On July 11 Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, declared that, for now, the EU is not winning the “global battle of narratives”. But five months have not yet passed… He then again repeated his time-worn claim that Europe is on the side of truth – although many countries are inclined to disagree.
In other words, Josep Borrell can see with one eye that Europe’s arguments are not winning, but he is afraid to open his other eye. Because, as anyone with both eyes open is forced to admit the obvious fact, that many countries outside NATO see the war in Ukraine rather differently, and their reasons for disagreeing with the “collective West” go far beyond those cited by the EU’s senior diplomat.
In short, Borrell’s main arguments are that many countries do not wish to quarrel with Russia, they complain about double standards and they do not want to jeopardize their geopolitical interests. But he does not see fit to examine the very sensible reasons for many of those countries, including the members of the African Union, not wishing to blindly follow in NATO’s or the EU’s footsteps. And yet these reasons are quite logical. The EU and USA defend international law only when it is in their interests. They wring their hands over the situation in Ukraine, but the plight of Iraq during its civil war or of Syria or Libya during the conflicts that have torn those countries left them unmoved. Nobody accused the West of infringing the UN Charter or required it to play “by the rules” in those conflicts. But they are depicting a “special military operation” against neo-Nazis in a small area of Ukraine as a global conflict.
In the current situation there is no reason why African nations should quarrel with Russia, which, unlike the European powers, never had any colonies in Africa, played no part in splitting the continent up, and was never involved in slave trading or in looting its natural resources. It was not Russia that imposed one-sided trading deals or neo-colonial policies that have prevented Africa from developing. Russia has never, either during the Soviet period or since the fall of the USSR, given the Africans any reason to question its determination to help them build up their own nation states and protect their sovereignty. Borrell cannot deny this statement, but to agree with it outright would be to proclaim that the “Emperor has no clothes”.
It is certainly true that the African nations do not wish to lose such an important ally as Russia, and, as Josep Borrell quite rightly says – although without giving this argument its full due, they have no wish to jeopardize their geopolitical interests, including their food security, which to a great extent depends on Russia, currently responsible for a massive 20% of wheat exports.
And the final reason, omitted by Josep Borrell, is that the Africans genuinely see the events in Ukraine not as an act of aggression against a peaceful state but as an attempt by Moscow to protect itself from the West’s attempts to turn Ukraine into a neo-Nazi stronghold for NATO – an aggressive military organization that is bent on world dominance. Far from being puppets of the West, most African nations are led by independent governments and are mindful of their national interests and unwilling to submit to a foreign political agenda, even when it is expressed in terms of fine concepts such as the fight for independence and the respect for international law. They can see how the West manipulates international law, using it to further its own wishes and ignoring it whenever it poses an obstacle to the West’s ability to dictate terms or dominate other nations.
It appears from Josep Borrell’s remarks that the EU is either unaware or unwilling to accept that the global power balance has now shifted and that Washington and Brussels can no longer retain their dominant position. Yes, Europe is still in a position to put pressure of Africa, especially in view of the fact that it provides three quarters of the African Union’s budget, and supports a wide range of humanitarian programs. But Europe’s influence over Africa is becoming weaker and weaker – the gap between the promises and the real achievements is already too great – and as a result European politicians are resorting to threats or outright blackmail to pressurize the African nations into doing their bidding.
But the real danger for Europe lies not so much in opposition from Africa as in the African nations’ real interest in joining the struggle for a fairer, multi-polar world in which their huge resources could be used not just to enrich the world’s wealthy but to support their own development and integration, thereby potentially turning the continent into one of the world’s main economic centers.
And the Western nations will have to decide what position to adopt in relation to the reform of the UN Security Council when Africa claims two permanent places on that body, as it is entitled to do under the Ezulwini Consensus, or in relation to the problem of changing the conditions for the receipt of support from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund.
Of course it would be wrong to dismiss all politicians as stubborn bureaucrats who, like Josep Borrell, are unwilling to look the truth in its face. Many politicians or former politicians are beginning to see that neither Africa nor Russia can be dictated to and that neither can be forced into doing anyone’s bidding. The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke about this global change in the Ditchley Annual Lecture, given on July 16. As a core member of the liberal global elite, it was something of a surprise to hear him claim that the period of Western political and economic dominance is coming to an end and that world is going to be multi-polar. This realistic assessment, of course, has come rather late, but at least it is a sign that a number of figures in the Western European (and, more importantly, British or American) elite understand: that a new era is approaching in which the West will be just one of the main global power centers, and will be unable to unilaterally dictate the rules of engagement to the rest of the world.
But this instance of British realism certainly does not mean that the West, least of all as represented by its veteran statesmen, has decided to throw in the towel and stop trying to retain its dominant status in some form or other. On the contrary, it suggests the West now intends to adapt to the new world of a resurgent Russia and China and is trying to bring Africa, the Middle East, as well as India and Indonesia, over to its side. To do this it is adopting a number of strategies: boosting arms spending, providing countries with superior technology and relying on “soft power” methods, such as by raising a new generation of pro-Western African leaders.
But, given Britain’s past form, it is clear things will not stop there. London, as the West’s intellectual leader, will intrigue against, confront or undermine all those who dare to challenge the Anglo-American world order. And the African nations will need to keep their eyes open and be aware of who they can count on as a true friend – one who has stood the tests of time and history.
Oleg Pavlov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.