While the “Northern” countries overwhelmingly condemn Russia, many of the “Southern” countries are reluctant to join in the sanctions. Are we witnessing the return of the non-aligned movement?
The war that Russia launched on February 24 against Ukraine has just passed the three-month mark and does not seem close to ending. However, despite the unanimity of the countries of the Western bloc, members of the EU or NATO, and traditional allies of the United States in East Asia or via Oceania to condemn this brutal invasion and the war crimes et against humanity to which it has already given rise, the international community remains very divided as to the position to adopt on this matter.
Indeed, many member nations of the UN, mostly belonging to the historical group known as the 77 created in 1964 to promote the development of the so-called “Southern” countries, remain skeptical, hesitate to condemn Russia and prefer to camp on a neutrality that is at first sight troubling and difficult to understand.
A North-South divide in the condemnation of Russia
At first, the amazement caused by this attack nevertheless aroused a certain unanimity in the condemnation. Thus, the UN General Assembly voted on March 2 a first resolution asking Russia to "immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all its military forces", by an overwhelming majority of 141 votes in favor, facing only 5 opposition and 35 abstentions.
The five countries that voted against this resolution are unsurprisingly Russia itself, its vassal Belarus, the pestiferous dictatorial regimes dependent on it that are Syria and Eritrea, as well as the sinister North Korea.
However, among the 35 countries that abstained, there were already several major players in the international community, including China and India, but also Pakistan, Iran, South Africa and Algeria.
On April 7, during the vote of a second resolution of the GA proposing to exclude Russia from the Human Rights Council, only 93 countries voted in favor, 24 against and 58 choosing to abstain.
Among the 24 countries who voted against, we find the four who had already supported Russia previously, but the latter has this time rallied many Asian countries to its cause, starting with China, followed by the communist brothers of Vietnam. and Laos, as well as all the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, the natural allies of South America such as Cuba and Nicaragua and African countries such as Algeria, Mali, Congo or Ethiopia .
However, it is the number of countries that abstained that is most telling. It includes most of the demographic and political heavyweights of the non-Western world: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman in particular. Six of them (India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Saudi Arabia) are even members of the G20, which is more divided than ever on this issue since Russia enjoys the support of China.
Since then, this new North-South divide has not been denied: the countries which refuse to firmly condemn Russia therefore represent two thirds of humanity. Several complementary reasons explain and understand this situation.
The memory of the cold war
First of all, for many countries of the South, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is confused and stems from the aftermath of the implosion of the USSR. They are not far from considering that this is an internal affair of "greater Russia" in which they do not want to take sides in the name of a principle of non-interference, in this case interpreted very questionable way.
Second, the objectives of the West, the United States and NATO seem to them justifiably suspect. After starting to turn your back on Europe since the Obama presidency to focus on its growing rivalry with China in the Indo-Pacific region, the United States indeed seems to have rediscovered its old enemy Russia and wants to wage a new war against it, through Ukraine. in the name of the "fight of democracy against totalitarianism".
However, many countries of the South have borne the brunt of the cold war and the hot wars waged on their territory by the two dominant powers of the time. It would be tedious to list here all the bloody conflicts of this nature that have marred the history of the second half of the XNUMXth century.e century, from the capitulation of Nazi Germany in May 1945 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. korean war from 1950 to 1953, the armed interventions of the United States in their Latin American backyard in Guatemala in 1954 et 1960, Cuba in 1959-1960 in Salvador and Nicaragua in 1980, in Grenada in 1983 and at Panama in 1989 and especially the Vietnam War extended to Cambodia and Laos from 1961 to 1975.
And all this without counting the countless bloody military coups organized with the support of the American CIA and its allies in the four corners of the planet, from Brazil and Congo in 1964 at theIndonesia in 1965 and Chile in 1973.
It is true that the USSR behaved in a hardly less brutal way in order to suppress democratic inclinations within the socialist bloc, Budapest in 1956 à Prague in 1968, not to mention the Afghanistan war (1979-1988).
Be that as it may, one thing is certain: many countries in the South have paid the high price of the Cold War and do not want to find themselves once again stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Two weights, two measures ?
Furthermore, the West's more recent behavior on the international stage does not place it in a good position to condemn countries that violate the sovereignty of other nations and give them moral lessons.
Indeed, the global crusade aimed at imposing democracy in the world by armed force, launched by George W. Bush and his neo-conservative entourage following the attacks of September 11, and which culminated in the invasion of the Iraq and Afghanistan, has largely delegitimized, in many countries of the world, any Western pretension to exemplarity.
The intervention led by the Americans and their servile allies in Iraq, first and foremost the United Kingdom, was accompanied by war crimes et against humanity as well as serious violations of human rights and human dignity in the detention centers ofAbu Ghraib and Guantanamo, where torture was systematic. Added to this is the action of France and NATO in Libya (2011) which notably gave rise to the sordid assassination of Gaddafi and, of course, Washington's constant support for Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, materialized in particular by the many vets that the United States opposed the UN resolutions condemning the Israeli side.
