Sun, Jun 15, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Ukraine crisis provides a test for Europe in a multipolar world

Russia’s use of force to annex its neighbor has not initiated a return to a Cold War-style duality of East versus West, instead leaving many countries indifferent

By Volker Perthes

One aspect of the Ukraine crisis that both Russia and the West need to understand is that the rest of the world appears to be relatively unconcerned about it.

Although the West, along with Japan, may view the crisis as a challenge to the global order, most other states do not feel threatened by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea or designs it may have elsewhere in Ukraine. Instead, many view this crisis as being largely about Europe’s inability to resolve its own regional disputes, though a successful outcome could bolster Europe’s global influence as a peacemaker.

As the Ukraine crisis unfolded, Russian policymakers and commentators talked about “the end of the post-Cold War era,” while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dimitri Rogozin even appeared to welcome the start of a new Cold War.

Such wishful thinking is predicated on the notion that conflict between Moscow and the West would once again come to define the entire international system, thereby returning Russia to its former superpower status.

That is not going to happen.

As emerging powers’ reactions to the Ukraine crisis demonstrate, world politics is no longer defined by what happens in Europe, even when a major conflict is brewing there.

The international system has become so multipolar that non-European states can now choose to follow their own interests rather than feel obliged to side with the East or the West.

Few world leaders doubt that Russia’s use of force to compromise Ukraine’s territorial integrity, change its borders and annex Crimea violated international law. China’s abstention in the subsequent UN Security Council vote clearly signaled its leaders’ displeasure with Kremlin policy, but nearly one-third of the UN’s members sent an equally emphatic message by abstaining or not participating in a General Assembly vote condemning Moscow’s actions.

Even Western-friendly governments — including Brazil, India, South Africa and Israel — were not prepared to take sides. Indian journalist Indrani Bagchi referred to the abstentions as a new form of nonalignment.

Cynicism and schadenfreude may also be playing a role. Prominent Indian strategist Raja Mohan said that Europe “has never ceased to lecture Asia on the virtues of regionalism,” but now seems unable to cope with its own regional security challenges.

The implicit message from the new nonaligned is straightforward: Why should we care about a territorial conflict in Europe when you Europeans fail to act decisively on Palestine, Kashmir or territorial disputes in the East and South China seas?

Instead, many of these countries are calling on the West to de-escalate the crisis and, as a statement from the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs advocated, “exercise restraint and refrain from raising tensions.”

That is good advice and no different from what Europeans tell others in similar situations.

However, unlike other regions of the world, Europe — including Russia — can be proud of its regional security organizations, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Now, it needs to make them work.

For example, the OSCE would be greatly strengthened if, using its wide range of diplomatic mechanisms (such as roundtable discussions and support for constitutional reforms), it succeeded in defusing the Ukraine crisis and thereby bolstered European security.

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