Many developing countries see the war in Ukraine and the West’s rivalry with China as distracting from urgent issues such as debt, climate change, and the effects of the pandemic. Great-power competition is exacerbating global challenges to the extreme detriment of the poorest countries. Da Foreign Affairs.
“Ukraine has united the world,” declared Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a speech on the first anniversary of the start of the war with Russia. If only that were true. The war has certainly united the West, but it has left the world divided. And that rift will only widen if Western countries fail to address its root causes.
The traditional transatlantic alliance of European and North American countries has mobilized in unprecedented fashion for a protracted conflict in Ukraine. It has offered extensive humanitarian support for people inside Ukraine and for Ukrainian refugees. And it is preparing for what will be a massive rebuilding job after the war. But outside Europe and North America, the defense of Ukraine is not front of mind. Few governments endorse the brazen Russian invasion, yet many remain unpersuaded by the West’s insistence that the struggle for freedom and democracy in Ukraine is also theirs. As French President Emmanuel Macron said at the Munich Security Conference in February, “I am struck by how we have lost the trust of the global South.” He is right. Western conviction about the war and its importance is matched elsewhere by skepticism at best and outright disdain at worst.
The gap between the West and the rest goes beyond the rights and wrongs of the war. Instead, it is the product of deep frustration—anger, in truth—about the Western-led mismanagement of globalization since the end of the Cold War. From this perspective, the concerted Western response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has thrown into sharp relief the occasions when the West violated its own rules or when it was conspicuously missing in action in tackling global problems. Such arguments can seem beside the point in light of the daily brutality meted out by Russian forces in Ukraine. But Western leaders should address them, not dismiss them. The gulf in perspectives is dangerous for a world facing enormous global risks. And it threatens the renewal of a rules-based order that reflects a new, multipolar balance of power in the world.