The countries of the South who today refrain from condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine have all this in mind and it is therefore understandable that many of them are skeptical of calls of the United States and the West to join their crusade against Moscow in the face of a complex conflict of which they do not understand all the stakes and which does not seem to them worse than those of Iraq, Libya or elsewhere. It must also be said that several of them are loyal customers from Moscow who sells them arms and equips or trains their armed forces on favorable terms.
But, in fact, these countries are above all defending their own legitimate interests and are mainly concerned about the planetary economic crisis resulting from this conflict and the blocking of exports of cereals and chemical fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia which threaten them with famine, as pleaded on behalf of Africa to Putin the Senegalese President Macky Sall during his recent visit to Sochi. Moreover, he made this point of view clear in an interview with Le Monde, saying in essence that Africa should first ensure that it solves its own problems rather than taking sides in this conflict.
A questionable Western model yesterday as today
In a longer historical perspective, we should not underestimate either the fact that many countries of the South, mainly in Africa, have still not digested the snubs of slavery, colonization and neocolonial policies that followed him. They also remember that at the time of the anti-colonial struggle and the beginning of independence, the USSR was practically the only country to support.
The very bad France's current relations with the countries of the Sahel must therefore also be analyzed by remembering "the friendship between peoples" which has linked Moscow to the Mali by Modibo Keïta or Guinea-Conakry by Sékou Touré in the 1960s. Despite all that it can do in Ukraine, today's Russia still benefits from this past reputation of solidarity with what used to be called the Third World, as a kind of historical rent .
Finally, to return to an eminently contemporary dimension, many southern states remain skeptical of Joe Biden's declared desire to embody the democracy camp on the international scene. Besides the fact that Biden's credibility is tainted by the fact that he has voted in favor of invading Iraq, American democracy has regularly demonstrated all its limits and excesses with Donald Trump, shocked the world during the invasion of Congress on January 6, 2021 and arouses horror by the mass killings perpetrated by bloodthirsty madmen who bloody its cities every week.
More divided than ever, the United States rather gives the image of a country on the verge of civil war and on the decline, ineffective, violent, racist and unjust, especially vis-à-vis its African-American minority.
Conversely, Washington's great current nemesis, namely the People's Republic of China under Xi Jinping, represents the counter-model of a booming country that has managed in a few decades to get hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and to implement an economic and social development policy allowing it to hope to become again by the centenary of its revolution in 2049 the first power in the world that it was until the XNUMXth century.e century.
It is therefore not surprising that a significant proportion of the population of many countries in the South and even in the North have come to believe that an authoritarian regime is more effective in governing than a "democratic" system - a concept which has often been hijacked by local oligarchies for their own benefit, is often synonymous with corruption and has not kept its promises of justice and freedom. This largely explains why democracy is questioned almost everywhere in the four corners of the planet and why authoritarianism is on the rise.
Finally, we must not overlook the fact that the majority of the populations of many countries of the South are resistant to the societal liberalism advocated by the West, considered decadent, a-religious and too favorable to the rights of women and LGBT+ minorities, while Russia has forged the image of opposing model that defends “traditional values”. But Moscow plays a lot of it with skill and success in its discourse on them.
The G20 in danger?
For all these reasons, many countries in the South are showing themselves to be, to say the least, reserved in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine for the defense of which the West has mobilized in a way that is a little too enthusiastic not to be suspicious in their eyes. By the time of the Cold War, many of these countries had already tried to escape the need to choose between the "American plague" and the "Soviet cholera" by creating the Non-Aligned Movement during the Bandung conference in 1955 chaired by Sukarno, surrounded by Nehru, Nasser, Nkrumah, Norodom Sihanouk and even Zhou Enlai.
The disastrous armed conflict which is once again bloodying a Europe where it was thought "never to see this again" favors a certain resurgence of this spirit of non-alignment. This will not make it any easier to manage the affairs of a world now facing a devastating economic crisis, which can have catastrophic consequences for certain countries very dependent on imports of gas or wheat from Russia or Ukraine. .
In very concrete terms, the cleavage mentioned above, which is deepening within the G20, illustrates this new North-South division of the international community particularly well. The next summit of the club of the twenty largest economies of the planet must indeed be held in Bali in mid-November since it is Indonesia which holds its presidency in 2022. However, a small majority of member countries of the informal alliance of those who actively support Ukraine, all from the North in the economic sense of the term, do not want to sit at the same table as Putin and insist that Russia should not be invited. The others, mainly from the South, led by China, do not entirely share this position of rupture or are even of a resolutely contrary opinion.
Faced with this, Indonesian President Jokowi, host of the summit and placed in a very uncomfortable situation, announced that it was not in his power to exclude Russia but that he would instead gladly invite Volodymyr Zelensky also participated in the meeting, which the latter has already accepted. It is difficult to say whether his proposal will be accepted and will make it possible to overcome the deadlock, but it could well be that the war between Russia and Ukraine will blow up the G20. This would certainly not be its most dramatic or fundamental aspect, but this emblematic institution of the phase of globalization which is coming to an end would then be one of the collateral victims of the conflictual impasse towards which the concert, more dissonant than ever, is heading. nations.
Jean-Luc Maurer, Honorary Professor of Development Studies, affiliated with the Albert Hirschman Center on Democracy, Graduate Institute - Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID)