Europe and the West must avoid the temptation to impose the so-called ‘Western civilization’ on the rest of the world
There was a widespread feeling that the 21st century would not see traditional conflicts and wars. We naively thought that this century would take note of the atrocities and horrors of its predecessor, and could move towards a new time of peace and prosperity. Few analysts dared to predict that a “Third World War” could break out. It is true that in recent years we have witnessed an extremely worrying hegemonic rivalry between China and the United States. However, no one could have imagined such a rapid and serious deterioration as the one we have just experienced with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the danger of widespread international destabilisation.
Although the conflict is still in a phase of profound uncertainty and we cannot foresee what its final consequences will be, we can draw some conclusions today.
The first and most forceful is the absolute condemnation of the violation of the principles and objectives of the United Nations Charter by the Russian Federation, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, itself the highest body responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, and, as a consequence, full solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine. This necessarily means offering our full support to the Ukrainians who are bravely defending themselves and to all those who are escaping the atrocities of war.
The second is to mobilise all efforts to bring about an immediate ceasefire to prevent further loss of life and to put an end to the destruction of infrastructure and the suffering of the Ukrainian people.
The third is self-critical, but necessary: the utter failure of diplomacy. How is it possible that the system of prevention, mediation and diplomatic negotiation has not been able to stop the attack and invasion of Ukraine? All of this should lead us to review the effectiveness and credibility of international institutions and organizations, and in particular the highest body for ensuring peace and security: the Security Council and the right of veto.
The fourth is the collapse of a concept that was as revolutionary as it was necessary: “the system of collective security”. This system had been introduced into the concert of nations after many centuries of war and bloodshed, and to counteract the disastrous results of the so-called “balance of power”. The international community decided after the end of the First World War to opt for mutual co-responsibility in ensuring peace and security, and this principle was crowned in the San Francisco Charter at the end of the Second World War. It is true that it has been maintained throughout this time with major difficulties and setbacks, but it has not been threatened as profoundly as it is today. The OSCE, as the heir to the Helsinki Act, was an extension and expression of this approach and this concept of collective security, to which it added that of the indivisibility of security by endorsing that no one can feel secure if the other feels insecure. It is this implicit pact that has been broken by the invasion of Ukraine.
The fifth conclusion is to avoid the temptation to return to an obsolete world of blocs and zones of influence that seemed to have been forgotten and to prioritise an exclusively military approach focused on rearmament. The positive development has been the unity of the Western world, be it within NATO, the transatlantic relationship, and the resurgence of a European Union that is awakening from its long economic and social lethargy and finally presenting itself as a relevant player on the international stage. At last, foreign policy is making headway in the process of European construction. But under no circumstances must it fall into a “warmongering patriotism” that forgets its long history of peace and defence of universal values. In this respect, the acts of discrimination and exclusion that have unfortunately been perpetrated against citizens of a different race, ethnicity, culture and religion from our own, who, like “Westerners”, wished to escape the hell of this conflict, must be condemned.
This new positive situation in which values and principles mark the action of the Western world should not ignore the profound changes that have taken place in international society. Despite the unanimous condemnation of Russian military intervention by the international community in the last General Assembly resolution, a deeper analysis of the outcome of the vote shows important changes in geostrategic alliances in different geographical areas. Let this not be misunderstood. It was an absolute victory for all those in favour of the UN Charter. But in any case it reflects a serious problem when a section of the international community refuses to vote in favour of a resolution that only calls for compliance with the Charter.
The sixth conclusion: there is no clash of civilizations between the West and Russia. This interpretation by some experts and scholars that has been expressed in some media and in some analyses of the crisis is unfounded. Russia has been, has lived and is a state where culture, religion and language are part of a common civilization with the West and Europe. Indeed, with specific features belonging to that “Russian soul” which has so deeply inspired Europe and the West and which has contributed to the development of Western art, creation and thought. Even its religion is the same as that professed by many European citizens, be they in Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, the Baltic States, and so on. Above all, we must not allow ourselves to be carried away by old impulses of an East-West confrontation. We must put a stop to a “Russophobia” which is nowadays unrestrained.
Seventh conclusion: the world is currently undergoing an unprecedented global transformation. This moment requires the participation of all actors to be able to respond to the most urgent global and existential challenges facing humanity. We are barely emerging from a pandemic which has brought us all to our knees and which has fully demonstrated the fissures in human fraternity and solidarity, and we are entering a conflict with unforeseeable consequences which could even lead to the total destruction of the planet in the event of a nuclear confrontation. The display of solidarity for the Ukrainian people that is taking place all over the world must be the seed for a strengthening of the spirit of one humanity that acts in a determined and united way. In these circumstances, some believe that the Western world is in decline and that the time has come to dispense with it. Others, Westerners, claim that their progress, principles and values should be the only valid model in the 21st century. But many others believe that the defence of universal values and principles already agreed upon by humanity and fully enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be the platform for continuing a future of peaceful coexistence among the different actors of humanity. Europe and the West must avoid the temptation to impose a so-called “Western civilization” on the rest of the world. Today, we are witnessing a rebellion on the African and Latin American continents over an ill-concluded colonial past, where polarisation and resentment prevail instead of dialogue and reconciliation. The West is not in decline, but the West must exercise its new role differently than it did in previous centuries. Cultural, social and religious diversity is a necessary richness for building a new, single humanity. Every region, every nation in the world has had and still has its own identity, as well as cultural and civilizational roots. But these are not what prevent us from building “a common home for humanity”. What is preventing us from doing so are the hegemonic power-seeking cravings of some actors who seek power for power’s sake without taking into consideration the citizens of the world who unanimously demand that we work for peace and avoid new wars.
Eighth conclusion: It is foreseeable that the current crisis will translate into increasing cyber-attacks in key areas of the functioning of our societies with very dangerous and destructive implications. On the other hand, the scenario we face has also highlighted the challenges of having objective and verifiable information in a digitised global society. As the American diplomat and politician D.P. Moynihan said, one is entitled to one’s own opinions, but not to one’s own facts.
Ultimately, the priority task now is to stop the war. Diplomacy must be recovered and used immediately, and new proposals must be imagined far from future promises that are difficult to fulfil and that will only fuel more frustration and disappointment in the future. A process of rebuilding collective security in the European space must be initiated to establish a new framework for sustainable coexistence and peace for current and future generations of this continent.
Citizens of the world: “Unite for peace to build One Humanity”.