Looking Over the Horizon at Nonalignment and Peace
Catastrophes of one kind or another have rippled outward from Ukraine, including galloping inflation that is out of control. Areas of the world that are not directly party to the conflict are being hit hard by rising prices nonetheless, with political unrest an inevitable consequence. In this context, the Peace and Justice Project, a research institute headed by Jeremy Corbyn, joined up with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and with two media partners, Globetrotter and the Morning Star, to produce a series of reflections on the concepts of nonalignment and peace. The first report, by Roger McKenzie and Vijay Prashad, lays out the issues that are further explored by the rest of the articles in this series.
This series was originally produced and distributed by Globetrotter and the Morning Star from April to July 2022 and updated by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research for publication in this booklet in September 2022.
War is an ugly part of the human experience. Everything about it is hideous. War is most obviously the act of invasion and the brutality that goes along with its operations. No war is precise; every war hurts civilians. Each act of bombardment sends a neurological shudder through society.
World War II demonstrated this ugliness in the Holocaust and in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From Hiroshima and the Holocaust rose two mighty movements, one for peace and against the perils of further nuclear attacks, and the other for an end to the divisions of humanity and for a nonalignment from these divisions. The Stockholm Appeal of 1950, signed by nearly 300 million people, called for an absolute ban on nuclear weapons. Five years later, 29 countries from Africa and Asia, representing 54 percent of the world’s population, gathered in Bandung, Indonesia, to sign a 10-point pledge against war and for the “promotion of mutual interests and cooperation.” The Bandung Spirit was for peace and for nonalignment, for the peoples of the world to put their efforts into building a process to eradicate history’s burdens (illiteracy, ill health, hunger) by using their social wealth. Why spend money on nuclear weapons when money should be spent on classrooms and hospitals?
Despite the major gains of many of the new nations that had emerged out of colonialism, the overwhelming force of the older colonial powers prevented the Bandung Spirit from defining human history. Instead, the civilization of war prevailed. This civilization of war is revealed in the massive waste of human wealth in the production of armed forces—sufficient to destroy hundreds of planets—and the use of these armed forces as the first instinct to settle disputes. Since the 1950s, the battlefield of these ambitions has not been in Europe or in North America, but rather it has been in Africa, Asia, and Latin America—areas of the world where old colonial sensibilities believe that human life is less important. This international division of humanity—which says that a war in Yemen is normal, whereas a war in Ukraine is horrific—defines our time. There are 40 wars taking place across the globe; there needs to be political will to fight to end each of these, not just those that are taking place within Europe. The Ukrainian flag is ubiquitous in the West; what are the colors of the Yemeni flag, of the Sahrawi flag, and of the Somali flag?
We are overwhelmed these days with certainties that seem less and less real. As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, there is a baffling view that negotiations are futile. This view circulates even when reasonable people agree that all wars must end in negotiations. If that is the case, then why not call for an immediate ceasefire and build the trust necessary for negotiations? Negotiations are only feasible if there is respect on all sides, and if there is an attempt to understand that all sides in a military conflict have reasonable demands. To wit, to paint this war as the whims of Russian President Vladimir Putin is part of the exercise of permanent war. Security guarantees for Ukraine are necessary; but so are security guarantees for Russia, which would include a return to a serious international arms control regime.
Peace does not come merely because we wish for it. It requires a fight in the trenches of ideas and institutions. The political forces in power profit from war, and so they clothe themselves in machismo to better represent the arms dealers who want more war, not less. These people in the blue suits of bureaucracy are not to be trusted with the world’s future. They fail us when it comes to the climate catastrophe; they fail us when it comes to the pandemic; they fail us when it comes to peacemaking. We need to summon up the old spirits of peace and nonalignment and bring these to life inside mass movements that are the only hope of this planet.
It is not merely sentimental to reach back to the past to breathe life into the Nonaligned Movement of today. Already, the contradictions of the present have raised the specter of nonalignment in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Most of these countries voted against the condemnation of Russia not because they support Russia’s war in Ukraine, but rather because they recognize that polarization is a fatal error. What is needed is an alternative to the two-camp world of the Cold War. That is the reason why many of the leaders of these countries—from China’s Xi Jinping to India’s Narendra Modi to South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa—have called, despite their very different political orientations, for a departure from the “Cold War mentality.” They are already walking toward a new nonaligned platform. It is this actual movement of history that provokes us to reflect on a return to the concepts of nonalignment and peace.
Nobody wants to imagine the full implications of the encirclement of China and Russia by the United States and its allies. Even countries that are closely allied with the United States—such as Germany and Japan—recognize that if a new iron curtain descends around China and Russia, it would be fatal for their own countries. Already, the war and sanctions have created serious political crises in Honduras, Pakistan, Peru, and Sri Lanka, with others to follow as food and fuel prices rise astronomically. War is too expensive for the poorer nations. Spending for war is eating into the human spirit, and warfare itself increases people’s general sense of despair.
The warmakers are idealists. Their wars do not settle the major dilemmas of humanity. The ideas of nonalignment and peace, on the other hand, are realistic; their framework has answers to the children who want to eat and to learn, to play and to dream.
Roger McKenzie is a reporter for the Morning Star. He is the general secretary of Liberation, one of the oldest UK human rights organizations.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, and a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.
With Russian shells raining down on Ukrainian cities, an uneasy ceasefire in Yemen, the attack on Palestinians at prayer in Jerusalem, and many other conflicts around the world, it might seem to some to be inappropriate to talk about peace.
When a war is going on, though, it is absolutely the time to talk about peace. How else can we prevent even further loss of life or yet more millions forced into refuge somewhere else in the world? It is welcome that at last the United Nations has taken an initiative to put into motion Secretary-General António Guterres’s request for face-to-face meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
There must be an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine followed by the withdrawal of Russian troops and agreement between Russia and Ukraine on future security arrangements.
All wars end in a negotiation of some sort—so why not now?
Everyone knows this is what will happen at some point. There is no reason to delay it for bombing and killing, more refugees, more dead and more grieving families in Ukraine and Russia. But instead of urging peace, most European nations have taken the opportunity to ramp up arms supplies, feed the war machine, and boost the share prices of weapons manufacturers.
