Russian war in Ukraine has dominated headlines in the United States
and Europe. It has been presented as a generation-defining event and
as a pivot in geopolitics that will cleave world history into a
before and an after just like September 11.
of the world, however, is not transfixed by developments in central
Europe or even necessarily sympathetic to the plight of Ukraine. The
five countries that opposed the UN resolution condemning the invasion
are predictable: Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria.
But the 35 countries that abstained include some heavy hitters such
as China, India, Iran, and South Africa. Virtually no countries in
the Global South have
signed onto the sanctions
of those countries that hesitate rely
on Russian military exports.
Others are wary of jeopardizing trade relations with either Moscow or
MSBNC, Trita Parsi also
that non-Western countries are tired of Western hypocrisy and
skeptical of Western motivations in sanctioning Russia.
conversations with diplomats and analysts from across Africa, Asia,
the Middle East and Latin America, it was evident to me that these
countries largely sympathize with the plight of the Ukrainian people
and view Russia as the aggressor. But Western demands that they make
costly sacrifices by cutting off economic ties with Russia to uphold
a “rules-based order” have begotten an allergic reaction.
That order hasn’t been rules-based; instead, it has allowed the
U.S. to violate international law with impunity. The West’s
messaging on Ukraine has taken its tone-deafness to a whole new
level, and it is unlikely to win over the support of countries that
have often experienced the worse sides of the international order.
addition to their anger at Western hypocrisy, many in the Global
South are understandably irritated about the disproportionate focus
on the war crimes Russia is committing in Ukraine when so little
attention has been paid to the bloody conflicts occurring elsewhere
in the world, in Ethiopia, Myanmar, throughout the Middle East.
is also a concern that Western military support for Ukraine is
bringing the world closer to a global conflict, perhaps even to the
point of a nuclear exchange that will have dire consequences for
countries located far from the immediate battlefield.
reasons for hesitation—in condemning Russia, in supporting
sanctions, in rallying to Ukraine’s defense—are sensible.
also largely beside the point.
Problem of Hypocrisy
has violated the sovereignty of another country. It has broken a
tenet of international law that goes back several centuries. It has
justified its invasion by claiming that its action is to prevent or
preempt an attack on Russia. It has thus parroted the same reasoning
the United States used to invade Iraq in 2003.
Russia’s conduct in Ukraine should not be evaluated in
comparison to U.S. actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Rather, it must be
judged according to international law. U.S. support for the
government in Kyiv or its hypocrisy regarding past actions should
play no role in how other countries view the situation in Ukraine.
You might as well complain that France has no standing to criticize
Russia because it invaded Prussia in 1870.
same argument about standing is often heard around human rights, that
countries like the United States can’t advance any claims—for
instance, about torture—because of its own dodgy record. But
the hypocrisy of a single country does not disqualify the
multilateral system. The standard for comparison—such as
Russian war crimes in Ukraine—is not the U.S. record on this
issue but the body of international laws on human rights.
law is of course a flawed instrument, as is anything created by
flawed governments acting together. But, like national laws embodied
in national constitutions, international law is evolving. Instead of
discrediting international laws by calling into question the record
of those invoking the laws, we should be working to strengthen
greater compliance across the board.
Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is doing just that. She has
for the United States to join the International Criminal Court. If
Washington wants to put Vladimir Putin before a war crimes tribunal,
it must be willing to have the same laws apply to U.S. soldiers and
a good rule of thumb. Don’t use the charge of double standards
to avoid applying any standard at all. Rather, work to eliminate the
of War on Global South.
countries are unwilling to cross Russia because they are worried
about the economic impact of sanctioning the Kremlin. Why should they
make any sacrifices on behalf of upholding principles of
international law that the Global North violates with impunity?
unfortunate truth of the matter is that the Global South is already
suffering as a result of Russia’s invasion, whether they
participate in the sanctions regime or not.
March, food prices hit
an all-time high.
That’s no surprise since Russia and Ukraine together account
for 30 percent of wheat exports and 20 percent of maize exports.
