Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
February 24, 2023
On the first day of the second year of a stalemated Ukraine war with no end in sight, it is probably pre-mature to speculate a new world order after the war.
But if any lesson learned from this war with respect to the current status of the world, it is that the Ukraine war was not inevitable. Given the fact that the war is going on, it is never too late for the West to consider an exit strategy that can be implemented as soon as possible.
The West, led by the US, supported Ukraine war with the simple purpose to maintain global leadership or the status quo. Ukraine is a proxy in this war with Russia, the West strategy is to destroy Russia’s military resources. If Russia is defeated to the extent that it will not be able to challenge the West in military term, then the West can effectively contain China. If China is foolish enough to fall into another proxy war by attacking Taiwan, then the West will be on top of the world for ever. There will no multipolar world order: If the West defeated China and Russia, there is no way that the so-called emerging powers including India and Turkey etc. would be able to mount any challenge to the Mighty West. It is going to be the same unipolar world after the collapse of Soviet Union in 1988.
However, the West must “conclude” the Ukraine war soon, because the West is almost exhausted by the one-year war. Without closing the war, the West and Russia both are being weakened daily albeit at a different rate.
But any realistic ceasefire will need peacekeepers: they can only come from non-West nations. And then the post-war recovery of Europe will take the West years if not decades.
The West may be more united, but it’s also more isolated
FEBRUARY 23, 2023 4:00 AM CET
Timothy Garton Ash co-directs Oxford University’s ‘Europe in a Changing World’ project.
The West has never been more united — nor has it been more isolated.
A year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European and American governments have defied critics with an extraordinary display of unity. But has this internal cohesion been achieved at the expense of external influence?
This is the main question explored in a new poll commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations and the “Europe in a Changing World” project at Oxford University, which covers public opinion from 10 European countries and five from other parts of the world.
Contrary to the fears many had regarding divisions in the West, our poll reveals that while Western public opinion may have been tested, it remains strongly in favor of the defense of Ukraine and against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
77 percent of those polled in the United Kingdom and 65 percent of those polled in European Union countries — along with 71 percent in the United States — see Russia as an “adversary” or “rival” rather than an “ally” or “partner.”
However, the optics of this unity have struck home in both the “the rest” of the world and “the West.”
The renewed centrality of American power in Europe — with billions of dollars spent sustaining the war effort in Ukraine, unity across the Atlantic on sanctions and diplomatic positions toward Russia, as well as a new lease of life for Western-led institutions like NATO and the G7 — hasn’t been lost on non-Westerners.
For them, Europe and the U.S. are seen as being part of a single West, albeit with some nuances. 72 percent of those polled in Turkey, 60 percent in China and 59 percent in Russia see EU and U.S. policies toward their countries as largely similar or the same — doubtless a disappointment for French President Emmanuel Macron and other champions of Europe’s “strategic autonomy.”
But while the conflict has brought the West closer together, it has also exposed a continent-sized gap between its own perception of Russia and the war, and those of other nations outside it.
Part of this gap comes from radically different perceptions about the state of the world.
Citizens from Europe and non-Western nations share one conviction, which is that the U.S.-led liberal order that has dominated global politics and security since the end of World War II has gone. From Russia and China to the EU, the U.K. and the U.S., less than 10 percent of our respondents believe that in a decade’s time, the international order will most likely be U.S.-dominated. But their understanding of what sort of order will come next differs sharply.
Shaped by the legacy of the Cold War, many in the West believe we’re entering a bipolar world dominated by the U.S. and China. In Warsaw this week, U.S. President Joe Biden again framed the war in Ukraine as a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism, seeking to use the defense of democracy as a rallying cry both at home and abroad. And in the U.S., the rhetoric of “free world” leadership has returned.
In other parts of the world, however, most don’t buy this division. And the most fundamental reason for this is that from the perspective of those in China, Turkey or Russia, we’re entering a multipolar world split between many centers of power — not a bipolar one.
In other words, citizens of these countries believe that fragmentation into different orders will define the future. And in this scenario, the entire West will be just one center of power among many others — neither single-handedly defining the order nor leading global democracy.
This is also partly down to changing views of democracy itself.
Whereas democracy was widely equated with the West during the Cold War, we now find that those in China, India and Turkey no longer make that equivalence. Neither do most non-Western populations we polled think that the defense of democracy is the main motive behind Western support for Ukraine — less than a quarter of respondents in Turkey and China said they believe the West is supporting Ukraine to defend its democracy or territory.
A more fundamental reason for this view is that people in major non-Western powers now tend to think that they themselves represent a “real” democracy as well. When asked which country comes closest to having a “real democracy,” a stunning 77 percent in China responded that it was . . . China, and 57 percent in India said . . . India. The responses weren’t quite as clear-cut in Russia and Turkey, but still, the most frequently given answer in Turkey was Turkey (36 percent) and in Russia it was Russia (20 percent).
Thus, our polling reveals a big risk for Western foreign policy going forward.
With Western governments foreseeing the return of a Cold War-type bipolarity between democracy and authoritarianism, they are often inclined to view countries like India and Turkey as swing states that can be cajoled into siding with them. But those countries see themselves very differently — as emerging great powers that may side with the West on some issues, but not on all.
These nations are playing a pragmatic game, seeking to maintain good relations with Russia while making mildly worded criticisms of the invasion. And though Western media has focused on Russia’s abject military failure in what was supposed to be a short, clinical campaign, elsewhere in the world, the country retains its luster, with three-quarters of those surveyed in China (76 percent), India (77 percent) and Turkey (73 percent) believing Russia is now either stronger or just as strong as it was before the war.
The West’s ability to work alongside such international partners with different understandings of the conflict will have an important effect on the outcome of the war, as well as on the shape of geopolitics when it ends. And to do this, it needs the humility to view countries like India, Brazil and Turkey as partners in shaping a future order — not as players to be brought over to the right side of history.
The war in Ukraine has accelerated the development of a post-Western world. And given current trends, this looks likely to be a world in which the West may be more united — but also more divided from the rest.