It is also the time to talk about our humanity, or lack of it, to people in deep distress as a result of armed conflict, the abuse of their rights, or the grinding poverty that many face as a result of the global economic system.
Almost 10 percent of the population of Ukraine is now in exile, suffering trauma, loss, and fear. Most countries in Europe have been supportive of Ukrainian refugees. The British government pretends to be as well but then ensnares Ukrainians in the Home Office’s deliberately labyrinthine and nightmarish bureaucracy to deter them. Instead, Ukrainian refugees should be supported and made welcome. That’s what the British people by and large want; the huge generosity of ordinary people is showing the best of our humanity.
However, in the treatment of desperate refugees from wars where Britain has a direct responsibility, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the story is painfully different.
If someone is so desperate that they risk all to attempt to cross the English Channel in a dangerous, flimsy dinghy, they deserve sympathy and support. Instead, the Home Office plan is to remove them to Rwanda. If we believe in humanity and the rights of refugees, then they should all be treated equally and decently and allowed to make their contribution to our society, not criminalized and incarcerated. If the Conservative Party gets away with this outsourcing, other European countries will do the same. The Danish government has already spoken warmly about the cruel and unworkable proposal.
The effects of this war on the politics and hopes of our society are going to be huge, not least for the world’s institutions. The United Nations was established after World War II to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Since then, we can reel off the long and lengthening list of conflicts and proxy wars that the world has endured and that have taken the lives of millions. Korea, Vietnam, Iran-Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, India-Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and many other conflicts have barely been reported on by mainstream media, maybe because they were conflicts against colonial occupation such as the one in Kenya.
A huge question must be asked of the UN in the Ukraine conflict. When Russia brutally and illegally invaded Ukraine, was not that the moment for the UN to send its secretary-general to Moscow to demand a ceasefire? The UN has been too slow to act, and too much of the interstate system has pushed for escalation, not negotiation.
The call for more effective and proactive international institutions to support peace was powerfully made in April 2022 in Madrid at a conference hosted by Spain’s left-wing Podemos party, following a dialogue initiated by the left-wing activist organization Progressive International. Every one of the 17 speakers condemned the war and occupation and called for a ceasefire and a future of peace for the people of Ukraine and Russia. The participants knew about the dangers of escalation of this conflict and the further hot wars and violence a new cold war would bring. There are 1,800 nuclear warheads in the world primed and ready for use. One “tactical” weapon would kill hundreds of thousands; a nuclear bomb would kill millions. It cannot be contained, nor can its effects be limited.
In June 2022, Vienna hosted a major series of peace events around the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This treaty, supported by the UN General Assembly and opposed by the declared nuclear weapons states, provides the best hope and opportunity for a nonnuclear weapons future. The opportunity should be grasped with both hands.
Some say to discuss peace at a time of war is a sign of some kind of weakness; the opposite is true. It is the bravery of peace protesters around the world that stopped some governments from being involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, or any of the dozens of other conflicts going on.
Peace is not just the absence of war; it is real security. The security of knowing you will be able to eat, your children will be educated and cared for, and a health service will be there when you need it. For millions, that is not a reality now; the aftereffects of the war in Ukraine will take that away from millions more.
Meanwhile, many countries are now increasing arms spending and investing resources in more and more dangerous weapons. The United States has just approved its biggest-ever defense budget. These resources used for weapons are all resources not used for health, education, housing, or environmental protection.
This is a perilous and dangerous time. Watching the horror play out and then preparing for more conflicts in the future will not ensure that the climate crisis, poverty crisis, or food supply is addressed. It’s up to all of us to build and support movements that can chart another course for peace, security, and justice for all.
Jeremy Corbyn is a member of the UK Parliament, former leader of the UK Labour Party, and the founder of the Peace and Justice Project.
South Africa and other countries that have abstained from voting against Russia at the United Nations General Assembly in response to the war in Ukraine face intense international criticism. In South Africa, the domestic criticism has been extraordinarily shrill, and often clearly racialized. It is frequently assumed that this abstention means that South Africa is in support of the Russian invasion and that this is either due to corrupt relations between Russian and South African elites, nostalgia for the support that the Soviet Union gave to the anti-apartheid struggle, or both.
There is seldom any acknowledgment that nonalignment, in this case refusing to be aligned with the United States and its allies or with Russia, can be a principled position as well as an astute tactical engagement with geopolitical realities. As two founding figures in the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), Yugoslavia’s then-President Josip Broz Tito and India’s then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, said in a joint statement signed on December 22, 1954, “the policy of nonalignment with blocs… does not represent ‘neutrality’ or ‘neutralism’; neither does it represent passivity as is sometimes alleged. It represents the positive, active, and constructive policy that, as its goal, has collective peace as the foundation of collective security.”
The Global South houses more than 80 percent of the world’s people, yet its countries are systematically excluded from any decision-making in international organizations that determine how the “international community” operates. For decades, countries in the Global South have been advocating for the United Nations to be reformed so that it moves away from the zero-sum game of the cold war mentality that continues to drive it. In June 1969, Gabriel Valdés, Chile’s then-foreign minister, reported that Henry Kissinger told him, “Nothing important can come from the South. History has never been produced in the South. The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington, and then goes to Tokyo. What happens in the South is of no importance.”
Just a few years earlier, on September 30, 1963, Jaja Wachuku, then a Nigerian foreign minister, posed a still urgent question to the UN’s 18th Session: “Does this Organization want… [the] African States to be just vocal Members, with no right to express their views on any particular matter in important organs of the United Nations…[?] Are we only going to continue to be veranda boys?” Global South countries are still “veranda boys” watching the adults make the rules and decide on the path that the world must take. They continue to be lectured and chided when they do not do as expected.
It is time for a revitalized NAM. The NAM will only succeed if the leaders of the countries in the Global South put their egos aside, think strategically on a global scale, and put their considerable human capital, natural resources, and technological ingenuity to better use. The Global South includes an ascendant China, the second-biggest economy in the world. It includes India, one of the leading countries in medical care and technological innovation. It includes Africa, rich with a growing population and the natural resources that are needed for the mushrooming AI and cleaner energy industries. However, these resources are still extracted for profit to be accumulated in far-off capitals while Africa and much of the Global South remain underdeveloped, with millions still stuck in the desperation of impoverishment.
