General Assembly, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Russia, The New York Times, Ukraine, Ukraine-Russia war, United Nations, Vladimir Putin
The New York Times deserves a lot of credit for running this article yesterday, which reported that, as the headline observed, “In Some Parts of the World, the War in Ukraine Seems Justified.” At the same time, there’s strong evidence that “some” greatly understates the case – to the point that it’s entirely unclear that the piece’s supposedly context-providing claim that “Most of the world has loudly and unequivocally condemned [Vladimir] Putin for sparking a war with Ukraine” holds much water.
If you’re skeptical, just look at the United Nations General Assembly vote condemning the Russian dictator’s invasion and demanding its immediate end and the total, unconditional withdrawal of Moscow’s forces from all of Ukraine’s “internationally recognized borders.”
Yes, the resolution voted on was sponsored by 90 of the 193 UN members and backed by 141 – more than the two-thirds required for adoption. And yes, only Russia and four other equally reprehensible dictatorships (including satellite state Belarus and client state Syria) voted “No.”
But 35 countries abstained and 14 UN members didn’t vote at all. And the abstaining countries represented a huge share of the world’s estimated population of nearly eight billion. Between China and India alone, we’re talking more than 35 percent of the global total. (These and the population figures below come from the reliable Worldometers.info website.)
And you can add to these abstainers’ ranks Pakistan (221 million), Bangladesh (167 million), Vietnam (97 million), Iran (84 million), South Africa (59 million), Uganda (45 million), Sudan and Algeria (44 million each). The non-voters, meanwhile, included Ethiopia (115 million).
Do the math, and these countries’ populations sum to just under 3.7 billion. That’s nearly 47 percent of the global total – and it doesn’t even include Russia’s 146 million people
No one’s saying that most of these countries’ governments are democracies that represent the popular will (although India’s clearly is). Indeed, some of their people have publicly protested Russia’s aggression. (See, e.g., here and here.)
But nothing indicates that these demonstrators mirror majority opinion in these countries or even close, for whatever reason – ranging from the kind of sympathy for Russia reported in the Times piece to ignorance or apathy. That is, maybe big shares of these populations haven’t heard about the war to begin with, or if they have, pay little attention to its developments because they’re too preoccupied with struggling to eak out a living.
By the same token, nothing indicates that Putin’s war enjoys broad, much less deep, support in these countries, let alone in any others, either. And it’s surely significant that the countries that have condemned the invasion account for a strong majority of the global economy. That’s even the case for the smaller group of countries that have imposed various kinds of sanctions.
The UN votes, however, do make clear that, however tempting and inspiring it is to think that “most of the world” really does “loudly and unequivocally” Stand with Ukraine, as the Times contends, the reality is a lot more complicated.
It’s not a popularity contest. And what is abundantly clear is that this is no longer a war between two armies. Putin’s forces are targeting theaters, auditoriums, hospitals, museums, cultural centers and every other structure being used by civilians as shelter from the devastation. They are shooting people waiting in bread lines and those only attempting to flee. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are stuck and likely to starve or freeze to death. It is imperative to tell Putin to get the Hell out and to rescue these people. NATO be damed; the West has a humanitarian obligation in this matter now, and further unwillingness to do the right thing simply comprises complicity.
Alan Tonelson said:
Jack, I always appreciate you taking the time to comment. But the main problem with your central argument about the humanitarian obligations of the West and complicity is this: Neither you or me or anyone deserves any special claim to expertise, or any unusual status, on these moral issues. When it comes to voicing opinions on these matters – which is all that we’re talking about here – the ultimate arbiter for America, as must always be the case in our system of representative government, will be the wishes of the American electorate. You of course have every right to try to convince others that you’re correct. I of course have the exact same right to make my case – including the contention that the suffering certain from escalation to the nuclear level would be so horrific across the planet that the moral course of action is to reduce the possibilities to the barest minimum consistent with America’s security, independence, and prosperity. I’m definitely open to concrete proposals (as opposed to “doing the right thing”) that ease or end the suffering in ways that meet the above test. And maybe I’ll come up with some on top of urging Ukraine to take a Finlandization- or neutrality-type deal. But other than that, I can’t think of anything useful to say on the moral issues.