4th Feb 2023


Why the West is losing support

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Only a few months ago, on 7 April 2022, the alarm bells went off in most European and North American capitals. The reason was not some Russian military movement in Ukraine but a vote in the human rights council of the United Nations.

On that day the 195 member states of the council voted on the suspension of the Russian Federation as a member of that council. A majority of 93, against 82, was in favour of the suspension (as 24 were against, and 58 abstained.)

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  • The point is that everyone who is travelling around the world can see a growing resentment against the West

However, 20 countries were strategically absent.

In other words, only a minority of the world's countries supported the resolution of the West against Russia, even though it had invaded Ukraine a month and a half earlier.

If we look into the details of the vote, the picture is even more worrying. From the 58 African countries, only eight voted with the West. Only five of the 45 Asian, and only two of the 18 countries of the Middle East and North-Africa supported Russia's suspension.

What is going on? Allow me to give two examples.

Ten days before this UN meeting, I was in Qatar attending the Doha Forum, which brings together political leaders from all over the world. One of the panels discussed how to react to Russia's invasion. The American and European speakers emphasised the fact that Russia had crossed the red lines of international law and that it should therefore being sanctioned.

The former foreign minister of Pakistan, Hina Rabbani Khar, had a different perspective.

She reminded the public that in 2003 the US and a coalition of the willing had invaded Iraq illegally. The reasons for the invasion appeared to be lies. Nevertheless, the world was asked to support the United States, not to sanction it.

So, Rabbani Khar wondered, why should the world first support an American illegal war and now sanction a Russian one? The room, mostly filled with Arab, Asian and African people, seemed to agree with her.

The European and American attendees however brushed her arguments away.

A few days ago I was in Uganda's capital Kampala attending the Uganda-EU Business Forum. One of the topics hotly debated in the margins was the resolution of the European Parliament of 14 September 2022 on a Ugandan oil pipeline project.

The resolution not only condemned human rights violations connected to the project, but also the fact that Uganda is building a new fossil-fuel project in times of climate change. Ugandans were particularly upset by the fact that the American president Joe Biden called for an increase of gas and oil production in the US — while their much smaller project got criticised.

These are just two examples, and one could find them right or wrong. The point is that everyone who is travelling around the world can see a growing resentment against the West.

Europe and the United States are seen as the ones imposing rules upon the rest but not following these rules themselves if needed. Europe is insisting on democracy, human rights and the rule of law when dealing with third countries, but at the same time unable to stop the decline of these principles in several EU member states. The West condemns every coup d'état wherever in the world, but remains mostly silent when former president Donald Trump actually incited one on 6 January 2021 in Washington.

One could argue that it is not fair to compare the US with Mali or Hungary with Egypt. That is of course true.

Nevertheless, it is the sense of superiority of the West, combined with never-ending lecturing others, that is making many Asians and Africans angry. You often hear Africans say that "when the Chinese comes they give us a hospital, but when Europeans come, they give us a lecture."

European policy makers find all this very unfair.

They refer to the massive number of euros being spent in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. They also claim that if these countries would be less corrupt, this money would have led to prosperity instead of the poverty that is still rampant in most of these countries.

Some even ask that "if Europe is so bad, why do so many still want to risk their life to get here?"

Fair or not fair, the point is that Europe and the US are losing support from the rest of the world. Very soon this will become problematic.

A first test will be the climate conference COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, where we might see new alliances emerging. Therefore, Europe has no other choice than seriously rethink its foreign policy and change its discourse.

This column was updated on 3 November to fix name of UN body and voting figures.

Author bio

Koert Debeuf is distinguished adjunct professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels and president of the board of EUobserver.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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