A renewed NAM has real potential if time is taken to build new institutions and to build buffers against the economic warfare that the United States has been waging against countries like Cuba and Venezuela and is now unleashing on Russia. Financial autonomy is critical.
BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) established the New Development Bank for its members. For the 16 nations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), there is the Development Bank of Southern Africa. Yet the reserves of the countries joined to these projects are still kept in the United States or European capitals. This is the time for leaders within the Global South to wake up and realize that given the type of economic warfare that is currently being let loose on a country like Russia, weaker countries across the Global South have no meaningful autonomy.
This is the time to rethink how we conduct politics, economics, and foreign policy when it is clear that the West can decide to decimate entire countries. The economic weapons being built against Russia will be available to be used against other countries that have the temerity not to toe Washington’s line.
BRICS has been disappointing in many respects, but it has opened some space for Global South countries—with their many differences in creed, culture, and political and economic systems—to find a way of working together. The rejection of intense pressure to bend their collective knee at the United Nations Security Council is an encouraging example of the Global South rejecting the assumption that they should remain permanent “veranda boys” (and girls).
As the United States rapidly escalates its new cold war against Russia and China and expects other countries to fall in line, there is now an urgent imperative to reject this cold war mentality of wanting to divide the world along old acrimonious lines. The Global South should reject this view and call for the respect of international law by all countries. When human rights and international law are only evoked when it is those countries whom the West dislikes or disagrees with who break them, it makes a mockery of these concepts. Only by standing together and speaking with one voice can the countries of the Global South hope to have any influence in international affairs and not continue to be just rubber-stampers of the positions of the West.
The Nonaligned Movement needs to be confident and bold and not seek permission from the West. NAM leaders need to understand that they are there to serve their people and protect their people’s interests and not allow the temptation of being included in the “big boys club” to sway their stance on issues. They need to constantly keep in mind that they have been kept as “veranda boys” for far too long, and unless they truly take their destiny into their hands, they will forever be at the foot of the table, with their people eating only the scraps from the wealth accumulated by the global economy, much of it from the exploitation of the South.
Nontobeko Hlela was the first secretary (political) at the High Commission of South Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. She currently works as a researcher for the South African office of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.
The world wants to see an end to the conflict in Ukraine. The NATO countries, however, want to prolong the conflict by increasing arms shipments to Ukraine and by declaring that they “want to see Russia weakened.” By 3 March 2022, the United States had already allocated $13.6 billion to arm Ukraine; by 28 April, Biden had requested an additional $33 billion. By comparison, it would require $45 billion per year to end world hunger by 2030.
Even if negotiations take place and the war ends, an actual peaceful solution will not likely be possible. Nothing leads us to believe that geopolitical tensions will decrease, since behind the conflict around Ukraine is an attempt by the West to halt the development of China, to break its links with Russia, and to end China’s strategic partnerships with the Global South.
In March 2022, commanders of the U.S. Africa Command (General Stephen J. Townsend) and Southern Command (General Laura Richardson) warned the U.S. Senate about the perceived dangers of increased Chinese and Russian influence in Africa as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean. The generals recommended that the United States weaken the influence of Moscow and Beijing in these regions. This policy is part of the 2018 national security doctrine of the United States, which frames China and Russia as “the central challenge.”
Latin America does not want a new cold war. The region has already suffered from decades of military rule and austerity politics justified based on the so-called “communist threat.” Tens of thousands of people lost their lives and many tens of thousands more were imprisoned, tortured, and exiled only because they wanted to create sovereign countries and decent societies. This violence was a product of the U.S.-imposed cold war on Latin America.
Latin America wants peace. Peace can only be built through regional unity, a process that began over 20 years ago after a cycle of popular uprisings, driven by the tsunami of neoliberal austerity, led to the election of progressive governments: Venezuela (1999), Brazil (2002), Argentina (2003), Uruguay (2004), Bolivia (2005), Ecuador (2007), and Paraguay (2008). These countries, joined by Cuba and Nicaragua, created a set of regional organizations: the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America–Peoples’ Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP) in 2004, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in 2008, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in 2011. These platforms were intended to increase regional trade and political integration. Their gains were met with increased aggression from Washington, which sought to undermine the process by attempting to overthrow the governments in many of the member countries and by dividing the regional blocs to suit Washington’s interests.
Because of its size and its political relevance, Brazil was a key player in these early organizations. In 2009, Brazil joined with Russia, India, China, and South Africa to form BRICS, a new alliance with the goal to rearrange the power relations of global trade and politics.
Brazil’s role did not please the White House, which—avoiding the crudeness of a military coup—staged a successful operation in alliance with sectors of the Brazilian elite that used the Brazilian legislature, judiciary system, and media to overthrow the government of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and to cause the arrest of former President Lula in 2018 (who was then leading the polls in the presidential election). Both were accused of a corruption scheme involving the Brazilian state oil company, and an investigation by Brazil’s judiciary known as Operation Car Wash ensued. The participation of both the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI in that investigation was revealed following a massive leak of the Telegram chats of Operation Car Wash’s lead prosecutor. However, before the U.S. interference was uncovered, the removal of Lula and Dilma from politics brought the right wing back to power in Brasília, the country’s capital; Brazil no longer played a leading role in either the regional or the global projects that could weaken U.S. power. Brazil abandoned UNASUR and CELAC and remains in BRICS only formally—as is also the case with India—weakening the perspective of strategic alliances in the Global South.
In recent years, Latin America has experienced a new wave of progressive governments. The idea of regional integration has returned to the table. After four years without a summit meeting, CELAC reconvened in September 2021 under the leadership of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Argentine President Alberto Fernández. Given Gustavo Petro’s victory in the Colombian presidential election in June 2022, and a possible victory should Lula win his campaign for reelection to Brazil’s presidency in October 2022, for the first time in decades, the four largest economies in Latin America (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia) would be governed by the center-left, notably supporters of Latin American and Caribbean integration. Lula has said that if he wins the presidency, Brazil will return to CELAC and will resume an active stance in BRICS.
