It is true that the Biden administration has created an image of allies that are united with Russia. However, the figures show a more complicated picture.
While Western Europe and NATO have discovered new motives for coordinating against Russia’s war, many nations within the Global South (in Africa, Asia, and Latin America — have not taken a firm stand.
In the initial United Nations General Assembly vote in March of this year in early March, 141 nations confirmed they would support Russia must “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw,” and in a different resolution, 140 nations in a separate resolution voted for the protection of the human rights of Ukrainians.
However, in the event that the General Assembly voted in April of the beginning of April to remove Russia from the Human Rights Council, the majority was less. Ninety-three nations voted in favor while 58 abstained. 24 opposed. The countries that abstained included Egypt, Ghana, India, and Indonesia as well as Indonesia, all of which were leading members of the Non-Aligned Movement -nations that formed their own transnational organization instead of
supporting the US or the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and South Africa were also absent. China has voted against it.
The US, as well as NATO, have launched unimaginable sanctions on Russia. However, virtually no nations within the Global South have signed onto these sanctions.
Analysts looking at these responses see a reinvigorated nonaligned movement. “When you see a return to what looks a lot like Cold War politics, then it’s quite natural that people start to reach for the Cold War conceptual toolbox,” Richard Gowan, the UN director of the International Crisis Group, told me. “It’s a mirror to the ‘NATO is back’ talk.”
The Non-Aligned Movement of the 1960s did not focus on neutrality. It proposed a unifying plan for the developing nations which were caught between the two superpowers that were at war. A similar framework that is suitable for the 21st Century isn’t in place yet however, with the majority of people who live within the Global South and the Ukraine conflict escalating the tensions among two of the most powerful powers in the world there are indications that it may.
South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Alvin Botes insists on his importance to “Global South solidarity.” Botes says that South Africa’s non-aligned status permits the country to have difficult conversations with Russia as well as Ukrainian leaders to seek mediation. Botes further explains that with five powerful nations with veto power that is perpetually in place on the UN Security Council, “the conscience of the under-developed South is the nonaligned movement.”
“The role of the nonaligned movement today is as relevant today as it is in 1961,” Botes explained to me. “For as long as you have a constellation of interests that is driven from the big powers — sometimes being completely oblivious to the interests of the underdeveloped South — there is a need for the nonaligned movement.”
Why do Global South nations have shied away from joining in
In February, Kenyan Ambassador to the UN gave an address that compared the Russian war to colonial aggression. the diplomat clearly defending Ukraine. “Kenya and nearly every African nation were born because of the fall of the empire. Our borders weren’t of our own designs,” Martin Kimani said. The statement went viral and then one week after, Kenya joined with 140 other nations at the General Assembly in a UN resolution condemning the war in Russia.
A lesser amount of attention was paid in April to Kenya’s decision to abstain from the vote to expel Russia from the Human Rights Council. “Look before jumping is a good guide in geopolitics,” Kimani tweeted in April and went on to mention that Libya was exiled from the Human Rights Council in advance of the devastating NATO military intervention that took place in Libya. Kenya’s vote exemplifies the nuance in deliberation and compromises that many nations have to negotiate the conflict between two major nations in Europe which could have broad consequences across the globe.
There are many, complicated reasons why nations might choose to stay clear of a UN vote, or even vote against Russia at the UN but not to take part in sanctions against the country or adopt any of a variety of positions that aren’t completely aligned with US policies.
“It’s not just an African phenomenon,” Zainab Usman head of the Africa program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace spoke. “We’re seeing similar patterns playing out among Arab countries in the Middle East and in parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia.”
There are three categories that clarify why some countries are looking for an approach that isn’t Russia or NATO.
The main reason has to do with trade and economics. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of food, energy, and fertilizer. A lot of countries aren’t able to cut relations with Moscow. India is also dependent upon Russia for weapons sales. Even though Russian investment isn’t in the top 10 countries of Latin America, it’s still an element. Usman has cited recent remarks from the ministers of finance from Ghana in addition to Nigeria. “There isn’t enough focus on the economic impacts of the war itself,” she said to me.
There are also some doubts about NATO and the US as well as NATO. It is true that the US invading Iraq was in violation of international law and many countries see the other efforts of the West to change regimes to change the regimes in Afghanistan as well as Libya to be being similarly inadequate, and with ongoing spillover effects according to the experts who spoke to me.
