New Cold War and the Global South
There can be no doubt that the world stands on the precipice of multiple crises and the risk of confrontation leading to nuclear conflict is the gravest it has ever been. The crises are accelerated by the illegal Russian aggression on Ukraine and equally by the United States for the provocation of this war, and its allies of promoting the expansion of NATO and taking steps to incorporate Ukraine into Western militarism.
These steps rest on the flawed paradigm of competitive and exclusive security – a paradigm shared by hegemonic and major powers.
This tinderbox conjuncture is due to the deadly combination of: the search for hegemony and primacy that rests on militarism, upgrading nuclear weapons, opportunism of using local conflicts for intervention, denialism, and refusal to understand the perceptions of other countries.
After months of the Ukraine war, instead of the search of a diplomatic solution, the NATO Strategic Concept 2022 is a virtual declaration of the new Cold War to maintain the West's primacy of power and wealth.
The new Cold war is different and more dangerous than Cold war 1 because:
1. The first Cold war had the Post WW II security architecture with buffers in place to prevent direct confrontation. These institutions are fast losing legitimacy with this relentless unfolding of confrontation with Russia and competition with China.
2. The Soviet Union had a command and control system of accountability under the CPSU. Currently, institutions of the Russian Federation are weak and reflect the will of President Putin.
3. Sino-Soviet rivalry was deep and the Sino-US agreement of 1978, where US recognised Taiwan as part of China brought peace. China de facto supported NATO, and signed the NPT in 1991. Now the US has reversed its strategic ambiguity on Taiwan and is containing China through militarism in the Asia Pacific.
4. Cold War 1 had important arms controls like SALT I and II; Start, INF, and so on. Today even the NPT is at risk, for example from the AUKUS Agreement.
5. Russia and China are integrated in the same global market as the US and Europe and chasing the same technologies and controls over space. This makes inter-imperialist contradictions more intense and any conflict can go out of control.
What does the Global South (77 countries + China) think of the new Cold War?
The Cold War was a hot war for the Global South – with wars and interventions in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Angola, Middle East, Latin America. The South does not want this pattern repeated.
Second, in the current situation, the Global South has changed. Many countries have made gains from globalization and are 'emerging economies' – especially China, but also India, Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia and others. But neoliberalism has increased inequality, and militarization. Several are nuclear powers. Most have sophisticated weaponry and are ready to use it.
Third, the position of Global South is similar to their response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. A minority of about 7 are US allies, they condemned Russian aggression and placed sanctions (Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Cambodia, Fiji, Kenya). A very small minority aligned with Russian positions (China, some Central Asian Republics). The rest, the largest group of over 60 countries, condemned the Russian invasion while others abstained in the UN, but almost all had a discourse on Russia's 'legitimate security concerns' about NATO expansion. So they maintain neutrality. 70 countries have opposed sanctions and are anxious to retain imports of wheat, energy, fertilizers and commodities, and economic relations with Russia. In fact the food crisis is of utmost concern.
Fourth, the Global South sees this war of attrition in Europe and the competition with China as an extension of the 19th century 'Great Game' in new form. Except the South has more agency to see how they can gain from this competition. The South is using strategic autonomy despite the pressures they face from the West. Biden's latest trip to West Asia for example, where he tried to convince nine Arab leaders to join the US in their efforts in a new cold war and failed.
India has resisted US pressure to join the Cold War sanctions against Russia and on the contrary increased energy imports and economic relations with Russia. Despite its problematic relations with China, India would not like to be involved in a confrontation with China. But India will increase its military interoperability with the US and NATO to put pressure on China. Strategic autonomy is important to the Global South.
Fifth, unlike the East European countries, these developing countries do not see Russia as a threat. Russia and China supported many liberation movements in the South and bailed them out in the face of Western neo-colonialism. China is problematic for many in the South – but they would not like to be part of any military containment policy or confrontation.
The South has internalised the contradictions and double standard of the West, of moral grounds where normative principles of human rights coincide with geostrategic interests, for example on the Palestine question or the US support to Saudi Arabia in their war on Yemen and US/NATO interventions and bombing in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Afghanistan and others just in the last decades has been noted by people in the South.
Make no mistake, the regimes of the South are no holders of normative values themselves and project national interests for their regime's stability. Most are highly authoritarian and ethnic populists, with scant regard for rights. But have little international leverage. That is why they espouse neutrality and not non alignment.
In these circumstances the current flashpoints stretch almost across Eurasia from Atlantic to Pacific where the adversaries share a border.
(i) Russia and Ukraine in the West, a major war of attrition in Europe. Biden has meanwhile moved deeper into Europe with a permanent base in Poland and increased troops etc.
(ii) China and Taiwan/US in the South China Sea and the Pacific. Just this month (July) a US naval destroyer transited the Taiwan Straits, the third provocative activity in just one week. Kissinger spoke of the US's "endless confrontation" with China.
(iii) North and South Korea.
(iv) India-China-Pakistan, all nuclear weapon states.
(v) Iran-US where Biden has stepped back from the JCP – but Israel and the US have threatened that they will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons and are "prepared to use all aspects of national power to ensure this outcome."
(v) Syria-US are all dangerous flashpoints.
In these circumstances peace and social movements need to –
1. More states must join and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons model.
2. Neutrality, strategic autonomy, non-alignment are all different but important models of the Global South to maintain international peace.
3. Call for cease fire, withdrawal, and negotiations; call for common security.
4. Civil society and social movements must continue putting pressure to collectively show that the existential threats for all peoples are global warming, destruction of ecosystems, the increasing social inequity between and within nations.
A just transition needs just peace and common security.
Also read 'Hard Decades Ahead to End US Hegemony'
Cover photo AFP