Historians will no doubt have their own views on how the Cold War II began. I was careful not to jump to conclusion too quickly. My initial reservations were cleared on listening to the transcript of the talk between the United States Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt in which they discussed “regime change” in Ukraine – to tear it away from its historic relationship with Russia and into the US globosphere. Nuland explained that prominent businessmen and government officials in US and in Ukraine supported this, and that in the past two decades, the US had spent five billion dollars on this project. The significant point here is that this has been going on for the last twenty years.
This essay is about how Africa and the South might position themselves in this second round of the Cold War. I will keep it short in order to provide a broad framework to nail down some major issues of concern to the South.
A very brief history of the geo-politics of the last quarter century
We in the South need first to understand a bit of the background. Whilst I talk about CWII, I’m of the view that the Cold War never really ended; it has been an uninterrupted war from 1945 to today. Its first phase (1945-1990) ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall – call it CWI. But as soon as the US and the West emerged triumphant in the 1990s, they launched the next phase against Russia and, I might add, this time also against the South – call it CWII.
Part one: West-Russia relations
There was a period following Glasnost and Perestroika in Russia that looked as though the US and Europe might make peace and work together with Russia. Gorbachev surrendered to the West in an undignified, humiliating, fashion, followed by Yeltsin who privatized state assets and created a bunch of kleptocrats that looted the country and transferred their wealth to the West. Putin, when he came to power in 2000, tried to reach some kind of understanding with the US and Europe. He was given a seat at the table of the G7 Western alliance. He even tried, in vain, to get into NATO. For a while Europe, encouraged by Germany and the United Kingdom, was prepared to bring Putin into its fold. But the US took a hard line, and the European diplomatic demarche soon collapsed. The United States, under the strong influence of the neo-cons, pushed its victory to break up the former USSR and more or less forced a reluctant Europe to bring in Central Europe and much of Eastern Europe within the European Union. Yugoslavia was dismantled and Kosovo was relentlessly bombed for 79 days – without the authority of the United Nations – to turn it into a client state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The three former Soviet Baltic states were persuaded to join NATO. NATO was enlarged and outreached to near the borders of Russia with the missile defense shield that extended from Poland to Alaska. The West encouraged the “rose revolution” in Georgia which removed a pro-Russian regime and brought in a pro-Western one. A host of spy planes covered the former Soviet republics such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, some of which were hoping to use the connections with the West to loosen ties with Russia.
Part Two: West-South relations
The South too has been targeted by the West. Under the pretext that Saddam Hussein harboured weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was bombed and occupied. The real reason was that Hussein was getting too close to Russia. Among other things, he owed Russia $8 billion Soviet-era debt and had signed a $20 billion oil contract with Russia. He was also threatening to sell Iraq’s oil in currencies other than the dollar. This potentially threatened to undermine US hegemony over the global money system. Then NATO unleashed the nearly 15-years war against Afghanistan leaving a trail of destruction and mayhem, like in Iraq. Then age-old religious dissensions and economic frustrations in Libya, Syria, Mali, the Central African Republic – among other countries – were exploited by the West for its geo-political and economic interests. This is not to mention Iran which has been under US sanctions now for over three decades since the collapse of the US-backed Shah regime in 1979, and Palestine which has been ghettoed for 60 years ever since the founding of the state of Israel. Further afield, although China has tried to maintain a cautious approach to the United States, the latter has increased its military presence in the Pacific and has warned China against interfering with the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Taiwan remains a sore issue between the US and China. In South America, the US has been financing – like in Syria and the Ukraine – dissident elements in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.
This is a truncated version of the last quarter century of the steady militarization of international politics by the West. We in the South need to understand that this extremely bellicose nature of Western expansion in our times has huge ramifications for the South’s security and political economy.
Part Three: An emerging Russia-South de facto alliance
Since the mid-1980s the West has pushed for globalisation. At first sight it is such an obvious phenomenon that to deny its reality simply defies everyday experience. The internet and the social media have broken national boundaries. Some three billion people are connected to each other on the internet. But dig deeper and you’ll find a complex process that is largely managed and dominated by the West. This is also a reality hard to deny. At the economic level, neo-liberal globalisation pushed by the West-dominated IMF, the World Bank and the WTO has turned the terms of international trade into a veritable war machine. It has made weaker states subject to sanctions by the powerful, whilst the reverse is not possible. Today in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis, the West is imposing collective sanctions against Russia. But Russia is not a weak state and can impose counter-sanctions. But that is not the case with most of the smaller countries of the South, especially in Africa. For example, Europe is pressurizing the sub-Saharan African countries to sign Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by 31 October 2014, or face trade sanctions
One thing is clear: if you go along with the West you are a democratic country (like Saudi Arabia), but if you are not, then you are an autocracy (like Zimbabwe, for example). If you do not play the Western game, then the “tender” thread of globalisation becomes a “choking” noose on the necks of the globalised weaker nations. You can be “hanged” by globalisation. At the security level the Internet has become the most dangerous instrument of global totalitarianism the world has ever witnessed, as the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden show. It is symbolic of our times that Snowden has taken refuge in Russia, and Julian Assange is holed up in the Ecuador embassy in London.