The Global South might be prepared to reemerge by the end of 2022 and create space for itself within the world order. Evidence for this is found in the lack of unanimity that greeted NATO’s attempt to create a large coalition to sanction Russia. This NATO project has aroused a backlash around the Global South. Even governments that condemn the war (such as Argentina, Brazil, India, and South Africa) do not agree with NATO’s unilateral sanction policy and prefer to support negotiations for a peaceful solution. The idea of resuming a movement of the nonaligned—inspired by the initiative launched at the 1955 Bandung Conference—has found resonance in numerous circles.
Their intention is correct. They seek to de-escalate global political tensions, which are a threat to countries’ sovereignty and tend to negatively impact the global economy. The spirit of nonconfrontation, and peace, of the Bandung Conference is urgent today.
But the Nonaligned Movement emerged as a refusal by Third World countries to choose a side in the polarization between the United States and USSR during the Cold War. They were fighting for their sovereignty and the right to have relations with the countries of both systems, without their foreign policy being decided in Washington or Moscow.
This is not the current scenario. Only the Washington-Brussels axis (and allies) demand alignment with their so-called “rules-based international order.” Those who do not align suffer from sanctions applied against dozens of countries (devastating entire economies, such as those of Venezuela and Cuba), illegal confiscation of hundreds of billions of dollars in assets (as in the cases of Venezuela, Iran, Afghanistan, and Russia), invasions and interference resulting in genocidal wars (as in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan), and outside support for “color revolutions” (from Ukraine in 2014 to Brazil in 2016). The demand for alignment comes only from the West, not from China or Russia.
Humanity faces urgent challenges, such as inequality, hunger, the climate crisis, and the threat of new pandemics. To overcome them, regional alliances in the Global South must be able to institute a new multipolarity in global politics. But the usual suspects may have other plans for humanity.
Marco Fernandes is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, a member of the No Cold War campaign, and a co-founder and co-editor of News on China (Dongsheng). He lives in Shanghai.
In the first half of April 2022, India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar made some revealing remarks at a press conference in Washington, D.C. He was standing beside U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. When asked about India’s purchase of Russian oil, Jaishankar said: “If you’re looking at energy purchases from Russia, I’d suggest that your attention should be focused on Europe. We do buy some energy, which is necessary for our energy security. But I suspect, looking at figures, our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon.”
Jaishankar’s statement was not unusual. He and his colleagues have been pushing back against the West’s “concerns” and “advice” to India about its stance on Russia in the Ukraine conflict, including India’s refusal to vote against Russia at the United Nations as well as India’s discussion with Russia to set up a payment mechanism that would bypass sanctions imposed by the West. Visits by Western diplomats to India did not help to alter the Indian government’s actions.
India, under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been firmly in the U.S. camp, taking part in reviving the Quad and signing three foundational defense agreements with the United States. These moves suggest that India strongly agreed with the United States’ focus on the containment of China. Has India then shifted from this alignment with the United States based on its dealings with Russia? Is nonalignment back on the table? The answer to this question is far more complicated than it would appear on the surface.
Part of India’s recent response can be explained by simple economics. For a government dealing with mounting inflation, the prospect of oil at discounted rates from Russia was too good to resist. Also, Russia continues to be India’s largest arms supplier, although its dependence seems to be decreasing (imports from Israel and the United States have surged in the past 30 years). A much less noticed fact is that India also depends on Russia for fertilizers that are vital for its agricultural sector. These economic bonds are too profitable to sever. There are precedents for this too. After all, India did not give in to U.S. pressure or even the threat of sanctions when it came to procuring the S-400 missile system from Russia. Geopolitically, Russia remains key if India wants to engage in its immediate neighborhood where it has previously missed the bus at key moments, such as during the crisis in Afghanistan.
However, at the current moment, purely economic and geopolitical perspectives are perhaps inadequate.
India’s post-Cold War approach has often been defined as strategic autonomy, which has encompassed groupings as diverse as the BRICS alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa; the Shanghai Cooperation Organization; and the Quad, comprising the United States, India, Japan, and Australia. However, India’s foreign policy in the past few decades has been characterized by a more transactional approach, taking advantage of what has made financial and strategic sense at a particular moment more than any long-term perspective.
The responses of the West and its allies to the war in Ukraine indicate that such an approach has limited utility. The sanctions regime, seizure of assets, freezing of reserves, and attack on Russia’s currency are not mere responses to an armed conflict. They mark actions that have been weaponized previously and deployed against countries like Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran and are a warning to anyone who seeks to challenge the hegemony of the United States and its allies. They are a sign that any substantive challenge to the current global order will be met with a harsh response. The target is Russia today. Could it be China tomorrow? India the day after?
The current moment calls for a fresh approach, and this is where the proposal for nonalignment crops up. Although it is not a new idea, it may now have found its moment of urgency.
The genesis of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) lies in the tradition of anti-colonial struggles. For instance, an emergent NAM intervened critically in liberation movements in Africa. In contrast with colonialism, which evolved and continued its predatory activities, NAM was reduced to a moral voice, and its members were isolated and preyed upon by the neoliberal global order that rose from the 1970s.
So, what does nonalignment mean today when a few men and women, with the stroke of a pen, can seize billions in foreign reserves and bar trade between two sovereign countries? It is clear that in order for nonalignment to be effective, it cannot be restricted to transactional relationships or mere moral posturing.
It is also clear that the nonalignment of today must be based on the demand for the transformation of the world order, which will entail the rejection of the dictatorship of the World Bank and the IMF and the enduring impact of debt, the abolition of sanctions as a tool of war, and a more equitable United Nations. This requires the building of structures for which there are precedents. The BRICS nations had the right idea with the New Development Bank, referred to as the BRICS Development Bank previously, which can be a model for future blocs. Organizations like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Latin America provided examples of such groupings in action.
Such structures are, however, not built in isolation or merely because a few leaders decree it. Their foundation must be based on a two-pronged strategy by individual countries. One prong must be a renewed emphasis on self-reliance in economic development and scientific and technological research. This is perhaps what India lost out on when it abandoned central planning and ended up being a supplier of skilled human resources and a mere recipient of both technology and goods.
The other prong has to be economic relationships that play to the strengths of each country and that can be achieved despite political and diplomatic differences. Trade and commercial blocs in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America have all provided hints of what this could mean and how profoundly it could affect the global order.