This skepticism extends to sanctions. Latin American countries are sensitive to violations of sovereignty and 28 of the 34 nations in the Organization of American States decided to denounce Russia in a march UN General Assembly vote. However, the sanctions against Russia were not approved by the UN. The heads of Mexico and Brazil expressed their displeasure against the sanctions. In the opinion of Reuters, there is no doubt that the Bahamas are the sole OAS country to have agreed to Russia sanctions.
The author Guillaume Long, the former foreign minister of Ecuador said to me “A lot of Latin Americans feel and think that sanctions are applied in a sort of selective, politicized way with a lot of double standards — basically, a tool of the US hegemony rather than a tool of global justice.” He also cited the lack of support across Latin America for the US’s economic sanctions against Cuba and the way that civilians are adversely in the wake of US sanctions against Venezuela.
It’s not only the unilateral policies that were spelled out following Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It’s important to note that the Cold War was not very cold in a lot of developing nations. “History has taught [African countries] that becoming pawns in an international conflict they cannot control generates few benefits and massive risks,” writes the scholar Nic Cheeseman.
The third factor is the enduring friendship with Russia due to its anti-colonial stances in the Cold War when it was still a part of the Soviet Union. In the past, the USSR was a major power in its foreign policy and was able to make strategic decisions in its own interests. In contrast to other
left-leaning governments, Russia has a history of support for the independence of colonial powers. Particularly there was an African National Congress in South Africa that was close to the Soviet Union and looks admiringly upon Russia for its strong anti-apartheid stand. Botes pointed out South Africa’s ties to Ukraine as well and informed me that Odesa in the past when they were part of the USSR was the host city for ANC Training camps.
In recent times, Russian President Vladimir Putin has aggressively extended his hand toward members of the Global South.
Mark Nieman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, says that often, the interests of nations of the Global South are ignored. “It’s not only this particular Biden administration. It’s an extension of an ongoing US foreign policy of not paying attention to Global South concerns, showing an outright lack of concern or pursuing actions that appear to be in violation of the rules of international law include,” he told me. “The agency of the Global South is ignored.”
The buckets aren’t all of the country’s calculations. Many volumes could be written on the position of each country -for example, China is pursuing its complex and often contradictions in interest, Indonesia as a fence-sitter, India carefully maneuvering the superpowers Saudi Arabia hedging, and so on.
Also, geopolitics is involved. Certain countries might not choose one side for the sake of insurance policy in the event Russia would be able to conquer Ukraine. Furthermore, Russia is a significant force in the international arena, particularly in the United Nations. “If you’re a Latin American country, and you’re trying to get some votes at the UN, you know, 50 percent of the time you might get the support of Russia,” Long explained. “But you can be sure that Ukraine will vote with the United States.”
For all these reasons, something that resembles the non-aligned posture has begun to develop.
The Non-Aligned Movement had a vision that went beyond neutrality
The 1955 conference at Bandung, Indonesia, was the first major gathering of Afro-Asian nations at the time of the Cold War. The conference’s host, Indonesian President Sukarno, presented a hopeful outlook of the way small nations could create a global image.
“What could we be doing? The people in Asia and Africa have little physical power,” Sukarno said. “What do we do? We can do much! We can bring the voices of reason into world issues. We can unite every spiritual and all moral, and all the political power from Asia and Africa to support peace. Yes, we!”
It was a request that, in conjunction with leaders particularly of Egypt, Ghana, India and Yugoslavia, and Yugoslavia, firmly established the movement during the Belgrade Summit of 1961. It was not about an absence of neutrality or even abstention from global matters, but rather a vision of the future that sparked international cultural cooperations and radical ideas about the third world, which continue to invigorate activists and political movements.
The movement also formulated its own ideas that were radical. “During the Cold War, the
Non-Aligned Movement was a forceful bloc that was pushing issues on the global agenda — the fight against apartheid and the situation of the Palestinians,” Gowan said. Gowan.
“Nonalignment was not simply a reactive exercise in continually rebalancing between the blocs and finding a midpoint,” said Robert Rakove, a Stanford historian who wrote Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World. “It involved an affirmative agenda, including the pursuit of decolonization and economic justice.”
