The West vs. Russia: Why the Global South Doesn’t Take Sides | David Adler
On March 2, as the number of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s brutal invasion reached 1 million, the United Nations Security Council convened an emergency session of the General Assembly. There, 193 nations considered a resolution on “Russian aggression against Ukraine” and voted overwhelmingly to approve it: 141 votes in favour, 35 abstentions and just five votes against. Even some of Russia’s closest allies on the continent – Serbia, for example, or Hungary – voted to condemn the invasion. “The message from the General Assembly is loud and clear,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres.
What exactly is this message? In recent days, many commentators have pointed to a global map of the UN resolution to demonstrate the unity of the West and the world against the Putin government. But to make sense of the geopolitical consequences of the Russian invasion, we must look beyond the diplomatic theater of the general assembly to examine how these nations are actually engaged in warfare in this rapidly escalating phase. And to do that, we would have to start from a very different map of the world – a map of global participation in the sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and its allies.
The contrast between these cards couldn’t be more striking. United States, United Kingdom, Canada, South Korea, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore, EU: beyond this fortified coalition, very few nations have chosen to participate in the economic war waged against the Putin government. On the contrary, many of the world’s biggest nations – including China, India, Brazil, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and even NATO ally Turkey – have refused to join us. . “We will not blindly follow the steps taken by another country,” the Indonesian Foreign Ministry representative said at a recent press conference.
Latin America has been equally firm in its commitment to neutrality. “We do not consider that [this war] concerns us,” said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “We are not going to take any kind of economic retaliation because we want to have good relations with all governments.” Argentina may have voted to condemn Russia’s actions at the UN, but its foreign minister, Santiago Cafiero, was adamant about his country’s non-participation in the new sanctions campaign: ” Argentina does not see them as a mechanism to generate peace and harmony, or to generate a frank dialogue table that serves to save lives.
The Latin American position finds an echo in Africa. “For five centuries, we have been pawns in the hands of warring European states, determined to plunder Africa of its human and natural sources,” says Pierre Sané, President of the Imagine Africa Institute and former Secretary General of Amnesty International. Sané tells me that the embassy in Ukraine recruited “volunteer” mercenaries from countries like Senegal and the Ivory Coast to fight in the war. “If this war in Ukraine were to escalate, we say and we say it loud and clear: do not bring it to our shores.”
Amid the Russian military’s brutal advance in Ukraine, a slew of letters, articles and Twitter comments have addressed the “western left” for its apparent reluctance to confront the Putin government. The invasion of Ukraine has been described as a ‘test’ to root out ‘pseudo-leftists’ who do not respond with force and conviction to support the West in its efforts to isolate, undermine and ultimately topple Putin in defense of the Ukrainian cause. .
But the sanctions map suggests that the real divide is not between left and right, or even between east and west. On the contrary, the map reveals a divide between north and south, between the nations we call developed and those we call developing. And by revealing this tectonic shift, the map can tell us something important about geopolitics in the age of multipolarity.
The rapid rise of China and the American reaction to it prompted many commentators to predict a coming Cold War. Few expected Vladimir Putin to throw it so suddenly. “Putin’s invasion of Ukraine ended a historic 30-year holiday for Americans,” writes former CIA Director Robert Gates for The Washington Post. The immediate ousting of Russian representatives and Russian culture from Western institutions suggests that the long slumber of the Cold War may well be over: “Putin’s war provided the cold shower needed to awaken democratic governments to the reality of a new world.
The good news for Gates is that the Biden administration has already found its Cold War footing. Its flagship democracy summit strives to unite “the nations of the free world” – a remarkable tribute to the era of anti-Soviet mobilization – while isolating autocracies like Russia and China. That is to say, with the usual exceptions: Saudi Arabia’s oil, for example, grants the nation a free pass to the “free world”, as evidenced by the recent delegation dispatched by the Biden administration to get the kingdom’s support to keep the oil flowing. thanks to the war effort in Ukraine.
In the age of unipolarity – during the 30-year long vacation following the collapse of the Soviet Union – the nations of the world were given a fairly simple choice: rally with the United States or stand alone. Some nations have sought to unite in collective acts of resistance to this hegemonic power. But the consequences were almost inevitable: invasions, coups and widespread sanctions to isolate their economies from the rest of the world.
However, as new powers generate new poles, the options available to countries neighboring the United States are no longer limited to compliance and resistance. A third option emerges: neutrality. “Neutrality does not mean indifference, specifies Pierre Sané. “Neutrality means constantly calling for respect for international laws; neutrality means that our hearts always go out to the victims of military invasions and arbitrary sanctions ever imposed on NATO countries.
During the first Cold War, neutrality had a name: non-alignment. As the United States clashed with China and the Soviet Union in the skies over Korea, Jawaharlal Nehru and Josip Broz Tito refused to take sides. “The Yugoslav people cannot accept the postulate that humanity today has only one choice – the choice between the domination of one or the other bloc”, declared the Yugoslav Minister of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs, Edvard Kardelj, at the UN in 1950. There is another route. The Non-Aligned Movement was born five years later, uniting more than 100 nations around the world around the principles of non-interference and peaceful coexistence.
Today nations around the world are once again called upon to take sides – between Russia and the West, and very soon between the West and China. But as the sanctions map attests, the cross-pressure between these great powers could once again trigger a movement of non-alignment, demanding a more universal application of international law against requests for unilateral exception.
There will undoubtedly be consequences for this neutral position. The non-aligned nations of the first Cold War were often the victims of aggression, invasions and economic embargoes. The same risks for neutrality are visible today. Lithuania recently canceled a delivery of Covid vaccines to Bangladesh for its refusal to condemn Russia at the United Nations. The United States, for its part, has already passed the Caatsa law (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), which makes it possible to punish countries with sanctions for trading with the other party.
But as the great powers prepare for a new century of war, the call for non-alignment will only grow. Our task is to understand this call now as Tito and Nehru understood it then: not as ‘neutralism’ or ‘passivity, as is sometimes claimed’. As they wrote in a joint declaration in 1954: “It represents the positive, active and constructive policy which, as its aim, has collective peace as the foundation of collective security.