Monday, May 29, 2023

Fiona Hill: Coming Around To The Realization She Got Played For A Fool?

err.ee  |  "Whataboutism" is not just a feature of Russian rhetoric. The U.S. invasion of Iraq universally undercut U.S. credibility and continues to do so. For many critics of the United States, Iraq was the most recent in a series of American sins stretching back to Vietnam and the precursor of current events. Even though a tiny handful of states have sided with Russia in successive UN resolutions in the General Assembly, significant abstentions, including by China and India, signal displeasure with the United States. As a result, the vital twin tasks of restoring the prohibition against war and the use of force as the critical cornerstone of the United Nations and international system, and of defending Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, get lost in a morass of skepticism and suspicions about the United States. 

In the so-called "Global South," and what I am loosely referring to as the "Rest" (of the world), there is no sense of the U.S. as a virtuous state. Perceptions of American hubris and hypocrisy are widespread. Trust in the international system(s) that the U.S. helped invent and has presided over since World War II is long gone.  Elites and populations in many of these countries believe that the system was imposed on them at a time of weakness when they were only just securing their independence. Even if elites and populations have generally benefitted from pax Americana, they believe the United States and its bloc of countries in the collective West have benefitted far more. For them, this war is about protecting the West's benefits and hegemony, not defending Ukraine. 

Russian false narratives about its invasion of Ukraine and about the U.S. resonate and take root globally because they fall on this fertile soil. Russia's disinformation seems more like information—it comports with "the facts" as others seem them. Non-Western elites share the same belief as some Western analysts that Russia was provoked or pushed into war by the United States and NATO expansion. They resent the power of the U.S. dollar and Washington's frequent punitive use of financial sanctions. They were not consulted by the U.S. on this round of sanctions against Russia. They see Western sanctions constraining their energy and food supplies and pushing up prices. They blame Russia's Black Sea blockade and deliberate disruption of global grain exports on the United States—not on the actual perpetrator, Vladimir Putin. They point out that no-one pushed to sanction the United States when it invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, even though they were opposed to U.S. intervention, so why should they step up now?

Countries in the Global South's resistance to U.S. and European appeals for solidarity on Ukraine are an open rebellion. This is a mutiny against what they see as the collective West dominating the international discourse and foisting its problems on everyone else, while brushing aside their priorities on climate change compensation, economic development, and debt relief. The Rest feel constantly marginalized in world affairs. Why in fact are they labeled (as I am reflecting here in this speech) the "Global South," having previously been called the Third World or the Developing World? Why are they even the "Rest" of the world? They are the world, representing 6.5 billion people. Our terminology reeks of colonialism.

The Cold War era non-aligned movement has reemerged if it ever went away. At present, this is less a cohesive movement than a desire for distance, to be left out of the European mess around Ukraine. But it is also a very clear negative reaction to the American propensity for defining the global order and forcing countries to take sides.  As one Indian interlocutor recently exclaimed about Ukraine: "this is your conflict! … We have other pressing matters, our own issues … We are in our own lands on our own sides … Where are you when things go wrong for us?"

Most countries—including many in Europe—reject the current U.S. framing of a new "Great Power Competition"—a geopolitical tug-of-war between the United States and China. States and elites bristle at the U.S. idea that "you are either with us or against us," or you are "on the right or wrong side of history" in an epic struggle of democracies versus autocracies. Few outside Europe accept this definition of the war in Ukraine or the geopolitical stakes. They don't want to be assigned to new blocs that are artificially imposed, and no-one wants to be caught in a titanic clash between the United States and China. In contrast to the U.S., as well as others like Japan, South Korea and India, most countries do not see China as a direct military or security threat. They may have serious qualms about China's rough economic and political behavior and its blatant abuse of human rights, but they still see China's value as a trading and investment partner for their future development. The United States and the European Union don't offer sufficient alternatives for countries to turn away from China, including in the security realm—and even within Europe the sense of how much is at stake for individual countries in the larger international system and in relations with China varies.

Outside Europe, the interest in new regional orders is more pronounced. In this context, the BRICS—which, for its members offers an alternative to the G7 and the G20—is now attractive to others. Nineteen countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, purportedly showed interested in joining the organization ahead of its recent April 2023 summit. Countries see the BRICS (and other similar entities like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or SCO) as offering flexible diplomatic arrangements and possible new strategic alliances as well as different trade opportunities beyond the United States and Europe. BRICS members and aspirants, however, have very disparate interests. We need to consider these as we look ahead to finding a resolution to the war in Ukraine and as we consider the kinds of structures and networks we will have to deal with in the future.

I am going to run through some of the factors that are most relevant to thinking about Ukraine in the BRICS context.

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