For India and other countries in the Global South, this moment offers immense challenges and provides glimpses of the possibility of a new world. Will India transcend its transitional approach and embrace this possibility? There is little reason to expect any desire for change from the ruling class—but this possibility is integral to the agenda of people’s movements.
Prasanth Radhakrishnan is a journalist with Newsclick and Peoples Dispatch.
“Neither war that destroys us, nor peace that oppresses us”: This historic anti-war slogan of the Spanish feminist movement holds one of the fundamental keys to building a horizon of peace. It claims that peace is not just a ceasefire, nor is it a surrender or silence in the face of those who impose their wars on others. Rather, peace is the building of a foundation to foster relations based on mutual respect and cooperation.
Such an idea is neither naive nor impossible. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Building a new path based on a lasting peace is the only possible alternative for the sustainability of all people and the planet. The opposite of this means a silencing of the people, the loss of human lives, a divided world, permanent war, living in constant fear of nuclear weapons, and misery for the people affected by war.
Those who claim to defend freedom do not want those who are not like them to enjoy it. What we are facing is an “either with me or against me” mentality—or, as Josep Borrell, a high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, recently said, “We will remember those who are not by our side.”
Freedom, therefore, is not solely a choice between two options, but the possibility of creating our own option. That is why it is essential that, in the face of the mainstream perception of the world that tries to rob us of the ability to envision a new alternative, we must articulate one where everyone can fit in—where war is not inevitable.
In the current context, with Russia having invaded Ukraine, we are surrounded by a sense of amnesia and the feeling of having returned to the 20th century. Once again, there is war, hatred, and the familiar rhetoric of division of “us” against the “others.” It is shocking that in the face of the war in Ukraine, Fortress Europe now finds it is so easy to make changes in policies and to open its doors to white people with blue eyes. This is the same approach that in Europe’s response to the refugees and migrants of war-torn and poor countries in the Global South has turned the Mediterranean Sea into a mass grave; that illegally carries out pushbacks against migrants; and that locks asylum-seekers in detention centers, without any access to lawyers. However, the war in Ukraine has proven the EU to be perfectly capable of receiving refugees, but for those trapped in Libya—a country destroyed by NATO—there are no safe routes, no trains, and no free buses. This shows us again: where there’s a will, there’s a way.
All people have the right to flee war and rebuild their lives, like the Afghan, Kurdish, and Syrian people who made their way to Moria, the crowded refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos that burned down during the pandemic in 2020, leaving the almost 13,000 people living in the camps there without any shelter. This is the same camp where 10-year-old children have tried to commit suicide due to violence, hunger, and overcrowding. The attitude from colonial Europe’s history has endured, reiterating that there are lives that matter and lives that don’t matter.
But not so many years ago, thousands of Spanish families had to flee fascism, which also persecuted “the others,” a categorization that included the Roma people, members of the LGBTQ community, and supporters of the Spanish Republic. As Aimé Césaire wrote in his Discourse on Colonialism, “Europe is indefensible.” The level of hypocrisy is already astounding, and yet we continue down this path where we talk about peace while we send weapons to the warring nations, we talk about democracy while we support censorship, we talk about human rights while we dismantle the United Nations, we talk about freedom while we ignore the creep of fascism. And at the center of all this is NATO. As if it were not enough to surrender our sovereignty to the capitalist market, we must also surrender it to wars waged by the United States.
Julio Anguita González, the late mayor of Córdoba and an influential political leader within Spain’s left wing, famously said, “You can’t eat dignity, but people without dignity get down on their knees and end up without food.” These words echo in my head as I try to figure out what is happening in Europe, or more importantly, what Europe is and how we can make it the opposite of that. But to understand what Europe is today, we must remember that the debates that built the consensus toward this European Union were laid out in abstract and aspirational terms, associating modernity with neoliberalism. While the people became enchanted by an empty European identity, the foundation for an economy separated from political and democratic power was built.
Like the little mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s popular fairy tale, we sold our voices for a romantic idea of love—in our case, for a sense of belonging to a vague European identity. While we were voiceless, the EU’s manufacturers filled the gap between economic and social structures with institutions that foster inequalities and a European security project that answers to Washington. The EU’s decisions in the face of the 2008 financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine could not be any further from the real and daily security needs of its people. The lesson we should have taken from the little mermaid, however, is that without our voices, there can be no real love.
Those of us who have fought against historical amnesia know that we don’t need military alliances, because war is a terrible symptom, but it isn’t the disease plaguing the world. To remove it, Europe urgently needs a heart transplant—an anti-fascist and anti-colonial heart, one that is responsible for the world it builds and the people who live in it and come to it. So how can we make Europe the opposite of what it is now? First, by assuming that we cannot postpone opening our eyes any longer, by seeing Europe for what it is, and by tackling the most difficult task: building a path of our own. With memory, we will be able to undertake that path, one that has been attempted before. Let’s listen to the past, and let’s make the present better. That path goes from the anti-war activist Rosa Luxemburg to the Nonaligned Movement, BRICS, Pan-Africanism, and the struggle of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. All of this history reminds us that the struggle to build an alternative path to peace is full of courage and that those who fought for peace learned on their way that their will also counts.
Because where there’s a will, there’s a way.
More weapons won’t save us—we will.
Nora Garcia Nieves, is a member of the No Cold War campaign and lives in Madrid, where she is an activist working in the feminist, internationalist, and cultural struggle.
Though Bandung in Indonesia and Havana in Cuba couldn’t be farther apart geographically—with each city located on two distant islands in their respective countries and separated by more than 17,000 km—they are ideologically close in the imaginations of many people across the Global South. The Third World Project, born out of the continuous collaboration between newly independent states and their struggles for national liberation, has defined and continues to define the history of the movements for peace and nonalignment even today.
When the Bandung Conference began on April 18, 1955, Fidel Castro was still a political prisoner on what was then called the Isle of Pines, just south of Havana. He was serving a 15-year sentence for having organized a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks two years before. During those years in prison, a young Fidel read voraciously and began to solidify his ideas on the concepts of sovereignty and independence and how they had to be redefined during the Cold War, when imperialism was developing new approaches about how to continue with the subjugation of whole continents.
