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How do Global South politics of non-alignment and solidarity explain South Africa’s position on Ukraine? – Brookings Institution



The war in Ukraine is often described by Western analysts as a turning point in international relations that has upended the post-Cold War international order. In the Global South, the war is equally historic, reinvigorating foreign policy autonomy and non-alignment as geopolitical tensions rise between the West and Russia (and China).

The Russian invasion of Ukraine revealed more than Russia’s neo-imperialist vision for a reconstituted empire. It revealed that many countries in the Global South—with market economies and democratic political systems and values like those espoused by the West—prefer not to take sides even in the face of a clear violation of a sovereign state’s territorial integrity.

Many in the West were baffled by the lack of overwhelming support from the Global South. South Africa, for example, vacillated between the Foreign Ministry initially calling for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, only to within a few days of the invasion withdraw that position. This was followed by an abstention at the United Nations General Assembly and a call for both Ukraine and Russia to negotiate.

South Africa’s response should be understood through two elements: (1) its key foreign policy principles and positions and (2) the continuing importance of solidarity with old “friends.”

Foreign policy principles and positions

South Africa is proud of its independent and non-aligned foreign policy that resists becoming embroiled in great power conflicts. Numerous statements by South African government officials have emphasized this importance. In addition, the government does not consider the war as one between Russia and Ukraine, but as a proxy war between Russia and NATO—a war that has its roots in NATO’s eastward expansion despite Russia’s legitimate security concerns.

South Africa joined the non-aligned movement (NAM) shortly after its first democratic elections in 1994, and the pressure felt by developing countries to support the West’s position on Ukraine has reignited the NAM principles in South Africa and elsewhere.

South Africa’s international relations and cooperation minister has argued for closer cooperation with the other members of the NAM that would “actively contribute to shaping the reform deliberations with the United Nations system, as well as giving new content to the United Nations Security Council.” South Africa, along with other members of the Global South, should resist “becoming embroiled in the politics of confrontation and aggression that has been advocated by the powerful countries.” They should rather seek to “assert their independent, non-aligned views” and promote “peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and negotiation” in the of maintaining independent foreign policies.

However, South Africa faced difficulty in that some of the statements of government ministers belied its professed commitment to non-alignment, even though the foreign minister stated categorically in April that “our non-aligned position does not mean that we condone Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, which has violated international law” and that “South Africa has always opposed violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states, in keeping with the UN Charter.”

The peaceful resolution of disputes has been a core principle of South Africa’s foreign policy since 1994, as demonstrated by its efforts to resolve several African conflicts (e.g., DRC, Burundi, and South Sudan/Sudan). These conflicts are not characterized by a full-scale invasion by one country against another as by Russia in February 2022, but are often insurgencies and civil wars—albeit supported by external actors. South Africa’s position on Ukraine has been that dialogue is essential for the war to end. While reasonable and principled on one level, pushing for a negotiated settlement in the early days of the war was probably naive in the context of Russia’s objectives in Ukraine.

Nevertheless, six months into the war, the need for the international community to find off-ramps for this conflict and to push for requisite compromises on both sides is essential. This is more so the case because other more pressing issues on the global agenda have been neglected or compounded by the war in Ukraine—from climate change to the Sustainable Development Goals, to war in Yemen, to energy and food insecurity. The diplomatic challenge for South Africa (and other BRICS countries) is whether there is leverage to bring Russia to the negotiating table and push for a sustainable compromise.

A fairer and more consistent multilateral system is another core tenet of South Africa’s foreign policy. Crucially, South Africa recognizes the U.N. as the apex of the global governance system but advocates for the system and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to be overhauled. This latter call was amplified by the U.N.’s inability to respond effectively to the Ukraine crisis.

Lastly, South Africa is generally opposed to the imposition of unilateral sanctions against countries by the West, especially because these reveal double standards in the handling of different conflicts. South Africa also considers the “regime change” rhetoric used by the West—whether in Iraq or Libya—as highly problematic and a violation of state sovereignty. While the West has insisted that regime change is not its aim against Russia, South Africa views this with some skepticism. Ironically, it has not called out Russia for its objective of removing the current government in Kyiv.

Politics of solidarity

A core feature of the African National Congress (ANC) government’s foreign policy is that of solidarity with parties and countries that supported the national liberation struggle against apartheid or that are still fighting for their independence. The Western Sahara and Palestine are both long-standing examples of the latter, while economic support and solidarity with Cuba is a case of the former. The ANC also had a long-standing relationship with the Soviet Union, which supported its armed struggle and where many ANC leaders were educated or received military training. This support contrasts with the U.S. labeling of the ANC a terrorist organization and the Reagan and Thatcher administrations’ opposition to the movement in the U.S. and the U.K. in the 1980s.

