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Geopolitics

What Boris Johnson's Fall Says About The Troubled State Of Western Democracy

Boris Johnson's resignation is another example of the political crises in the democratic world. But that does not necessarily mean that dictators and despots will win.

What Boris Johnson's Fall Says About The Troubled State Of Western Democracy

Boris Johnson leaving 10 Downing Street

Dominique Moïsi

-Analysis-

PARIS — Even Vladimir Putin could not save Boris Johnson. The invasion of Ukraine bought the Conservative Party leader a few weeks or even months. But enough was enough. The man who presented himself as the heir in line to Winston Churchill was only an actor, full of panache to be sure, but above all he was an inveterate liar. The illustration, next only to Donald Trump, of the political crisis in the democratic world.

Boris Johnson’s resignation as the leader of the Conservative party is even more spectacular because he had at his disposal, since the 2019 elections, a very comfortable majority of 80 MPs in British Parliament. And the international context should have logically worked in his favor. But his lack of integrity posed a major problem.

It is clear that, from Moscow to Beijing, people have been rejoicing in the fall of a man who has been a staunch supporter of both Ukrainians and liberal forces in Hong Kong. Russian troops may be weaker than Putin thought, but British political life is chaotic to say the least. One man’s joy is another man’s sorrow.

Asian allies worried about instability

In fact, the West's Asian allies are increasingly wondering whether, in order to confront China, they are not taking too great a political risk by relying on the support of Washington, London and Paris — not to mention Brussels.

To them, the democratic West has become as much a source of trouble as a solution. America is tearing itself apart and facing an attempt at a cultural counter-revolution led by a fundamentalist right that now has a majority in the Supreme Court.

America could “rot” from the inside and remain strong on the outside

Boris Johnson’s serial lies have driven his fall. And Emmanuel Macron has only had a relative majority in the French parliament since the last legislative elections. From Tokyo to Seoul, from Jakarta to New Delhi, people legitimately worry. Do Western powers fake their interest in the rest of the world? Ever since the crisis in London, the BBC, focused on domestic news, has only covered the war in Ukraine sporadically. Vladimir Putin, who is accelerating in the Donbas, seems to have understood this.

And even if the West’s interest in the rest of the world is real, is it really giving itself the means to achieve its ambitions? In Africa or in Latin America, the West is perceived as too interested in Ukraine and not enough in other global tragedies.

In an Asia that is increasingly living in the shadow of the Chinese threat, what is being denounced is not the West’s selective emotions, but its incapacity to seriously focus on global challenges. Zapping is not a Western privilege, of course. But the Asian capital cities who share with us a set of common values, the foundation of which is democracy, would almost blame us for the dysfunction of our political systems.

Their message could read: “Show more continuity and more efficiency, even if that means a little less of democracy.”

Protesters dressed as G7 leaders in London

Vuk Valcic/ZUMA

Rotten on the inside, strong on the outside

The political challenges faced by Great Britain and France are certainly an obstacle to these two countries’ international role. But let’s be honest, in the rest of the non-Western democratic world, people worry much more about the future of the United States than the future of the great European nations. Can a deeply divided America continue to be the leader of the democratic world and the main protector of an Asian continent in the face of rising Chinese ambitions?

For some analysts, the very fact that American public opinion shows little interest in international issues is a fairly good sign. A mix of indifference and ignorance should allow Washington to pursue its foreign policy objectives. The American empire is certainly on the decline, but the pace of this process is too slow for it to stand as a true obstacle to America’s ambitions. In other words, America could “rot” from the inside and remain strong on the outside.

Like all authoritarian regimes, Putin’s Russia hangs on the fate of battles. And it is far from having won on the battleground.

The analysis may be objectively correct, but it does not take into account the emotional aspect of the problem. By decreeing that women, as opposed to men, cannot freely have control over their bodies, the U.S. Supreme Court has alienated itself from a little more than half of humanity. And this is at the exact moment when humanitarian organizations are denouncing the systemic use of rape as a weapon of war by Russian soldiers. These rapes are perpetrated right in front of families to cause the maximum amount of long-term psychological damages. At the same time, in Afghanistan, the Taliban have closed access to education to female students.

No inevitable conclusion

The indisputable crisis of the Western democratic model does not mean necessarily the unavoidable triumph of Eastern despotism, which is carried by a Putin who dreams of Peter the Great and a Xi Jinping who sees himself as a blend between an emperor of the Ming dynasty and Mao Zedong. Like all authoritarian regimes, Putin’s Russia hangs on the fate of battles. And it is far from having won on the battleground.

As for China, the country is beginning to demographically age and shrink. And since the dramatic hardening of the regime, it has become more difficult to maintain that the torch of history is irresistibly moving towards a China-dominated Asia. One may even wonder whether the great beneficiary in the long run will be India, which is more moderate despite its current leader’s religious nationalism.

In short, it's too soon to say that the current Western democratic crises are part of an inevitable shift of power to the East.

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