As Fidel and his comrades in prison charted a new path for Cuba, it was clear that their cause for national liberation had to be closely connected to a broader project of ensuring development and work toward active nonalignment for the people of the Third World.
From the round table in Bandung, the leaders of the Third World unleashed a global struggle to restructure the prevailing world system of that time. The conference witnessed the convergence of socialist countries and the Third World and saw a growing unity among these nations in the struggles to deepen the process of decolonization.
While at the Bandung Conference, the independent governments of Asia and Africa raised the urgency of reviving the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggle and the need to increasingly unite and solidify the interests and aspirations of their people. The vast majority of the governments of Latin America, meanwhile, went against the common interests and aspirations of their people and further submitted to U.S. imperialism under the guise of the Organization of American States (OAS), already functioning as the Ministry of Colonies of the U.S. Department of State, as Fidel would later call it.
In 1959, the Cuban Revolution triumphed, marking a transformative point of no return for Latin America and its relations with the United States, whose government would later decide not to recognize the revolutionary process on the island. By 1961, Cuba became the focal point of U.S. aggression in the region, leading to a blockade that is now six decades old. For the first time in history, a guerrilla movement had carried out a revolution and confronted U.S. imperialism right under its nose, unleashing far-reaching transformations in its socioeconomic structure that were opposed to the neocolonial interests of U.S. domination.
Soon after, Cuba became the only country in Latin America to join the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), created in Yugoslavia in 1961. Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution would begin to play a strategic role in internationalist solidarity with the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial liberation struggles of the people of the Third World.
The Cuban Revolution was fully aware that its destiny was at one with that of the people of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. As Fidel said in 1962, “What is the history of Cuba if not the history of Latin America? And what is the history of Latin America if not the history of Asia, Africa, and Oceania? And what is the history of all these people if not the history of the most ruthless and cruel exploitation of imperialism in the entire world?”
When Cuba joined the NAM in 1961, its foreign policy was at a stage of strategic definition. Cuba’s commitment to the Third World became a pillar of its internationalist strategy, whether through the Nonaligned Movement or the Tricontinental Conference or the subsequent Organization of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (OSPAAAL). In the coming decades, many of the national liberation movements that met in Havana in January 1966 during the first conference of OSPAAAL would be among the new states that began to participate in the Nonaligned Movement, becoming the new Third World paradigm.
At the founding meeting of the Nonaligned Movement in socialist Belgrade (then the capital of Yugoslavia) in 1961, Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, Cuba’s president at the time, stated that nonalignment “didn’t mean that we are not committed countries. We are committed to our own principles. And those of us who are peace-loving people, who struggle to assert their sovereignty, and to achieve the fullness of national development, are, finally, committed to responding to those transcendent aspirations and not betraying those principles.” In his opening speech during the founding NAM meeting, at a time when many criticized Cuba’s apparent “alignment” with the Soviet Union and attacked the premise of national liberation being tied to a socialist project, Dorticós sought to further define nonalignment, stating that the moment required “more than general formulations, [and that] concrete problems must be considered.”
This active definition of nonalignment has been important for Cuba’s foreign policy in its relationship with the most progressive forces of the Third World. The thinking of the Nonaligned Movement, starting from 1973, seems to have abandoned the ideas about “neutrality” that had permeated the movement since its creation and has expanded its activities to international economic relations in defense of the need for a new international economic order with much more force than in its previous period.
Following the fall of the USSR and the rise of the United States to a position of near primacy, the NAM struggled to adapt to the new realities and became adrift. In recent years, however, with the revival of regionalism in Latin America, and with the emergence of Eurasian integration, the importance of nonalignment and the NAM are gradually being considered once again. People around the world are resistant to the coercion tactics adopted by the United States, which has been trying to isolate countries that do not submit to the will of Washington. This has especially become clear with the June 2022 Organization of American States’ Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, which countries such as Bolivia, Mexico, and Honduras boycotted in protest of the ban that prevented Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela from attending. As an alternative, the People’s Summit for Democracy carried forth the legacy of Bandung and Havana, bringing together the voices of the excluded.
Manolo De Los Santos is the co-executive director of the People’s Forum and a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. Most recently, he co-edited Viviremos: Venezuela vs. Hybrid War (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2020) and Comrade of the Revolution: Selected Speeches of Fidel Castro (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2021). He is a co-coordinator of the People’s Summit for Democracy.
War and racism have always been violently, tragically inseparable. For centuries, the most devastating and brutal conflicts in the world have been driven by destructive notions of racial superiority and murderous assertions of ethnic differences.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is abhorrent and deeply concerning. It is an unprovoked, unjustifiable outrage and a heinous violation of international law that will have long-lasting and tragic consequences. The Russian aggression, military bombardment, and deployment of troops to Ukraine should end immediately.
No good can ever come from war and military escalation. As Globetrotter journalist Vijay Prashad said at the People’s Forum in February 2022, “War is never good for the poor. War is never good for workers. War itself is a crime.” The international community needs to redouble its efforts to find a diplomatic solution that ensures peace and protects the lives of people in Ukraine and in other countries afflicted by war.
The ubiquity of support for Ukraine, especially by Western states, holds up a mirror to show how, through the prism of racism, some conflicts, wars, and incidences of mass suffering are seen as more important and deserving of sympathy than others. There have been numerous instances of journalists expressing shock that the appalling images of suffering from Ukraine are taking place in a European country with a majority white population. This was expressed by NBC News London correspondent Kelly Cobiella, who said: “To put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria; these are refugees from neighboring Ukraine… These are Christians; they’re white. They’re very similar [to us].” Echoing this explicit reference to race, Ukraine’s former Deputy Chief Prosecutor David Sakvarelidze told the BBC: “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed.”
If we contrast this to the dehumanizing language used to describe nonwhite refugees, asylum-seekers, and victims of war—such as former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s description of refugees as a “swarm”—a very worrying picture emerges about the inherent racism in how crises are reported, discussed, and responded to by the media, leaders, and the public across the world. This othering of nonwhite, non-European people serves to diminish their suffering. We should oppose the unjustifiable trauma of people in Ukraine as vehemently as we do the suffering of victims of conflicts in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries suffering from the evils of war.