The ANC bridles at what it perceives as the West’s arrogance and imperialist behavior—whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya—or in ignoring the concerns of the developing countries on issues such as vaccine access or the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights waiver. Migration and the treatment of African migrants—also in the early days of the war at the Ukrainian border—is another sore point.

Soviet/Russian support during apartheid—coupled with the West’s double standards on multilateralism, the use of force, and rule of law and democracy—make many in the ANC, the South African Communist Party (part of the ruling tripartite alliance), and the populist Economic Freedom Fighters (an offshoot of the ANC) be inclined toward Russia’s justification of its “special military operation.”

BRICS ties add another layer of solidarity. Since the BRICS’ creation, the West has dismissed it as an anomaly given the political and economic differences among its members. But the West has underestimated its relevance to its members as a Global South geopolitical grouping (Russia is an “honorary” Global South member). For South Africa, the smallest of the BRICS members, it remains a very important geopolitical body where the country can rub shoulders with the rising superpower, China, and other important leaders in the Global South that share similar views on the need for the reform (or transformation) of the global system.

What can the West learn?

Much of the South African government’s narrative on the Russian invasion focused on the West’s hypocrisy. But it also called the invasion a violation of international law and the U.N. Charter. South Africa repeatedly emphasized that it had a right to exercise an independent and non-aligned foreign policy, and should not be expected to take a side in a conflict in which it had no direct interest, or where it risks its interests by aligning with one side.

Early in the war, the West couched the conflict as one between democracies and authoritarian systems. The voting behavior of developing countries over the course of three votes in the United Nations General Assembly illustrated that this analysis was flawed. South Africa and other developing countries adopted “non-aligned” positions not because they necessarily condoned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Rather, this became a proxy for countless examples where the West had failed to deliver or live up to the rules that it expected others to follow. Countries in the Global South are no longer willing to automatically fall into line when pushed by the great powers. This means that the West (and others) should not take the support of developing democracies for granted. The invasion of Ukraine has highlighted that developing countries look at the whole scorecard in determining whose side to take or indeed to take no side at all.

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Quicksketch: A look at Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon



MONTREAL — Here’s a look at Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, Parti Québécois Leader and leader of the third opposition party at the National Assembly.

Born: Feb. 18, 1977, in Trois-Rivières, Que.

Education: A lawyer by training, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Civil and Common Law from McGill University, an MBA from Oxford University and a certificate in International Law from the Lund University in Sweden.

Before politics: St-Pierre-Plamondon worked in law in Bolivia and Belgium before returning to practise law in Montreal and Gatineau, Que. He co-founded  Génération d’idées, a working group that fostered dialogue between young and old over issues key to the future of Quebec. He has worked as a political commentator and writer and published a pair of books: “Les orphelins politiques” (Political orphans) in 2014 and “Rebâtir le camp du Oui” (Rebuilding The Yes Camp) in 2020.

Family: Married to Alexandra Tremblay, two children and a third on the way.

Political record: Leader of PQ since Oct. 9, 2020, but has never held a seat in the legislature. Previously ran for PQ leadership in 2016, finishing fourth. Was named special adviser to the leader by former PQ leader Jean-François Lisée. PQ candidate in the riding of Prévost in the 2018 provincial election, losing to Coalition Avenir Québec cabinet minister Marguerite Blais.

Riding: Camille-Laurin (formerly known as Bourget in eastend Montreal)

Quote: “As a leader, I want to send a message by running in Montreal. It is here that our struggle to reverse the decline of French takes place. I want to send a message of hope: we will fight this legitimate struggle until the decline of French is reversed.”- St-Pierre-Plamondon announcing the riding he’d chosen.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.


The Canadian Press

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Quebec election: Fiona briefly throws off Quebec election campaigns



MONTREAL — Post-tropical storm Fiona caused some disarray on the campaign trail Saturday as some parties cancelled planned events and Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault briefly suspended his campaign to manage response to the powerful gale that hit Atlantic Canada and parts of Quebec.

Legault, the incumbent premier, resumed his re-election bid on Saturday afternoon after meeting with public security officials in Quebec City and holding a briefing with reporters.

The CAQ campaign resumed with a planned meeting with Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand. However, a major partisan rally on Saturday night in Terrebonne, north of Montreal, was postponed, Legault said.

In Quebec, Fiona hit the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Gaspé and the province’s Lower North Shore, with the brunt of the impact expected from Saturday to Sunday morning. All party leaders expressed well wishes for Quebecers caught in the storm, which also played havoc with some of their schedules.

Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois cancelled a press conference in Montreal, but would meet with party supporters in Rimouski, Que. later in the day.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said she was closely monitoring the situation in the affected regions but continued with her campaign in western Quebec as planned in the Outaouais region.

Once a Liberal stronghold, the CAQ won three of the area’s five ridings during the 2018 election and the Liberals are at risk of losing the two they hold, according to poll-aggregating website

Anglade held a rally in the area on Friday and campaigned again on Saturday before heading back to Montreal at the end of the day.

“The Outaouais has been neglected in the last four years, the health and the economic results demonstrate it,” Anglade said.

With just over a week until voting day on Oct. 3, all five party leaders are scheduled to appear live on “Tout le monde en parle” on Sunday night, a popular prime time talk show on Radio-Canada.

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon also suspended his own campaign on Friday because of flu-like symptoms. He has tested negative three times for COVID-19 using rapid tests, but said Saturday he would only return to the hustings after a PCR test confirmation.

“As a precaution, we will wait for the return of the PCR before formally resuming the campaign,” he told reporters during a scrum in Longueuil, Que. “As you can see, I’m doing better.”

Conservative Party of Quebec Leader Éric Duhaime campaigned in the Quebec City-area riding of Chauveau where he’s seeking to win a seat in the legislature.

He called on Conservative supporters to vote in large numbers to ensure the party elects members — particularly in the riding where he’s running — as two days of advanced voting begins on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.


Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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Quebec election: PQ leader fighting to revive sovereignty debate — and his own party



MONTREAL — The question of Quebec independence has been put on the back burner during Quebec’s election campaign, but Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon is fighting to secure a place for it — and his party — after the Oct. 3 vote.

St-Pierre Plamondon, whose once-strong party has been relegated to last place in the polls, invoked the independence question during the final leaders debate on Thursday, making a direct appeal to sovereigntists who jumped ship to the Coalition Avenir Quebec in the 2018 election.

“Your project is to snuff out Quebec’s independence; mine is to restart it,” he told CAQ Leader François Legault, who had once been a cabinet minister in a PQ government but who quit to form his own federalist party.

“There are voters who trusted you in 2018 because they wanted to replace the Liberals but who support independence — I’m appealing to those people and saying, you can now vote according to your convictions,” St-Pierre Plamondon said.

Formerly a polarizing ballot issue, sovereignty has been largely left out of the conversation this election campaign, but polls show support for independence remains above 30 per cent — and higher among francophones and older voters.

Legault, who has said sovereignty isn’t a priority for the majority of Quebecers, was criticized by his rivals during Thursday’s debate for refusing to spell out how he would vote on the issue. On Friday, he told reporters he doesn’t want a referendum because it would be divisive.

Polling suggests a sizable portion of CAQ voters — more than 40 per cent — support sovereignty, making them a prime target for the PQ as the party seeks to maintain some sort of presence in the provincial legislature, said Daniel Béland, a political science professor at McGill University.

With the CAQ solidly in the lead in the polls, the race is focusing more on who voters want to see holding the government to account. Those who support sovereignty could see the PQ as a good option for a “protest vote,” even if they don’t necessarily want a referendum, he said.

St-Pierre Plamondon, who took the reins of the Parti Québécois in the fall of 2020, has promised to hold a referendum on independence in his first mandate if the party forms government.

However, “because the PQ has no chance to form government, even the idea of sovereignty is quite abstract … there won’t be another referendum anyway,” Béland said.

“So, if you like (St-Pierre Plamondon) and you like some of his ideas and you think you need a stronger nationalist voice in Quebec City, why not give them a chance even if you know they would only be in opposition?”

The issue could also resonate with some who previously voted for the Québec solidaire, which also supports sovereignty. St-Pierre Plamondon appeared to be courting that base as well by agreeing on some environmental matters with QS co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois during the two debates, Béland said.

Far from the days when it was a viable contender to form government, the PQ started the campaign with pollsters predicting it would win one seat. But St-Pierre Plamondon’s performance on the hustings and in the two debates, combined with Legault’s “lacklustre” campaign, have allowed the party to gain a bit more traction, Béland said.

More so than sovereignty, the party’s ability to capitalize on anxiety surrounding the French language has helped rally support, he said, noting the PQ was quick to jump on a recent Statistics Canada report that said the percentage of Quebec residents who predominantly speak French at home declined to 77.5 per cent in 2021 from 79 per cent in 2016.

Still, the PQ will likely return to the legislature with fewer than the seven seats it had at dissolution, and it probably won’t achieve official party status — which requires at least 12 seats or at least 20 per cent of the popular vote — unless the tide turns dramatically in the home stretch of the campaign, he said.

“It’s not great from a long-term, historical standpoint, but it’s still better than what people expected at the beginning of the campaign,” Béland said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.


Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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