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“Unilateralism and Multilateralism Clash In Ukraine and the Middle East. Part One” KGNU- Hemispheres – Middle East Dialogues Hosted by Jim Nelson

June 2, 2022

Munch’s The Scream… Metaphor describing the state of the country, the world.

KGNU – May 31, 2022 – Hemispheres – Middle East Dialogues

(Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince discuss Unilateralism and Multilateralism Clash In Ukraine and the Middle East, Part One)

Jim Nelson (producer): We’ll jump right into the program.

Tonight’s program is going to be how events in one part of the world influence can effect events in another part – in this case, the impact of the Russian Special Military Operation in Ukraine’s impact on the Middle East.

As Ibrahim and Rob have discussed many times, the conflicts in somewhere else in the world impacts regional dynamics, as it does in the Middle East. On a global level – the Ukraine conflict is simply one front in a global competition between two world views – U.S. led unipolarism, which understands the United States to be the world’s dominant force and on the other hand, the growing impact and influence of multi-polar approaches headed up by Chinese-Russian cooperation.

Is the dominance of the U.S. unipolar worldview “almost over”?

Ibrahim and Rob will look at three themes that underline this:

– Turkey’s new initiative to horse trade its veto for Finland and Sweden entering NATO with a green light to invade Northern Syria

– The vote in the Iraqi parliament against normalizing relations with Israel

– The JCPOA is running out of steam

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes, I’ll begin.

You contextualized the situation well enough. Rob and I have been engaged in this discussion.

Unfortunately, one of the problems that we have in the West with political pundits discussing different political conflict, situations and crises is that these commentators are not prepared to go

to do in depth analysis by looking at the factors that feed into a particular conflict.

We believe there is no current event, conflict without a broader historical and political context.

Without spending time to analyze and understand “context” we will not be able to thoroughly and deservedly assess the situation the way it should be understood. We want to start with the Ukrainian issue by contextualizing it.

In order to understand the current crisis in Ukraine it is necessary to return to the period just after the end of World War II and the world order that was imposed on the rest of the world at that time. That world order resulted in an ideological conflict which resulted in the Cold War.

Primarily from the Western (or American) viewpoint it was an attempt to impose Western order – which primarily benefitted the West – on the rest of the world.

This is the same scenario that exists today in the Ukraine as that which has dominated the world since the end of World War Two. Based upon a colonial mindset in which a Hobbesian worldview it argued that the world needs a strong power, a hegemonic power, to dictate the rules to the rest of the world so as to create order. Such an understanding essentially prevailed over the rest of the world despite the fact that there was a degree of resistance to such a state of affairs.

Particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the United States and its allies in the west saw the opportunity to impose their unipolar approach on the rest of the world.

Of course there has been resistance, opposition to this imposed hegemony which ignited from the very beginning of the post WW2 era. This opposition led to the creation, the formation of what was known as (and remains known as) the Non-Aligned Movement, in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. This movement became popular throughout the Global South especially shortly thereafter.

If you look at the five founding principles of the Non-Aligned Movement as it was coming into being and shaping itself, one of these key principles was the respect for the non-interference in domestic affairs of other countries by greater powers, be they from the East or West.

This principle of non-interference was something that the United States was not prepared to accept.

In its essence, idea that the United States, as the world’s hegemonic power, had the right to intervene in the affairs of others was thus inimical to the Nonaligned Movement’s principles. The latter opposed and resisted outside interference in their internal domestic affairs from the very outset of that movement.

At the beginning of Biden’s presidency in 2020-1, we began to see this U.S. led unipolar, rule-based (with Washington establishing the rules) order intensify in its effort to defend itself. In such a system, the rules of international relations are defined and imposed by the West. Tensions over this approach were obvious in the March 18, 2021 Alaska meeting between the Chinese and American foreign policy teams.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken defended the U.S. unipolar rule-based order but was immediately challenged by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Wang Yi rejected a U.S. unipolar rule based order in which the United States and the West crafts all the rules. In its stead, the Chinese foreign minister proposed a framework of an internationally-based order that respects the integrity, independence and non-interference into the affairs of countries, essentially the same as the principles of the Nonaligned Movement.

To review, since the end of World War Two and even more so after the collapse of Communism in 1991, the concept of unipolar, U.S. dominated international relations has dominated international affairs.

Initially (after the collapse of the USSR) the United States tried to impose this unipolar domination on the rest of the world. Russia protested, but at the time was too weak to actually challenge Washington’s dictates.

It is within the context of the clash between these two world views, that of the unipolar vs. the multipolar approaches to international relations that we would like to contextualize the Ukrainian situation. On the Western side, the U.S. attempt to impose the unipolar world view globally; on the other side, Russia, China, the Iranians who argue that the unipolar movement is over and a multipolar global balance of power has replaced it, with it a respect for international order, international institutions.

Rob do you have anything to ad?

Rob Prince: Yes.

I like the framework that you are developing here. A few relevant comments before moving to the specifics of the Middle East.

The main point I would want to emphasize: the United States is clinging to a world order that no longer exists quite frankly. To preserve its privileges, it engages in what are essentially defensive actions – sanctions, military intervention either directly or, as is Ukrainian case, through proxies in order to essentially stop history in its tracks.

