When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991 Gorbachev’s vision of a ‘common European homeland from the Atlantic to the Urals’ did not prevail. Rather than retract ,NATO expanded. Russia was too weak to halt the process but was useful as a potential adversary. Suggestions that it could actually join the alliance were peremptorily dismissed. NATO was far too useful for the Americans as the means to perpetuate their dominance of Western Europe. And without the Soviet Union the members of the alliance could be called on to join the global campaign against terror and go to war in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, places in many cases they knew little about.
The catastrophic war in Ukraine should not have come as a surprise. Tension between NATO and Russia had been intensifying for some time. From as far back as the era of Clinton and Yeltsin experienced observers had warned about the likely consequences of perpetuating the divisions of the cold war. But American policy makers are no doubt pleased with the solidarity of their client states with the added bonus of Sweden and Finland surprisingly seeking membership of the alliance. And having recruited a host of willing adjutants for Imperial ventures in the Middle East the next task is to turn NATO into a global player with the mission to both contain and confront China. There doesn’t appear to be any reluctance to join this new crusade. In early June the President of little Lithuania Ingrida Simonyte announced that she was willing to join the rest of the alliance ‘as it stares down China and Russia.’
But anti-Russian solidarity in Europe has not been matched in the rest of the world nor is there any enthusiasm to sign up to the coming confrontation with China. There are many reasons for this. As with the classic cold war there are bound to be many states which will determine to remain non-aligned. And the power and prestige of the West is greatly diminished. America can no longer present itself as an exemplar of a well ordered democracy. There is just too much that is going wrong. Domestic opinion is deeply fractured. Democracy itself is in trouble in the land of the free.
Wider forces are also at work. At the very moment when the west is fanning cold war embers there is a recrudescence of anti-colonialism in Europe’s erstwhile colonies with a focus on the legacy of slavery, the expropriation and destruction of indigenous societies and the accompanying intellectual heritage of racial superiority. In the rest of the world the West’s sense of entitlement is seen as just the latest iteration of habits of thought and behaviour which derive from the era when white men bestrode the world as self-selected lords of human kind.
The West’s hypocrisy is also under fire. The shock and outrage about Russia’s onslaught on Ukraine renews the memory of the disastrous wars unleashed on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and the accompanying war crimes which have never been called to account. But the contemporaneous war in Yemen receives little attention and less condemnation even though those pillars of NATO the United States, Britain and France have all assisted Saudi Arabia. And the results speak for themselves. A U.N survey at the end of 2021 concluded that the war had resulted in 377,000 deaths including 10,200 children who had been killed or wounded. Famine conditions face 160,000 and 19 million people will go hungry. As recently as January this year a Saudi airstrike killed91 civilians and wounded another 226. Not that anyone in the west bothered to notice it.
The Washington Post reported on the 15th of June that President Biden is to visit Saudi Arabia in July for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He explained that the Kingdom had been ‘a strategic partner of the United States for nearly eight decades’. No talk there of sanctions and condemnation. It illustrates how empty is the present Western rhetoric about a global struggle between democracy and autocracy. The world would be forgiven for assuming that the West is only outraged by war when the victims are white. This was certainly the conclusion of the Malaysian Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin when he addressed the recent Davos Conference. He lamented that “ the colour of your skin argument” still seemed relevant .’Now that violence and state terror effects someone like you—that is a white westerner suddenly, there is this moral outrage from Washington to Davos.’
The West’s hypocrisy about refugees and immigration has also been highlighted by the Ukraine war. The exemplary reception of the waves of over two million refugees fleeing from the war is so different from Poland’s hostility to Middle Eastern refugees still stuck in no man’s land between Poland and Belarus. They have been forgotten by the western media. Many are still there. The Polish army patrols the border and work proceeds on a 186 kilometre border fence. Latvia and Lithuania have adopted similar defensive policies. Poland can scarcely claim to have no responsibility in the matter. Their forces spent years in both Iraq and Afghanistan helping to produce the chaos from which people are trying to escape. But the electorate is adamant. In a recent survey 70% of respondents didn’t want non-white people living in their country.
Poland is not alone when it comes to migration from outside fortress Europe. After the migration crisis of 2015 European opinion has swung decisively against non-European migration. Right wing parties have ridden the wave into the centre of political life. Multiculturalism has been decisively rejected even in the erstwhile liberal Nordic countries. And in the background is the growing popularity of what has become known as the racial replacement theory. It is most influential in the United States. Surveys now show that a third of Americans and many more Republicans believe that there is a conspiracy to replace white or ‘heritage’ Americans with coloured foreigners.
The link between domestic developments such as these and the growing hostility to China scarcely needs emphasising. It is a result of replacement theory projected on a global scale. And that is of great concern to the rest of the world. A chorus of many voices insists that they want to work on both sides of the growing divide and don’t want to choose. Can this surprise us? In the C20th the whole world was drawn into two disastrous world wars. This was the legacy of Europe , North America and Japan. Why would anyone wish to see a C21st replay?