Many emerging nations, which have been non-aligned for a long time, are getting closer to Russia. This is a major danger for Western democracies.
The invasion of Ukraine has marked a return to war in Europe and open confrontation between democracies and authoritarian empires. It has awakened the West, but, in response to the realignment of the democracies, has come the non-alignment of the South.
Faced by the new Cold War – triggered by the invasion of Ukraine – between the democracies and Putin’s Russia, backed by Xi Jinping’s China, the emerging nations have refused to take sides. Like India, they have systematically abstained during UN votes, and have chosen not to apply the sanctions against Russia. This is a position shared by Turkey, despite its membership of NATO. They are practicing transactional diplomacy to suit their interests. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has resisted pressure from the United States to increase production and get the price of oil to fall.
A favorable bias towards Russia is discernible under cover of non-alignment. Although Russia has been ostracized by the West, it is far from having been isolated by other countries, for it is supported by India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, many of the Gulf States, South Africa and most African countries.
In being a crystallization of world’s transformation in the 21st century, the war in Ukraine records the way in which the non-aligned South has changed its very nature and its status. These countries are now asserting themselves politically, claiming strategic autonomy, and intend to bring their weight to bear on the management of global problems, whether they concern security, healthcare, trade, production of essential goods – notably medicines and vaccines – or the fight against global warming. Their ambition is to become the center of the world in the 21st century, with the North on its outskirts.
The rise to power of non-aligned countries is the direct result of their economic take-off. The emerging countries have been the main beneficiaries of globalization, which has reduced the wealth gap between North and South by more than a third, and they now account for 52% of global GNP. Trade between Southern countries is the most dynamic component of world trading, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
At the same time, Western countries have lost control of the world order. They have lost a series of wars – from Afghanistan to the Sahel –, lost the fight to globalize capitalism with the 2008 crash, and lost the ability to guarantee the safety of their own populations during the Covid pandemic. The withdrawal of the United States and Europe’s powerlessness have created a strategic vacuum, into which the authoritarian empires as well as the Southern countries have stepped, so as to fill the gap. Noy only have the Southern countries freed themselves from their dependency on the West, but they have become increasingly hostile towards it.
The support of the non-aligned countries for Russia over the Ukraine war is a strong warning signal to democracies, which are the target of the authoritarian empires. At a time when history has become world history, and in a genuinely multipolar world, the West cannot afford to lose the South, for this will mean putting itself in great danger.
(Article published in Le Point, 23rd June 2022)