The US has been very concerned about the economic integration between the Germans and Russians, which is why the US was so hostile to the Nord Stream pipelines and most likely was behind the attack on these pipelines. 

The problem is that the world is no longer Western-centric and by pushing Russia away from Germany, the US has pushed Russia towards China – a technological and industrial power much greater than Germany. In the mid-19th century, the British fought against Russia in the Crimean War with the explicit purpose of pushing Russia back into Asia, where it would remain technologically and economically backward and stagnant. NATO’s war in Ukraine is a repeat of the efforts to push Russia back into Asia, although this time Asia is much more dynamic than the West. The failure of the West to adjust our grand strategy to this new reality has been a mistake of immeasurable proportions. We have not subordinated Russia, rather we ended Russia’s 300-year-long Western-centric policies in which Moscow looked to the West for modernisation.

Felix Abt: In his interview with Tucker Carlson, Russian President Putin explained that US presidents do not necessarily call the shots and cited the example of Bill Clinton, who supported Russia’s proposal to join NATO but rejected it after consulting his staff. In your book “The Ukraine War and the Eurasian World Order”, you mention another example, namely that of President Barack Obama: in 2014, he had serious doubts and concerns about the appropriateness of supplying arms to Ukraine. He issued a presidential directive prohibiting this, but the entire administration disagreed with this directive, which was then circumvented, and weapons were delivered to Ukraine during Obama’s presidency, contrary to his directive. Obama probably found out about it and looked the other way, which was not atypical of him. Something similar may have happened to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who says he made a decision or at least claims he made a decision, that no Taurus missiles should be delivered to Ukraine, while generals in the Bundeswehr simply ignored him and drew up war plans against Russia. When these discussions were leaked, the military officers were backed up by the defense minister, who stated that “they were just doing their job”. 

Book cover “The Ukraine War & the Eurasian World Order”

How was it possible that in Western democracies bureaucracy and shadowy figures achieved a position to (mis)lead democratically elected leaders?

Prof. Glenn Diesen: 

The New York Times reported on how the think tanks financed by the arms industry reversed Obama’s policies on withdrawing from Iraq. And in Ukraine, the political and military establishment ignored his policies of not escalating tensions with Russia in Ukraine. US think tanks linked to the intelligence community, such as RAND, openly developed strategies for using Ukraine to bleed the Russians. 

The inability of US presidents to change anything was referred to by Milton Friedman as the “tyranny of the status quo”, or what the Americans refer to as the “deep state”. Every American president since Bill Clinton ran on a platform of peace but ended up doing the opposite. George Bush ran his presidential platform on ending Clinton’s nation-building but then engaged in a much greater nation-building initiative in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama won on the promise of “change” and ending the wars, but reversed himself and took drone wars to an entirely new level. Trump wanted to “get along” with Russia and expressed criticism of the post-Cold War policies towards Russia, and the intelligence agencies and media made him into a Russian agent in the Russiagate hoax. The only time Trump was supported by the political class, think tanks and the media, was when he bombed Syria. The political system is rigged for war, and the democratic institutions are weakening. If you can change the political leadership but not the policies, is it still democracy? There is little debate about where the power actually resides. 

Felix Abt: Liberalism and free markets have contributed significantly to Western hegemony under the leadership of the USA. The accelerated concentration of wealth in the West in recent decades and increasing protectionism have meant that markets have tended to become dysfunctional and the diversity of media and opinion has largely disappeared. 

C:\Users\Felix Abt\Desktop\Rubbish\Biden competition 1.jpg
The US President’s message above and CNBC’s headline: Competition is good, but if China is the competitor, it must be suppressed.

Paradoxically, the Chinese Communist Party of all people is saving capitalism by preventing cartels and monopolies to ensure healthy competition in the interests of consumers, and by demanding that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes so that the government can invest in infrastructure, education, social welfare, and poverty reduction – all in stark contrast to the United States.

Are illiberalism and protectionism, and militarism to boot, the future of the West, if there is one?

Prof. Glenn Diesen:

The British repealed the Corn Laws and pushed for free trade once it had become technologically dominant due to powerful industrial policies, it controlled the seas, and the financial instruments of power. The US similarly replaced “fair trade” with “free trade” once it became the dominant economy with the leading technologies, control over the seas, and controlled the main banks and the reserve currency. A liberal international economic system is favourable when it entails the world integrating under your economic administration. However, when a multipolar distribution of economic power emerges, then there are incentives to return to mercantilist policies. To prevent the rise of other centers of power, the US will abuse its key role in the international economy by cutting off access to its key technologies, industries, maritime corridors, banks currency etc. The US has weaponized economic dependence by for example hijacking Iranian oil tankers, cutting off the Chinese tech sector, and stealing the money from the Russian central bank. The rest of the world is thus creating an alternative economic infrastructure. Much like in the 19th century, the period after globalization is defined by a conflict between liberalism and democracy, which is becoming putting us on a dangerous path. However, the media has become an echo chamber to preserve cohesion and the necessary intellectual pluralism is no longer accommodated. 

