In a blog entry, reflecting on the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Bali, Indonesia on July 7-8, the High Representative of the European Union, Josep Borrell, seems to have accepted the painful truth that the West is losing what he termed “the global battle of narratives”.
“The global battle of narratives is in full swing and, for now, we are not winning,” Borrell admitted. The solution: “As the EU, we have to engage further to refute Russian lies and war propaganda,” the EU’s top diplomat added.
Borrell’s piece is a testimony to the very erroneous logic that led to the so-called ‘battle of narratives’ to be lost in the first place.
Borrell starts by reassuring his readers that, despite the fact that many countries in the Global South refuse to join the West’s sanctions on Russia, “everybody agrees”, though in “abstract terms”, on the “need for multilateralism and defending principles such as territorial sovereignty”.
The immediate impression that such a statement gives is that the West is the global vanguard of multilateralism and territorial sovereignty. The opposite is true. The US-western military interventions in Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and many other regions around the world have largely taken place without international consent and without any regard for the sovereignty of nations. In the case of the NATO war on Libya, a massively destructive military campaign was initiated based on the intentional misinterpretation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, which called for the use of “all means necessary to protect civilians”.
Borrell, like other western diplomats, conveniently omits the West’s repeated – and ongoing – interventions in the affairs of other nations, while painting the Russian-Ukraine war as the starkest example of “blatant violations of international law, contravening the basic tenets of the UN Charter and endangering the global economic recovery”.
Would Borrell employ such strong language to depict the numerous ongoing war crimes in parts of the world involving European countries or their allies? For example, France’s despicable war record in Mali? Or, even more obvious, the 75-year-old Israeli occupation of Palestine?
When addressing “food and energy security”, Borrell lamented that many in the G20 have bought into the “propaganda and lies coming from the Kremlin” regarding the actual cause of the food crisis. He concluded that it is not the EU but “Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine that is dramatically aggravating the food crisis.”
Again, Borrell was selective with his logic. While naturally, a war between two countries that contribute a large share of the world’s basic food supplies will detrimentally impact food security, Borrell made no mention that the thousands of sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow have disrupted the supply chain of many critical products, raw material and basic food items.
When the West imposed those sanctions, it only thought of its national interests, erroneously centered around defeating Russia. Neither the people of Sri Lanka, Somalia, Lebanon, nor, frankly, Ukraine were relevant factors in the West’s decision.
Borrell, whose job as a diplomat suggests that he should be investing in diplomacy to resolve conflicts, has repeatedly called for widening the scope of war on Russia, insisting that the war can only be “won on the battlefield”. Such statements were made with western interests in mind, despite the obvious devastating consequences that Borrell’s battlefield would have on the rest of the world.
Still, Borrell had the audacity to chastise G20 members for behaving in ways that seemed, to him, focused solely on their national interests. “The hard truth is that national interests often outweigh general commitments to bigger ideals,” he wrote. If defeating Russia is central to Borrell’s and the EU’s “bigger ideals”, why should the rest of the world, especially in the Global South, embrace the West’s self-serving priorities?
Borrell also needs to be reminded that the West’s “global battle of narratives” had been lost well before February 24. Much of the Global South rightly sees the West’s interests at odds with its own. This seemingly cynical view is an outcome of decades – in fact, hundreds of years – of real experiences, starting with colonialism and ending, presently, with the routine military and political interventions.
Borrell speaks of ‘bigger ideals’, as if the West is the only morally mature entity that is capable of thinking about rights and wrongs in a selfless, detached manner. In addition to there being no evidence to support Borrell’s claim, such condescending language, itself an expression of cultural arrogance, makes it impossible for non-western countries to accept, or even engage, with the West regarding the morality of its politics.
Borrell, for example, accuses Russia of a “deliberate attempt to use food as a weapon against the most vulnerable countries in the world, especially in Africa”. Even if we accept this problematic premise as a morally driven position, how can Borrell justify the West’s sanctions that have effectively starved many people in “vulnerable countries” around the world?
Perhaps, Afghans are the most vulnerable people in the world today, thanks to 20 years of a devastating US/NATO war which has killed and maimed tens of thousands. Though the US and its western allies were forced out of Afghanistan last August, billions of dollars of Afghan money are illegally frozen in Western bank accounts, pushing the whole country to the brink of starvation. Why can Borrell not apply his ‘bigger ideals’ in this particular scenario, demanding immediate unfreezing of Afghan money?
In truth, Borrell, the EU, NATO and the West are not only losing the global battle of narratives, they have never won it in the first place. Winning or losing that battle never mattered to Western leaders in the past, because the Global South was hardly considered when the West made its unilateral decisions regarding war, military invasions or economic sanctions.
The Global South matters now, simply because the West is no longer determining all political outcomes, as was often the case. Russia, China, India and others are now relevant, because they can collectively balance out the skewed global order that has been dominated by Borrell and his likes for far too long.
Feature photo | EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (M) and EU Foreign Affairs Representative Joseph Borrell (r) and Denys Shmyhal (green capn behind), Prime Minister of Ukraine, April 2022. Photo | Michael Fischer | dpa | AP
Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out”. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net