Ukraine, Gaza and the new world order

Ukraine, Gaza and the new world order

By Sadık Ünay

It is becoming increasingly clear with every international crisis that the world order is moving towards a more balanced and multipolar structure in which a multiplicity of actors are holding numerous instruments of influence against each other. Recent discussions on the transition from uni-multipolarity to multipolarity acquired a new twist in the light of two critical and seemingly unrelated international crises. The first one concerned the systemic crisis in Ukraine, which witnessed the collapse of concerted efforts by the U.S. administration and the EU to incorporate the country into the network of Western institutions through a wave of civil disobedience.

The unexpectedly tough response of Putin’s Russia revived the conventional Cold War tactics of military invasion, use of paramilitary forces and annexation in Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. Those who were expecting a geostrategic response from the U.S. were utterly disappointed with the muted attitude of the Obama administration in the face of blatant Russian unilateralism. Especially in the aftermath of their indecisive and unconvincing stance following the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army against civilians, the inability of the U.S. administration to display any meaningful response to a chain of carefully calculated moves by Putin exerted a serious blow to America’s global image. The U.S. seemed unable to impose the direction of international developments, unless it decides to unleash the power of its unrivaled military machine.

The second crucial crisis indicating the nature of new multipolarity and indecisiveness in the global order came with the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza triggered by unprovoked Israeli aggression. The fact that the Obama administration failed to convey serious efforts to carry forward the Palestinian peace process and even failed to give a meaningful response to Israel’s disproportional aggression stimulated widespread international resentment. As ever, despite strong international pressures, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan led the countries in the region in strongly condemning Israel’s unlawful military attacks against innocent civilians, particularly women and children. Qatar, and to a lesser extent, Iran raised similar concerns. On the other hand, staunch U.S. allies in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan and Bahrain preferred to watch the unfolding humanitarian tragedy from the sidelines; with newly-authoritarian Egypt trying to play a mediocre role in intermediation by marginalizing Hamas. But indicative of the multipolar nature of the new world order, the most vocal critiques of unilateral Israeli aggression came from Latin America. Countries such as Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia all strongly condemned Israeli attacks on Gaza and suspended their diplomatic and economic relations with Israel. Yet more importantly, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff described the ongoing tragedy in Gaza as “a massacre” and despite pressures from the Jewish Diaspora, expressed that her state will give the strongest diplomatic reaction.

We believe that the Gaza incident in particular is indicative of “emerging power” responses in the multipolar global order. Both Turkey and Brazil are acting as morally astute emerging powers that react to crimes against humanity in Gaza in the face of the clear reluctance and inability of the supposedly hegemonic power to provide international leadership. In fact, the U.S. has been supporting Israel’s actions via military procurement, diplomatic protection in multilateral fora and favorable media coverage. For the time being, emerging powers such as Turkey and Brazil might not have accumulated potential for effective conflict resolution in major international crises, but the value of holding the moral high-ground should not be underestimated.