Felix Abt: It seems that America’s neocons, who have cultivated the Ukraine project and promoted the proxy war against Russia on Ukrainian soil since 2014, have lost out to the anti-China faction that wants to shift resources to Asia to stop or reverse China’s resurgence. Some US politicians and senior military officials are already talking about a war against China in about three years. They don’t seem to be paper tigers as they already have boots on the ground in Taiwan, are intensifying the military encirclement of China, and have, for example, just recruited three Pacific states over whose air, sea and land access Washington has control.

C:\Users\Felix Abt\Desktop\Rubbish\Kinnmen country.jpg
Newsweek reports that US Army Special Forces train troops from Taiwan right on the Chinese border on Kinmen Island

So while the situation in Ukraine seems to be easing, the situation in the China Sea is certain to become more explosive.  

C:\Users\Felix Abt\Desktop\Rubbish\China CIA covert action.jpg
Reuters reports that “the Central Intelligence Agency launched a clandestine campaign on Chinese social media aimed at turning public opinion in China against its government, according to former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the highly classified operation.” This is the same US government that wants to ban Tiktok, a social media platform with a Chinese minority stake, for allegedly posing a Chinese “security risk” without providing any evidence or valid justification. (Reuters headline screenshot)  

What is driving this stunning anti-Chinese obsession in the United States against a country that upholds the principle of non-interference in other countries, that used its mighty navy only for trade and not for gunboat politics when it was a superpower in the past, and that follows the millennia-old concept of “Tianxia” (天下), which literally means “(everything) under heaven”, that is, an inclusive world full of harmony for all?

Prof. Glenn Diesen:

China does not threaten the US, but it threatens US dominance as the foundation for the unipolar world order established after the Cold War. The US is currently attempting to weaken China through economic warfare, convincing its allies to decouple from the Chinese economy, and knocking out Russia in Ukraine as a vital partner of China. If the US fails to achieve its objectives, then it will likely stoke conflicts between China and its neighbours to make the neighbours more dependent and obedient, and also create instability for the Chinese that will bleed it of resources. The ideal would be greater tensions between India and China, as India would have to make itself more reliant on the US and it would be an important ally to weaken China. If all fails, then the US could also fight an indirect war through a proxy similar to the way they are using Ukrainians to fight Russia – by for example pushing for Taiwan’s secession. Besides securing its supply chains and building a military for deterrence, China should prioritise resolving its disputes with India as any friction with China can be exploited.

Felix Abt: Finally, in your new book you say that a new Westphalian world order is reasserting itself, albeit with Eurasian characteristics. Can you explain this in more detail?

Prof. Glenn Diesen:

We are returning to a Westphalian system based on a balance of power between sovereign states. However, the former Westphalian system was based on sovereign equality among the Western powers while the “barbarians” or “despots” outside the West were not deemed to be qualified for the responsibility of sovereignty. It was a dual system of collective hegemony of the West, with sovereign equality between the Western states. In the new Westphalian system, there are several powerful states that are not Western, with China as the leading economy in the world. The Eurasian powers such as China, Russia, India and others are developing the economic foundations for this system with new technologies, transportation corridors and financial instruments. The Eurasian powers are more prepared to include the Global South as sovereign equals. The Eurasian powers reject the so-called “rules-based international order” based on sovereign inequality, as Western dominance should not be legitimized by a civilized-barbarian or liberal democracy-authoritarian divide.

The Western powers have over the past centuries have had an inclination for dominance and empire by controlling limited maritime corridors. Russia’s Eurasianism in the 19th century was a hegemonic strategy by dominating the Eurasian landmass through land corridors, although under the multipolar distribution of power the Russians do not have the capability or intentions to pursue hegemony. Instead, Eurasian integration entails moving from the dual periphery of Europe and Asia, to the centre of a new Eurasian construct. Even China as the leading power does not have the capability or intention to pursue hegemony. Countries like Russia are content with China being the leading power, although they would not support China if it demanded dominance and hegemony. The Chinese demonstrate that they are not attempting to limit Russia’s economic connectivity with other states to make itself the only centre of power. In the Global Civilisational Initiative, the Chinese are also advocating for respecting civilizational differences and that all states have their own path to modernity, which implies that China is not claiming to represent universal values that legitimizes interference into the domestic affairs of other states. The West assumed that the Russia-China partnership was a “marriage of convenience” and that they would clash over influence in Central Asia, but this never happened because neither side demanded hegemony. Instead of sabotaging each other’s relations with the region, China and Russia harmonized their interests in Central Asia. China, Russia, India and other Eurasian powers have different visions and interests in terms of Eurasian integration, but they all need each other to realise their goals and pursue prosperity. Hegemony is not an option. This is a Westphalian system with Eurasian characteristics.

We thank you very much for this interview, Prof. Diesen.