Ukraine actually had an
excellent harvest last year,
but it can’t easily get grain stores to market without access
to shipping from Black Sea ports surrounded by Russian gunships.
not just the cost of food imports. It’s the cost of growing
of food production globally relies on fossil fuels for the production
of fertilizer and the maintenance of mechanized machinery like
tractors. Even if a country grows its own food and doesn’t
import wheat from Ukraine or Russia, its capacity to feed its own
population is being hit hard by rising energy costs.
of this should focus anger on Russia, not only for the suffering
imposed on Ukrainians but the hardships everyone around the world is
experiencing because of the surge in prices. If sanctions can speed
the end of the conflict—by disrupting Russia’s war
effort—it is in the economic self-interest of virtually all
countries to support them.
World War Three
people outside the Kremlin want to see the war in Ukraine continue.
And no one wants peace more than the Ukrainian people who continue to
suffer from Russian attacks.
there is a misconception that the Ukrainians are refusing to
compromise, and that’s why the war continues.
attacked Ukraine for no defensible reason. Ukraine, despite its
military disadvantages, has fought back, achieving something of a
stalemate. President Volodymyr Zelensky has offered support for
various compromises, including neutrality.
it is Vladimir Putin who refuses to end this war. Stymied in his
attempts to seize Kyiv and other major cities, he has redirected his
army to the east and the south in order to capture enough territory
to demonstrate that his invasion was not in vain.
could, in theory, cede this territory to the Russian military. That
would be a bitter pill to swallow but the formula “land for
peace” has sometimes worked in other places and times.
territorial concessions wouldn’t guarantee an end to the war.
Putin has declared that his goal is to “de-Nazify”
Ukraine and unify the territories into the Russkie
(Russian world). Successful in incorporating the Donbas into Russian
territory, he could refocus his attention on his initial plan to
the seizure of territory has been a prelude to even worse scenarios.
In a horrible echo of the internal deportations of the Stalinist era
that targeted Poles, Tatars, and others, tens of thousands of
already been forcibly relocated
within Russia, with as
many as 100,000 slated for areas
as far away as Siberia and the Arctic Circle. Putin’s allies
have even suggested sending all Ukrainians to
to reeducate them so as to ensure loyalty to their new Russian
Ukrainians are fighting for their lives. Europe and the United States
are supplying them with weapons to defend themselves, but they have
been careful to do so in a way that does not bring NATO forces into
direct conflict with the Russian military. The purpose of the arms
transfers is precisely to prevent escalation and the widening of the
war to areas outside of Ukraine.
don’t subscribe to the idea that Russia is hell-bent on pushing
north into the Baltics or west into Poland or Hungary. I don’t
believe that stopping Russia in Ukraine is tantamount to halting the
Ottoman armies outside the gates of Vienna in 1683.
I also don’t believe that an arms embargo will end the current
conflict. It will only end the lives of many, many Ukrainians—just
as an arms embargo was essentially a death’s sentence for many
Bosnians during the mid-1990s. I mistakenly supported an arms embargo
during the Yugoslav wars, thinking that sending in weapons was
comparable to adding fuel to a fire. The embargo did not help bring
that conflict to an end (rather, it was the additional arms that
enabled Croatia in 1995 to overcome Serbian military units in both
Croatia and Bosnia).
the Cold War, it was an unspoken agreement between Washington and
Moscow—after the Cuban Missile Crisis—that proxy wars in
the Third World would not carry with them the risk of nuclear
confrontation. The war in Ukraine is different in that Russia is
directly involved. But as long as NATO does not provide boots on the
ground or planes in the air the two superpowers should agree
(off-the-record, if necessary) to observe a similar protocol. A
return to nuclear arms control negotiations should be part of any
deal to end the war in Ukraine.
would be absurd to expect the Global South to care about Ukraine the
same way that Europe does. The very future of European security is at
risk, and Ukrainian refugees are flooding Poland and Germany, not
South Africa and Brazil.
the war in Ukraine nevertheless has global implications that should
make everyone care about its trajectory. All countries should be
concerned that Russia’s disregard for Ukrainian sovereignty
will serve as a precedent for other powerful countries eyeing the
territory of their neighbors. All countries should be concerned about
the sharp increases in commodity prices and the threat to food
security. And all countries should be very worried about how the war
has revealed (once again) a deadly reliance on fossil fuels.
the Global North is hypocritical. But that should be a call to arms,
not a retreat into a fearful, cynical, and ultimately dangerous