One of the things that have been left behind by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is adherence to mediating. The Belgrade gathering took place during the division of Berlin which was a highly stressful time in during the Cold War. Also, NAM assigned two teams to hold separate meetings together with US president John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Rakove states that NAM’s mediation efforts continued throughout this time of the Vietnam War.
The NAM was unified by powerful leaders: Sukarno, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana among other leaders. They weren’t all democratic However, they all had the reputation of being populists when they stood against the power of great nations that gave them immense authority.
Together, they were the postcolonial period for the world’s developing nations But their positions irked Washington and Moscow and they attempted to destabilize their position. Their successors weren’t as effective in bringing the various non-aligned nations. Later attempts to unite and unify the bloc hasn’t been as productive.
However in the meantime, it is true that the Non-Aligned Movement never went away and the alliance of countries has been in existence through the end of the Cold War, much to the dismay of US officials, including then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who in the year 2006 stated in a snarky way, “I’ve never quite understood what it is they would be nonaligned against at this point.”
The people who led the Non-Aligned Movement of the ’60s were considered to be a symbol of the will of the developing nations fighting colonialism and imperialism most of the nations today who have adopted neutral positions are slipping back into the rule of tyranny. India is one that comes to mind and Egypt is not a source of anti-colonial power (despite the fact that it has a neutral position in UN voting) since it is receiving billions of dollars worth of US weapons every year. An energized movement may struggle to develop a coherent ideology and identity.
However, it is the Russian attack on Ukraine as well as its clear illustration of the infringing of sovereignty and rights of a tiny country is drawing attention to a crucial aspect of the nonalignment philosophy. As Rakove states about the long-lasting significance to NAM, “There’s a consistent desire to assert their sovereignty to forestall enlistment in one or another great power crusade.”
Botes informed me Botes told me that South Africa is “frowning” at the violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. Botes said that powerful powers haven’t been able to stand up to defend
the sovereign rights of Palestinians who are under Israeli occupation, and the Western Saharans living under Moroccan occupation. “What holds true for Peter must hold true for Paul,” said the man to me.
What does nonalignment mean in the 21st century?
Before that Russian invasion, some experts such as the former Chilean ambassador Jorge Heine have called for ” active nonalignment” as a response to the global rivalry between China and the US as well as China.
“Over the long term, you are going to see a lot of Latin America not wanting to choose sides in this new Cold War,” said Long who is now working as an analyst for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “because China is very present in Latin America now … you’re not going to have a Latin America aligning, as it did in the first Cold War, against the Soviet Union with the United States.”
It’s all the more complicated because the president Joe Biden has framed the Ukraine conflict as a struggle between autocracy and democracy — and his administration is reaching for autocracies such as Saudi Arabia, where he’s likely to visit in the coming month. Through the framing of democracy and autocracy, the Biden administration is urging the world to make a choice on the right path, however, not everyone is going to take a US position. In fact, the US could be alienating a number of countries and, perhaps encouraging the formation of an entirely new non-aligned bloc.
The UN Security Council continues to regularly meet, either directly or in indirect ways, regarding issues related to the Ukraine crisis, as per Gowan. However, it appears that the General Assembly has been meeting much less. “One of the reasons it’s quieting down is that, frankly, Ukraine’s allies just don’t believe that if you table more resolutions on the crisis, you’re gonna get the level of support that you got back in March,” said the Ukrainian ambassador to me.
Reminiscent of Sukarno’s speech from 1955 in Bandung the researcher Nontobeko Hlela last month called for the NAM revival in The Kenyan journal The Elephant. “Only by standing together and speaking with one voice can the countries of the Global South hope to have any influence in international affairs and not continue to be just rubber-stampers of the positions of the West,” she wrote.
Importantly, refusing to take sides does not necessarily mean that you will not be a part of the fight. It is the African Union, it might be pointed out, that would like to play a role in mediation in Ukraine. Senegal is currently the head of the union, in addition, Senegalese president Macky Sall visited Moscow last week to talk with Putin.
Sall has a more expansive perspective on the role of NAM beyond solving issues related to the world’s food security issue. It appears that he is taking NAM’s long-standing dedication to diplomacy. In a statement, he declared earlier this week, “We do not want to join forces in this
conflict. Very clear, we are in favor of peace. While we do not support the invasion, we’re striving to de-escalate the conflict, we’re trying to negotiate a ceasefire, to engage in dialogue.”