BANGKOK – With traditional alliances straining around the world, the scope of Royal Thai Armythe United States’ oldest treaty partner in Asia, has thrown up a vast net.
This year, with the world reeling from Russia’s invasion of UkraineThai soldiers hosted US forces to participate in the annual Cobra Gold military exercise, one of the largest displays of force in the Asia-Pacific region. A few months ago, they took part in the Common Fate, Peacekeeping Exercise operated by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. And in 2020, the Thais further hedge their bets, signing an agreement for their military cadets to receive training at a defense academy in Moscow.
The next geopolitical landscape Invasion of Ukraine It is often likened to new cold war. While the principal adversaries may be the same – the United States, Russia and increasingly China – the roles played by most of the world have shifted, reshaping the global order that has lasted for more than three quarters of a century.
Governments that represent more than half of humanity have refused to take a stand, avoiding the binary accountability between us and them that has characterized most of the post-World War II era. at United Nations General Assembly vote This month to suspend Russia’s membership of the Human Rights Council, dozens of countries abstained, including Thailand, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and Singapore. (The decision worked anyway.)
They were the proxy battlefields of great powers, and vast swathes of Africa, Asia and Latin America bet on their independence. The return of the Non-Aligned bloc dates back to a period when the leaders of the post-colonial movement resisted imperialist shaping of their destiny. It also indicates the confidence of smaller countries, no longer dependent on a single ideological or economic patron, to go their own way.
“There is no doubt that Southeast Asian countries do not want to be dragged into a new Cold War or have to take sides in any great power competition,” said Zachary Abuza, a security specialist at the National War College in Washington. “As they say in Southeast Asia, when elephants fight, the grass is trampled.”
Having to join one force or the other, Mr. Abuza added, has left many countries around the world “extremely poor and underdeveloped at the end of the Cold War”.
As a result, even the United States, the victor of the Cold War, could not count on the support of some of its traditional partners to openly condemn Russia for its attack on a sovereign democracy. The NATO-led intervention in Libya In 2011 and US invasion of Iraq The year 2003 only increased mistrust in the West. Both military operations left countries in those regions grappling with the political fallout for years afterward.
“The crux of the matter is that African countries feel childish and neglected by Western nations, who are also accused of not adhering to their escalating moral rhetoric about sovereignty and territorial inviolability,” said Ebenezer Obadary, senior fellow for Africa studies at the council. in foreign relations.
Indonesia, a sprawling democracy once ruled by a dictator favored by the United States for his anti-communist stance, has said it will welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin when the country hosts the G20 meetings this year. It also abstained from voting at the United Nations to remove Russia from the Human Rights Council.
“Our government has adopted the questionable strategy of trying to ignore the biggest geopolitical earthquake in 70 years on our agenda as G20 President this year, which kind of surprised me,” said Tom Limpong, a former trade secretary.
Other allies of the United States described their decision to diversify as the result of American absenteeism. Last year, as China rolled out vaccine diplomacy around the world, the United States was initially seen as hoarding its supply of pandemics.
Before that, during the presidency of Donald J. Trump, the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an expanded trade agreement intended to counter China’s way of doing business. Countries like Vietnam that had staked their reputation on accession, once again, felt betrayed by Washington.
Mexico, a longtime ally of the United States, has confirmed its neutrality, and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has confirmed refusal of penalties In Russia.
“Mexico’s neutrality is not neutral,” said Tony Bayan of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. “Mexico irritates Washington in its eyes.”
About a third of US ambassadors to Latin America and the Caribbean remain vacant. Vacancies include Brazil, the largest regional economy, and the Organization of American States.
“Many Latin Americans were aware that the United States was abandoning them,” said Vladimir Rovinsky, a professor at the University of Isis in Cali, Colombia.
Russia also cannot count on automatic loyalty from its historical allies. Aside from a sense of authoritarian camaraderie, ideology is no longer part of Moscow’s allure. Russia has neither patronage money nor the geopolitical influence of the Soviet Union.
Venezuela, the strongest supporter of Russia in Latin America, received a high-ranking American delegation in the wake of the Ukrainian invasion. Which Nicaragua has become One of the first countries To support Russia’s recognition of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, he has since tempered their enthusiasm.
During a March UN vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Cuba abstained, instead supporting Moscow, although it and Nicaragua later rejected the attempt to expel Russia from the Human Rights Council.
“They’re trying to walk a fine line between certainly not celebrating the invasion, but also not clearly condemning it, and defending peace,” said Renata Keeler, a Cuba expert at the University of Nevada in Reno.
The most notable hedge came from Africa, which represented nearly half of the countries that abstained from voting at the United Nations in March.
“We do not know why they are fighting,” the chief Samia Saloh Hassan From Tanzania in an interview, referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
She added that she was “not sure” there was an apparent aggressor in the dispute.
For Thailand, the decision to train with the American, Russian and Chinese militaries, as well as buy weapons from each country, is part of its long history of balancing the great powers. Foolish diplomacy has allowed Thailand to emerge as the only country in the region that has not been colonized.
The current drift away from the United States, which used Thailand as a springboard for the Vietnam War, also stems from the political lineage of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, who came to power in a military coup eight years ago.
“Although Thailand may currently appear as a democracy, at its core it is an authoritarian one,” said Paul Chambers, a lecturer in international affairs at Naresuan University in Thailand. “A regime like this would have autocratic companions, including in Moscow.”
The same is true of Uganda, which receives nearly $1 billion in US aid and is a key Western ally in the fight against regional militancy. after government President Yoweri Museveni Uganda has been criticized by the United States and the European Union for a pattern of human rights abuses.
Mr. Museveni responded by attacking the West’s intervention in Libya and Iraq. The son of the president who commands the land forces of the country, chirp That “the majority of humanity (other than whites) supports Russia’s position in Ukraine.”
Uganda, like dozens of other countries, can speak up because of the biggest new trading partner: China. This economic reality, even if Beijing promises more than it delivers, has shielded countries that previously depended on other great powers from stark geopolitical choices.
Strategically located countries are as diverse as Djibouti, which hosts Camp Lemonnier, the largest permanent US base on the African continent. A few years ago, after President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s invitation, Beijing established first abroad Military barracks in Djibouti. Guelleh also took out loans from the Chinese to help develop ports, free trade zones and railways.
Cobus van Staden, of the South African Institute of International Affairs, said increased Chinese involvement has provided African countries with “alternative investments, alternative markets and alternative ideas for development”.
But if the world is more comfortable with multipolarity these days, the ripple effects of the fighting in Ukraine are a reminder that globalization is rapidly linking far-flung nations.
Rising world prices for fuel, food and fertilizer, as a result of the war in Ukraine, have increased hardships in Africa and Asia. Already struggling with a devastating drought, East Africa now has it at least 13 million people face severe hunger.
Residents outside Europe know well that their refugees – such as the Syrians, Venezuelans, Afghans, South Sudanese and Rohingyas in Myanmar – cannot expect to welcome the displaced Ukrainians. In a race for limited reserves of care, aid groups have warned of the risks of donor stress for the world’s most vulnerable.
“The whole world is affected when these countries fight,” said Tanzanian President Hassan, referring to Russia and Ukraine.
Hana Beach wrote from Bangkok, Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya, and Oscar Lopez from Mexico City. Mukita Suhartono contributed reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia.
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