This is my review of The Edge: Is the Military Dominance of the West Coming to an End? by Mark Urban.
Mark Urban expresses in clear, concise terms his concern over the West’s recent sharp contraction in its capacity to defend its own populations, and others, from attack by the expansionist, intolerant and undemocratic enemies currently on the increase. He suggests that the West has been too complacent and premature in scaling down its military capacity after the collapse of communism and apparent end of the Cold War in the ‘90s. For instance, despite its heavy dependence on sea trade, the UK has for the first time in centuries cut back on its commitment to sea power, resting on the shaky, even false assumptions of the “protective power of the US, the technological superiority of the West, and the absent of direct threats to the security of the British Isles”. Although some of his statistics are unavoidably already out-of-date, and the book was written before the rapid upsurge of migrants into Europe, and the appalling attack by ISIS on Paris in November 2015, his theme is very timely.
Even western politicians who foresaw the “loss of edge”, made poor use of their residual advantage in, for instance, their clumsy dealings with Russia in the 1990s when there was a chance to develop capitalism on a sound basis and a strong positive alliance after the fall of communism. Also, the negative fall-out from the botched US/European interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq is all too well-known, with its inevitable effect of turning public opinion against further military attempts to maintain western style democracy and values in countries which may not really want them.
Perhaps in the desire not to weaken his essential message, Mark Urban does not explore the inevitability of the US “monopolar” power giving way to a “multipolar” world in which China and India become major players which European countries vie with each other to court, despite their abuses of human rights. Nor does he spend much time on the dilemma that the West’s “edge” has never been morally justifiable and has often been misused, as in sowing the seeds of the intractable conflicts in the Middle East .
Urban’s central argument is that, apart from a continued lead in innovation and technology, the West’s loss of “edge” is already undermining the ability to agree on “everything from climate change to how a pariah state is handled. In such a future international dystopia, problems will escalate faster and potentially to more devastating effect. More actors – state and otherwise – will be in possession of … nuclear, chemical and biological arms….. Politically disunited, prosperous and practically undefended, Europe starts to look distinctly vulnerable.” He warns against the tendency for Western leaders to “speechify” rather than form coherent plans, to undermine their promised defence spending by implementing cuts. So, “they will more often find themselves watching from the sidelines as ungoverned space expands and the values prized in liberal democracies are violated”.