It is this double assault by the West against the former Soviet empire and the global South that has brought Russia and the South to form a de facto alliance. Call it an opportunistic alliance if you like. When Putin failed in his overtures to the US and Europe, he decided to turn to the East, especially to China. This is what gave birth to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. When Palestine, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Zimbabwe, Libya – to mention a few nations of the South – get into difficulties with the West, it is Russia and China that have come to their aid. In a sense that is a repeat of the first Cold War era. For forty years in the 1950s to 1980s NATO was supplying arms to apartheid South Africa and the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, for example. During those decades it was the USSR and China that had come to their aid. It is strange that the present-day political leaders in Africa have such short memories, or it may be that they prefer to throw a veil of ignorance on the past because of “development aid” from the West and from the IMF and the World Bank.
Nonalignment, Resistance and Decoupling
During the first phase of the Cold War the newly emerging countries of the South – under the leadership of Sukarno, Nehru, Tito of Yugoslavia, Nasser and Nkrumah (among others) – decided not to take sides between the USSR and the West, and created the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM). China was not a member of the NAM but it maintained close links with the countries of the South and the USSR. Today, China is following more or less the same overall policy towards Russia and the countries of South. China has aligned with Russia to block Western military action against Syria towards the end of 2013, and the threat of military action against Iran. China abstained on the Ukraine issue in the UN Security Council 15 March 2014 proposed resolution by the West which was not passed because of the Russian veto. But one may reasonably guess that behind the scenes Russia had agreed to China taking this “neutral” stand. India, on the other hand, while accepting the principle of territorial integrity, accepted that Russia has legitimate claim over Crimea. (“Russian interests in Ukraine’s Crimea ‘legitimate’, India says”,The Times of India 8 March 2014)
This is a fair indication of the way that Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) and the global south generally might move in the evolving scenario. The so-called “international community” is simply another name for NATO. The one difficulty I see is that the global south comprises of very many small, weak, countries that are held at ransom by the West because of the so-called “development aid”, trade, and the IMF-imposed structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) on them. Africa is particularly vulnerable to pressure from the West on account of this dependency. In 2008 I wrote “Ending Aid Dependence”, but I am fully aware that this dependence cannot stop at a stroke of the pen. There are fundamental and deep changes that are necessary in the political economy of African countries before they can take a truly independent position in relation to the West. This is not such a formidable challenge as might appear. For example, the Sub-Saharan African countries have managed, at least so far, to resist persistent pressure from the European Union to sign the EPAs.
This resistance is in part based on grassroots civil society activism. But it has also to do with the reaction against Western arrogance and patronising attitude to Africa. Take the issue of homosexuality, for example. It is a difficult issue. But everything has to be put in context. For example, I think the West has no business telling Africa how to deal with this matter. I’m totally against the law against homosexuality passed in Uganda and Nigeria, but I share Museveni’s sentiment – “leave us alone” to deal with our own problems, he is reported to have said. Democracy is all about “process” and people’s participation in debates on social issues. It is not about parachuting Western values on Africa’s soil. So the West debates; and Africa simply implements what the West has decided. This is unacceptable as a matter of principle.
Finally, globalisation has shown its other face. As stated earlier, it is a string that can easily become a choking noose. The more a country is integrated into the global system of production and exchange, the more vulnerable it is to potential sanctions by the West. It is important for Africa and the global South to recalibrate their trade, aid and investment relations with the West. Of course, Africa faces the same dilemma if it is too closely tied to China. This is not to advocate that Africa cuts itself from the rest of the world. That is neither possible nor desirable. But it is important that Africa systematically and gradually decouples itself from the globalised system towards intensifying greater regional and continental integration.
The world is entering an escalated phase of the cold war. Africa and the global South will face a barrage of propaganda and falsehoods. It is important that the political, intellectual and media world in Africa and the Global South sift truth from propaganda, learn from the past, keep a cool head, and seek security for their people and aspire towards collective self-reliance as much as they can in this West-dominated iniquitous globalised system.