A new world order: Why Europe risks losing much more than the war in Ukraine

A carnival float depicts German chancellor Olaf Scholz in the clutches of China's leader Xi Jinping in Cologne, Germany.
A carnival float depicts German chancellor Olaf Scholz in the clutches of China's leader Xi Jinping in Cologne, Germany. Copyright Martin Meissner/AP
By Alexandra Leistner
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The war in Ukraine has accelerated a situation that has been developing for some time: A new world order in which the East and West confront each other more decisively than before. The decisive factor is countries that have hitherto been accorded too little importance: The Global South.

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Europe and the US are in a kind of bubble, firmly backing Ukraine after Russia's full-scale invasion started last year. Yet two-thirds of the global population live in countries that have not actively condemned Moscow. 

In fact, countries in the Global South are more likely to support Russia than Ukraine. Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb calls it a "wake-up call."

Some 40 countries have imposed sanctions on Moscow. "Zero countries from Africa. Zero countries from Latin America. And only two or three from Asia," Stubb told Euronews. 

Last week, Moscow outlined its foreign policy, identifying China and India as key partners and announcing plans to expand ties with Africa and Latin America.

So, as supporters of Ukraine, are the US and Europe risking more than defeat on the battlefield? Will the outcome of Russia's war determine a new world order?

Is the liberal, norms-based system of the Global West reaching its limits and being replaced by a static, authoritarian system like those advocated by China and Russia in the Global East?

What is the Global South's position on the war in Ukraine?

Few in the Global South feel like they are affected by the war. "Countries in Latin America are saying no, this is not our war," explains Christopher Sabatini, Senior Fellow for Latin America at Chatham House. 

Hopes in the West that Latin American countries would send weapons to Ukraine were quickly dismissed. 

At the same time, the alliance between Russia and China is growing stronger, not least because of Chinese President Xi Jinping's trip to Moscow - just days after the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes - suggesting that Beijing is not neutral in the war.

But it's also a matter of emotion, related to the history of many countries in the Global South, Stubb, who is also the Director of the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute in Florence, explains. "They basically point the finger at Europe and the US and say, 'Don't come and lecture us about territorial integrity and sovereignty. Look at what you did during colonialism. Or, look at what happened in Iraq.' "

AFP
A woman is inoculated against COVID-19 with the CoronaVac vaccine, developed by China's Sinovac firm, at a vaccination point at the Metro Cable in Medellin, Colombia,AFP

The power is in the Global South

Analysts say it is unlikely that the countries of the Global South will unite to join the Global West or Global East. The Global South is the "decider", but it does not want to choose, Stubb says.

"It will swing like a pendulum between the two. They have the economy, they have the resources, and they have the power to determine the direction the world will take," Stubb said.

Countries in the Global South are also using the current situation as an opportunity to assert their independence in the face of a waning US power globally, as well as within the Western Hemisphere, Sabatini explains. "Many of them feel that the US and Western Europe have ignored their concerns for a long time."

For example, a number of Latin American diplomats said after the UN General Assembly vote on Russia that they had simply not been consulted beforehand.

The US has been urging countries to stay on its side, "while it's offering very little concretely in terms of an alternative," Sabatini said.

For example, Europe and the UK didn't exactly cover themselves with glory when it came to distributing COVID-19 vaccinations, and the demand to take climate change into account when expanding industry and the economy was also met with criticism in the Global South, where the West's economic success is based on the industrial revolution - in other words, basically on environmental pollution, Stubb explains.

The question is, does China manage to maintain strategic relations with the Global South in a way that creates a new, Beijing-led world order?

How is China wooing the Global South?

China has been trying to woo the Global South for decades, using financial investments and loans. And they are more flexible than those of the World Bank and, importantly, not subject to "strings and conditions."

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China is also "a very attractive market for Latin American commodities, and it also offers something that many Latin American countries really lack, which is infrastructure investment", Sabatini explains. And countries like Brazil and Argentina desperately need these.

At the same time, values diverge widely between countries in Latin America, for example, and those who want to reshape the liberal world order.

For Latin America, protecting human rights in general, women's rights, indigenous rights, or those of the LGBTQI+ community, for example, has become extremely important in recent years, Sabatini said.

"Latin American governments need to be aware of the real benefits of the liberal world order, which has not always served their interests, but has been an effective platform for the enforcement of states' rights or the protection of human rights through international law."

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference at the end of an EU-China summit at a European Council building in Brussels.AP Photo

What does the West have to offer the Global South?

If the West is to come out victorious from this situation, it needs "a more dignified foreign policy," Stubb warns. This would involve "limiting high moral standards" and trying to "engage and give the Global South some capacity to act."

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"We are too arrogant, too paternalistic and too moralistic," Stubb said.

In fact, no country from the Global South is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It is also barely represented in the internationally-powerful IMF or the World Bank. Stubb also points out that trade with countries from the Global South could be expanded.

The future of the geopolitical world order thus depends on the Global South and the importance the West is willing to give it - but also on its policy toward China. "Our relations with China are among the most complicated and important in the world," the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen summed it up in her first speech devoted entirely to the country.

"If the West wants to maintain the liberal order and separate norms-based order, it's going to have to go to the negotiating table”, said Stubb.

"What the Chinese want is not a liberal order but perhaps some elements of a normal and rules-based world order. That is the balance we need to find."

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That they are increasingly taking China and the Global South seriously is evidenced by the itineraries of leading politicians in Europe: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has been touring countries in the southern hemisphere since taking office in an effort to win them over as partners for Europe and the West.

US Vice President Kamala Harris has just completed a trip to Africa. And French President Emmanuel Macron is accompanying von der Leyen to Beijing at the end of the week.

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