Sinophobia, Russophobia, mutations of the same political virusNov 2, 2022
There is no doubt that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a serious war crime regardless of several provocations, including NATO’s eastward expansion and the role of the United States in the 2014 Maidan coup. Even so, the West is in no position to lecture Russia on sovereignty violations.
Given Russia’s modern history, it is possible to have sympathy with the Kremlin’s quest for a cordon sanitaire on its southwestern frontier without supporting an illegal war which is being fought “to the last Ukrainian” because the West sees the conflict as an opportunity to weaken its Cold War enemy. Washington knows Ukraine cannot prevail despite pouring weapons and munitions into the country. It cares little for the civilian population and, together with the UK, is firmly opposed to a diplomatic resolution.
This is now a proxy war between NATO and Russia. By training Ukrainian troops, some of whom may be neo-Nazis, Australia has formally joined the conflict in precisely the same way it did in Vietnam exactly 60 years ago.
Those outraged by Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty are on solid ground providing they regard the invasion as an attack upon a principle that should be upheld universally. However, if their concern is selective – and they remain supportive of or indifferent towards other comparable crimes – they are in no position to lecture Moscow on international morality.
The outraged tend to be the very same people who claim that China is about to launch a military invasion of Taiwan, without producing any evidence for such a charge. They have forgotten that most of the world acknowledges the PRC’s sovereignty of its “renegade province”: the one China policy. How can a state invade its own territory? These days, Sinophobia and Russophobia are mutations of the same political virus.
Russia and China are official enemies of the West because they do not take orders from the United States and defy the post-Cold War unipolar structure which left the US triumphant and unchallenged. In particular, they explicitly reject Washington’s self-serving and misleadingly titled “rules-based international order”.
However, the most striking aspects of today’s sovereignty debates are the invasions and occupations of foreign territory the West remains either entirely unconcerned about, or in many cases actively supports and enables.
There is almost total amnesia and silence in the West about Turkey’s annexation of northern Cyprus (1974-). Turkey is an increasingly authoritarian state which not only escapes international sanctions but is allowed to remain in the world’s most powerful military alliance – NATO. There is little prospect of a reconciliation or compensation for those whose land in the north of the island was expropriated by Turkish authorities. On the international diplomatic agenda, the issue of a re-unified Cyprus is all but dead. Despite the friendship between Putin and Erdoğan, the contrast between Western attitudes towards Turkey in Cyprus and Russia in Ukraine could not be starker.
Israel’s illegal colonisation of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza would not be possible without Washington’s financial, military and political support. The US also violates International Law by regarding the Golan Heights as Israeli instead of Syrian, and recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. The indifference of the West to Palestinian suffering extends to silence about the expulsions, imprisonments, house demolitions and murders committed by what the world’s leading human rights organisations consider to be an apartheid state. However the occupation could not be maintained without arms, money and diplomatic protection by Western states, including Australia. So much for Palestinian sovereignty.
Morocco illegally occupies the Western Sahara in violation of International Law. In the past the United States sought to mediate a resolution of the conflict between Rabat and the Polisario, a war not unlike East Timor’s 24 year struggle for independence from Indonesia’s occupation. However, in return for Morocco normalising its relationship with Israel under the Trump Administration’s so called ‘Abraham Accords’, the United States agreed to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara. Clearly the sovereignty of some states is vital to world peace but for others it is not so sacrosanct.
The sovereignty of Syria, for example, has no value in the West. The United States and Israel now bomb the country so regularly, the illegal attacks on the country’s sovereignty pass almost without comment in the Western media. The same can be said for Saudi Arabia’s brutal war against Yemen: totally illegal and only made possible by UK and US arms sales to the Gulf tyranny, together with diplomatic support at the United Nations. The West cares more about the enforcement of headscarves for women in Iran than it does for exactly the same issue in Saudi Arabia: and much less about cholera epidemics in Yemen induced by Riyadh’s bombing campaign.
The list goes on. Britain’s deportation of the entire population of the Chagos Archipelago in 1965 so the US could establish a naval base there was deemed illegal by the World Court in 2019. The islands are lawfully the sovereign territory of Mauritius. London has simply ignored the ruling and resolutions of the UN General Assembly and continues to administer the territory illegally, underlining just how seriously colonial states take the notion of sovereignty when it infringes upon their prerogatives.
Indonesia’s illegal incorporation of West Papua into the republic in 1962 produced one of the world longest, continuous insurgencies and intractable conflicts. Despite a fraudulent plebiscite held in 1969, the economic exploitation of the territory, cultural assaults on Melanesians, torture, killings and the violent suppression of West Papuan nationalism, the West has remained indifferent, especially neighbouring Australia. In a repeat of how Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor was legitimated, the question of West Papua’s sovereignty cannot even be raised, let alone discussed by those who currently liken Putin to Hitler while averting their eyes from a long-standing sovereignty crime much closer to home.
States come into and go out of existence all the time. Boundaries shift as some states amalgamate while others, more commonly, separate. Where are Yugoslavia, the USSR, East Germany and Czechoslovakia today?
Frequently, land is just seized by force and never returned to its rightful owners: sceptics should ask Mexicans where they think their northern border should be drawn. This, in no way, mitigates or justifies Putin’s crime of invading Ukraine, an act for which he should be tried in the International Court of Justice. Regrettably, this is about as likely as Bush, Blair and Howard being held accountable for their invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In international politics, hypocrisy and double standards reign, not principles. The West is in no position to lecture Russia or any other state on the evils of sovereignty violations. It is up to its neck in them all around the world.