So there is that dimension

A very different kind of world order from that which has existed since the end of World War II is emerging, this multipolar world.

What I would like to share with listeners is the following: the former competition between different blocs of the world order had an ideological character to it: it’s framed as a struggle between capitalism (that calls itself “the free world”) on the one hand, and the communist, socialist bloc on other with little to no room for any other approaches.

As you were developing your ideas Ibrahim, the interesting point is that even during the period of the Cold War (1948-1991) there was push back to being in either camp, the emergence of the Nonaligned Movement being the case in point. As a movement, making up broad based elements of the Global South, it was not interested in taking the side of either party in this ideological struggle. The Nonaligned Movement sought good ties, positive relations with both the United States and its allies on the one hand, and what was at the time, the Communist bloc on the other.

That kind of ideological tension that characterized the Cold War has morphed into an entirely different contradiction today. Of course, in an effort to maintain its hegemony, remains highly ideological. It’s still – a country is either 100% with Washington, or it finds itself in the opposition. Its goal is the maintenance of the same liberal world order and the current global division of labor it has managed since 1945.

The other side – if you like – the Russian-Chinese-Iranian and others – is not bound by ideological straight jackets at all. Think about this: China is an openly communist led country; if I were to define the Russian political system, I’d call it state capitalism. I’d call the Iranian system, essentially a theological form of capitalism. Ideologically all three are very different, even profoundly so. Yet for all the ideological differences involved, these countries, regardless of their differences are coming together into an increasingly stable and effective alliance.

What is the common interest among countries like China, Russia and Iran (and others). It is several fold.

– the desire and the need for trade and mutual support within the alliance.

– while China is obviously the strongest player involved, all the same, the multipolar alliance does not have a hegemonic power. Not only that, China is quite serious about not becoming a hegemonic power, of replacing the United States as such or is it exporting its brand of ideological thinking to its allies. Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

In essence in the current global climate, there are essentially two different approaches to the clash between unipolar domination and multipolar democracy. On the one hand there is the old world trying to defend what I see as ultimately undefendable – the 1945 U.S. led world order. Its approach is ideologically driven. This is contrast with an emerging new world, this multipolar reality, which frankly is far more interesting, economically dynamic, more political diverse in many ways.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: One could venture to propose that the 42 years of sanctions against Iran was Washington’s response to the first call that Imam Khomeini had when he came to power with the success of the Iranian Revolution against the Shah’s regime.

The slogan was “neither east nor west.” The Iranian government wanted to be given the opportunity to have equal and respectful relations with both sides of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the West. But the United States would not tolerate this. The Shah was gone and Iran moved into a “neutral zone,” wanting trade with both the Soviet Union and then the West. Iranian insistence to pursue such a neutral policy is the consequence of the deterioration in relations with the West today.

Rob Prince: That is an excellent example of this desire, this goal to pursue a nonaligned political posture, even during the Cold War.

The other point I want to make of a general nature, starting with this Ukraine invasion, the Russian special military operation – whatever you want to call it – the way that the media is framing the Ukrainian crisis – you’d think that Ukraine is the only global flashpoint in this class between the two worlds, – the unipolar and multipolar worlds.

While Ukraine is currently the most militarized flashpoint between unilateralists and multilateralists, but the rest of the world is also drawn in, it is effected as well. There is a global scope to this clash. It doesn’t matter what part of the world we address, the tensions are everywhere, what the Biden Administration is trying to do to stop history: provoking Russia in Ukraine, China over Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Xinjiang, interfering with Latin American countries trade with China, engineering regime change in Pakistan because its former prime minister wants good ties with both the U.S. and China, furious over India’s attempts to maintain good relations with both the United States and Europe on the one hand, China and Russia on the other.

Without going into the details, the point here is in all of the above cases, the goal of the country’s involved was a multilateral approach not to take sides, and to enjoy good commercial and political relations with both sides. In all these cases and many more, the United States has been focused on derailing or eliminating such non partisan approaches. The list goes on.

Also, Ibrahim, your comments about the long post WW2 history of the nonaligned movement is very important. A anecdotal experience is relevant here.

A few nights ago, an African friend came over for dinner, after which we had a far reaching conversation – as we often do – that covered Washington’s current freeze of its sanctions against Ethiopia, the tragic shooting in Uvalde, Texas and the cowardly response of the local police there, and of course, the war in Ukraine.

Our friend was very curious as to how my wife Nancy and I viewed the Russian military action in Ukraine. Nancy answered from her point of view and I was about to add my two cents when Nancy asked our friend what he thought.

His response was interesting and the more I thought about it, represents a broad sector of African public opinion. He said that for “we Africans”, this is a European war, it’s not uppermost in our minds as it tends to be in yours (meaning Europe and North America). We don’t tend to take sides with this, both countries have a history of racism towards Black people and a negligent attitude towards Africa.”

This response, Ibrahim, reminded me of the depth of this Nonaligned Movement which many think of in these last decades as having died out. But it really never did. It’s a movement that has always been at the heart and soul of the Global South, as much today as in 1955 when it was first founded.

We’ve covered the more general comments. So let’s move on.

End – Part One of the interview. – To Be Continued


























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