The media organizations and the UK government need to recognize that every theater of conflict is deserving of both our solidarity and our compassion. The UK government should therefore provide safe passage and refuge for displaced people, refugees, and asylum-seekers arriving from Ukraine as well as all other theaters of conflict across the globe. The UK government’s ongoing hypocrisy is clear to see with the abhorrent Rwanda offshore processing plan and the anti-refugee Nationality and Borders Act of 2022, which provides for drastic changes in Britain’s asylum system. These policies should be scrapped immediately.
On March 2, 2022, the United Nations held a vote on a motion condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This was supported by 141 of its 193 member states, with just five states—Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria—voting against it. To understand why 35 states, which are overwhelmingly former colonies from the Global South, abstained from voting on the motion, it is vital to consider the long tradition of nonalignment based on which these states are acting.
The Bandung Conference of 1955 is rightly considered one of the most important meetings in human history, as it was a hugely inspiring global gathering of formerly colonized people and was a strong assertion of Pan-Africanism and anti-imperialist solidarity. The conference also helped to popularize the Nonaligned Movement, which was an effort to counterbalance the rapid polarization of the world during the Cold War, whereby two major powers formed blocs and embarked on a policy to pull the rest of the world into their orbits. One of these blocs was the pro-Soviet, communist bloc united under the Warsaw Pact, and the other was the pro-American, capitalist group of countries, many of which were members of NATO. Millions of civilians died during the proxy wars between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the second half of the 20th century, and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation hung like the sword of Damocles over the entire planet.
Nonalignment points us toward a safer, more peaceful future. In 1961, drawing on the principles agreed to at the Bandung Conference of 1955, the Nonaligned Movement was formally established in Belgrade, then part of Yugoslavia. Today, the Nonaligned Movement includes 120 countries, representing nearly two-thirds of the United Nations’ members, which are home to 55 percent of the world’s population. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana and a leader of the Nonaligned Movement, famously said, “We face neither East nor West; we face forward.”
While the Nonaligned Movement developed during the geopolitics of the Cold War, it was founded and has endured on the recognition that no good can ever come from war and that violent conflicts, colonialism, and racism have always been closely intertwined. For instance, of the 35 countries that abstained from voting on March 2, 17 were African nations that for centuries suffered the violent extraction of colonialism. The abstention was far from a reflection of support for Russia’s invasion. It was an assertion of pacifism made by countries that for centuries have lived under the abominable racist outcomes of colonial warfare.
Across the world, instances of appalling murder and violence at the hands of the British state have been erased from our present-day memory of the empire. The time has come for former colonial states to apologize for and take seriously the historical debt that they owe to the countries, communities, and individuals who endured their cruelty. A revitalized Nonaligned Movement, guided by the principles of pacifism, justice, and international cooperation, could help rebalance the scales of global politics away from racist wars and toward a future of peace.
Claudia Webbe is a member of the UK Parliament representing Leicester East. You can follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @ClaudiaWebbe.
As our world spirals toward the catastrophe of nuclear war, there has never been a greater need for a new global balancing, a rejection of great power, war, exploitation, and aggression. Now more than ever, we need to reject the brutal unipolar agenda of the United States, the dividing up of the world between hostile powers, and the suppression of the rights of the many in the interests of the few. Nowhere is this clearer than the possession of nuclear weapons: only nine states possess these ultimate weapons of mass destruction, yet they can hold the rest of the world to ransom with their nuclear terror.
The struggle for a genuinely multipolar world, aligned only with the world’s people, not military blocs, has peace and disarmament at its heart: this is as true now as it was 60 years ago when the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) was founded. As well as opposition to colonization and economic subjection, those founding the movement championed self-determination and equality in states’ relations, and they also agreed on their opposition to military blocs, their commitment to world peace, and a very strong advocacy of global nuclear disarmament. That thread has remained a constant ever since, and today we continue to see the countries of the Global South leading global disarmament initiatives.
Virtually the entire Global South is self-organized into internationally recognized nuclear-weapons-free zones originating in the 1960s. In 1967, a nuclear-weapons-free zone was established by 21 countries in Latin America renouncing the acquisition and siting of nuclear weapons on their territories. Signatories to this treaty, the Treaty of Tlatelolco, also agreed to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) jurisdiction over their nuclear power facilities. In return, nuclear weapons states agreed not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any of the signatory states. The Treaty of Rarotonga, signed in 1985, prohibited nuclear explosive devices in the South Pacific and banned the testing and use of nuclear explosive technologies. The African nuclear-weapons-free zone was formalized in 1996 with the signing of the Treaty of Pelindaba following South Africa’s disarmament of its apartheid-era nuclear weapons.
There has been strong regional development in disarmament led by the Global South, but there have also been—and continue to be—global attempts. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), negotiated during the 1960s, which came into force in 1970, was in large part initiated by India to bring proliferation and spiraling arsenals under control. India and Pakistan both declined to join the NPT, asserting that it enshrined nuclear haves and have-nots in law—a two-tier, double standards system. Regrettably, they both went on to test and develop their own arsenals. But the point was correct—nuclear weapons states did not comply with their NPT obligations to disarm. Indeed, they have subsequently attempted to reinterpret the NPT as allowing them to retain nuclear weapons.
In the early years of the 21st century, in the context of the so-called “war on terror,” U.S. President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair attempted to shift the international legal framework governing nuclear weapons. They tried to overturn the disarmament requirement, focusing on preventing more countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. Their goal was to reinterpret the NPT as legitimizing the possession of weapons by existing nuclear states while using it to justify confrontation with states accused of proliferation. They claimed that a new document was needed to reflect the drastic changes in international security conditions, including the September 11 attacks in 2001.
The reality was that the U.S. and UK were researching new weapons and would be prepared to use them even against a non-nuclear-weapons state, and they were also developing weapons for confrontation with more powerful states such as Russia or China. This was the real driver of nuclear proliferation, together with the U.S. determination to make Israel the only nuclear weapons state in the Middle East.
It was frustration with the NPT that led to the founding of the Humanitarian Initiative on the consequences of nuclear weapons in 2013. This initiative came to fruition in the form of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which entered into force in January 2021.
