For the past year, many Western analysts have regarded the war in Ukraine as marking a turning point in geopolitics, bringing together not only the United States and its NATO allies but also a broader liberal coalition to counter Russia. In this view, countries around the world ‘should naturally support the West in this defining contest between democracy and autocracy’.
Beyond the borders of North America and Europe, however, the past 12 months have looked very different, ‘Foreign Affairs’ writes with surprise.
At the outset of the war, numerous countries in the global South identified with neither the West nor Russia. Several dozen — including such large democracies as India, Indonesia, and South Africa, as well as numerous other countries in Africa — abstained from resolutions condemning Russia at the UN General Assembly and in the UN Human Rights Council.
Many of them have also been reluctant to formally adopt the West’s economic sanctions against Russia while respecting them in practice, and as the war has unfolded, some of them have sought to maintain relations with Russia as much as with the West.
Moreover, in many parts of the world, the most crucial issues of 2022 had little to do with the war in Ukraine. Emerging from the havoc of the pandemic and confronted by far-reaching challenges ranging from debt crises to a slowing world economy to climate change, many developing countries have been alienated by what they view as the self-absorption of the West and of China and Russia. For them, the war in Ukraine is about the future of Europe, not the future of the world order, and the war has become a distraction from the more pressing global issues of our time.
In this sense, for many parts of the globe, a year of war in Ukraine has done less to redefine the world order than to set it further adrift, raising new questions about how urgent transnational challenges can be met.
However, the United States being distracted by Ukraine from its roles elsewhere, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. The precipitate withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 also raised questions about U.S. staying power and perseverance, especially now as it enters a new presidential electoral cycle. Nor has its own domestic politics permitted the United States to provide constructive leadership to the international multilateral system.
For Europe, the war has limited its ability to play a broader global role, given its preoccupation with European order for the foreseeable future, regardless of whether the war ends in victory for either side or in a protracted frozen conflict.
The economic policies of major powers such as China, the United States, and Europe are now shaped by politics as much as by economics. Today, in many cases, security of supply and political interests take priority over price considerations in global manufacturing and value chains. “Friend shoring” and onshoring are being driven by political considerations rather than by economic responses to the changing situation.
Disillusioned by great-power rivalry, many countries are seeking their own solutions.
Alienated and resentful, many developing countries see the war in Ukraine and the West’s rivalry with China as distracting from urgent issues such as debt, climate change, and the effects of the pandemic. Neither international institutions, nor the West, nor its Chinese and Russian rivals, have found or offered meaningful solutions to these problems.
Great-Power rivalry complicates the task of addressing such issues.
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