The treaty makes nuclear weapons illegal for the first time, outlawing the development, possession, and deployment of nuclear weapons by participating states. The treaty currently has 61 states parties that are legally bound by the treaty and many more that are in the process of coming on board. The countries of the Global South are at the forefront of achieving this treaty; they understand that any nuclear weapons use by states in the Global North will disastrously affect their own populations, lands, and food production. As has always been their position, any possession of nuclear weapons is unacceptable; no hands are safe hands when it comes to nuclear weapons.
In a remarkable development, the treaty also places obligations on signatories to assist victims of nuclear weapons use and testing. It requires environmental remediation for lands contaminated by nuclear testing. It also explicitly recognizes the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapon activities on Indigenous peoples because of the choices made by colonial nuclear powers for their testing sites. For example, many of the UK tests were conducted on the Australian First People’s territories in Emu Field and Maralinga, contaminating large parts of South Australia. France conducted nuclear tests in its former colonies, including 17 in Algeria and 193 in French Polynesia. These historic wrongs must be righted.
The initiatives of the global majority for peace and disarmament show that another world is possible. War is terrible. In all wars, people suffer, and war’s consequences last for generations. Countless people’s futures are destroyed, as we see in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Palestine, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and the Sahel. The priorities of humanity are to fight against inequality and poverty, tackle the climate crisis, and expand access to health and vaccines. Massive state spending on military production and destruction is a criminal waste of resources. Military alliances do not solve our problems, but dialogue, demilitarization, and international cooperation do.
Kate Hudson is the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She is a leading anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigner in the United Kingdom and internationally.
During late April and early May, South Asia was shaken by the terrible impacts of global warming, with temperatures reaching almost 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in some cities in the region. These high temperatures came alongside dangerous flooding in Northeast India and in Bangladesh as the rivers burst their banks, with flash floods taking place in places like Sunamganj in Sylhet, Bangladesh.
Saleemul Huq, the director of the International Center of Climate Change and Development, is from Bangladesh. He is a veteran of the UN climate change negotiations. When Huq read a tweet by Marianne Karlsen, the co-chair of the UN’s Adaptation Committee, which said that “[m]ore time is needed to reach an agreement” while referring to the negotiations on loss and damage finance, he tweeted back: “The one thing we have run out of is Time! Climate change impacts are already happening, and poor people are suffering losses and damages due to the emissions of the rich. Talk is no longer an acceptable substitute for action (money!)” Karlsen’s comment came in light of the treacle-slow process of agreeing on the “loss and damage” agenda for the 27th Conference of Parties or COP27 meeting to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022.
In 2009, at COP15, developed countries of the world agreed to a $100 billion annual adaptation assistance fund, which was supposed to be paid by 2020. This fund was intended to assist countries of the Global South to shift their reliance on carbon to renewable sources of energy and to adapt to the realities of the climate catastrophe. At the time of the Glasgow COP26 meeting in November 2021, however, developed countries were unable to meet this commitment. The $100 billion may seem like a modest fund, but it is far less than the Trillion Dollar Climate Finance Challenge that will be required to ensure comprehensive climate action.
The richer states—led by the West—have not only refused to seriously fund this adaptation, but they have also reneged on the original agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol (1997), an important step toward mitigating the climate crisis that the U.S. Congress has refused to ratify. Furthermore, the United States has shifted the goalposts for reducing its methane emissions and has refused to account for the massive output of carbon emissions by the U.S. military.
Germany hosts the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In June, as a prelude to COP27, the UN held a conference on climate change in Bonn. The talks ended in acrimony over finance for what is known as “loss and damage.” The European Union consistently blocked all discussions on compensation. Eddy Pérez of the Climate Action Network, Canada, said, “Consumed by their narrow national interests, rich nations and in particular countries in the European Union came to the Bonn Climate Conference to block, delay, and undermine efforts from people and communities on the frontlines addressing the losses and damage caused by fossil fuels.”
On the table is the hypocrisy of countries such as Germany, which claims to lead on these issues but instead has been sourcing fossil fuels overseas and has been spending increasing funds on their military. At the same time, these countries have denied support to developing countries facing devastation from climate-induced superstorms and rising seas.
After the German elections in September 2021, hopes were raised that the new coalition of the Social Democrats with the Green Party would lift up the green agenda. However, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has instead promised €100 billion for the military, which Financial Times reporter Guy Chazan described as “the biggest increase in the country’s military expenditure since the end of the Cold War.” Chancellor Sholz also committed to increasing the military budget to more than 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. This means more money for the military and less money for climate mitigation and green transformation.
The money that is being swallowed into Western military establishments does not only drift away from any climate spending but also promotes greater climate catastrophe. The U.S. military is the largest institutional polluter on the planet. The maintenance of its more than 800 military bases around the world, for instance, means that the U.S. military consumes 395,000 barrels of oil daily. In 2021, the world’s governments spent $2 trillion on weapons, with the leading countries being those who are the richest (as well as the most sanctimonious on the climate debate). Money is available for war but not to deal with the climate catastrophe.
The way weapons have poured into the Ukraine conflict gives many of us pause. The prolongation of that war is intensifying severe food insecurity in a global reality in which 49 million people have already been identified as being at risk of famine in 46 countries as result of conflicts, climate change, and extreme weather conditions, according to the “Hunger Hotspots” report by the United Nations agencies. Conflict and organized violence were the main sources of food insecurity in Africa and the Middle East, specifically in northern Nigeria, central Sahel, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, and Syria. The war in Ukraine has exacerbated the food crisis by driving up the price of agricultural commodities, as Russia and Ukraine together account for around 30 percent of the global wheat trade. So, the longer the Ukraine war continues, the more “hunger hotspots” will grow, taking the concentration of severe food insecurity beyond Africa and the Middle East.
While one COP meeting has already taken place on the African continent, another will take place later this year. First, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, hosted the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in May 2022, and then Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, will host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in November 2022. These are major forums for African states to put on the table the great damage done to parts of the continent due to the climate catastrophe.
When the representatives of the countries of the world gather at Sharm el-Sheikh, they will hear Western representatives talk about climate change, make pledges, and then do everything possible to continue to exacerbate the catastrophe. What we saw in Bonn is a prelude to what will be a fiasco in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Murad Qureshi is a former member of the London Assembly and a former chair of the Stop the War Coalition.