Commentary: Not taking sides in Ukraine war sends a terrible message to Russia

ANN ARBOR, Michigan: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has introduced sturdy Western condemnation and sanctions, however many countries around the globe have chosen not to be part of this united entrance. Dozens of governments exterior Europe and North America have been reluctant to censure Russia, and lots of extra have shunned becoming a member of multilateral sanctions. 

China has tacitly supported the Kremlin since its February affirmation of a Sino-Russian friendship with “no limits”. A couple of others have backed Russia vocally, amongst them Belarus, which has served as a staging floor for the Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, different governments have sat on the fence. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stated pointedly that his nation “will not take sides”. Indian leaders have reaffirmed their coverage of non-alignment, implying that their nation will search to keep out of the struggle. South Africa, Pakistan and quite a few different nations are following a comparable path.

Responses to the current Russian aggression make clear how governments all through what is named the Global South are apt to behave if a new Cold War takes form. Unless governments are threatened straight, many seem content material to espouse non-alignment – a coverage of avoiding sturdy help for the West or for its principal rivals in Moscow and Beijing.

Non-alignment could also be a smart technique for particular person international locations as a manner to protect autonomy and keep away from pricey decisions between main powers. However, I consider that worldwide peace and safety will undergo if too many states refuse to take sides in circumstances like Ukraine.


The idea of non-alignment emerged in the Nineteen Fifties. It implied a refusal to be part of the rival Cold War blocs led by Washington and Moscow. The idea was pioneered by a group of post-World War II leaders together with India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito.

Despite representing a broad vary of political ideologies, all of them noticed non-alignment as a manner to resist colonial and imperial powers, protect their independence and keep out of the Soviet-American battle. These concepts led to the 1961 institution of the Non-Aligned Movement, a loosely organised group that quickly included a lot of the world’s international locations and inhabitants.

Several core rules guided the motion, together with anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression and non-interference.

Yet the motion confronted a dilemma from the beginning. When a highly effective state violates core rules like sovereignty and territorial integrity, ought to members of the Non-Aligned Movement take sides to oppose it?

The motion’s numerous members often took sturdy unified stands. For instance, they joined in opposing colonial rule in Rhodesia and apartheid in Namibia and South Africa. When superpower pursuits had been extra straight in play, nevertheless, non-aligned states failed to agree on when to take sides.

Leftist leaders in states similar to Cuba and Vietnam noticed the Western powers as neo-imperial threats and sided clearly with Moscow regardless of becoming a member of the Non-Aligned Movement. Conservative states, similar to Saudi Arabia and Morocco, tilted persistently towards Washington.

Many sought relative neutrality. But all these states remained in the motion, which has no agreed customary for what diploma of alignment is appropriate. The variations amongst members of the Non-Aligned Movement undermined their capacity to train collective clout, even when superpowers rode roughshod over norms of sovereignty and self-determination.

In 1979, for instance, members had been deeply divided over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 56 voted to condemn the Soviet invasion on the United Nations, however 9 supported Moscow and 26 abstained.

Those numbers are remarkably comparable to current votes on Ukraine. Divisions over the Soviet war in Afghanistan weakened the Non-Aligned Movement and undercut its capacity to implement worldwide norms and affect Soviet coverage.

The motion’s relevance declined after the Cold War, as its numerous members struggled to outline its function in a world now not formed by a Soviet-American standoff. Still, the motion has survived, and its 120 members just lately celebrated the group’s sixtieth anniversary in Belgrade.


The Non-Aligned Movement faces new challenges in the present day, because the war in Ukraine continues.

For many governments in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, non-alignment stays interesting. Most rely closely on commerce, assist and funding each from the Western powers and from China (if not additionally from Russia). Choosing sides might thus be crippling economically. 

That hazard is clear in Belarus, which faces stiff Western sanctions for aiding the Russian war effort. Countries opposing Russia additionally threat debilitating vitality cutoffs. Taking sides in opposition to China in any future situation, such because the battle over Taiwan, could be much more pricey.

Relative non-alignment can also be enticing from a safety standpoint. It allows governments to acquire weapons from a number of sources and restrict dependence on any single energy. This is a main issue for India, which stays closely reliant on Russian arms, and to a lesser extent, for international locations like Vietnam.

Non-alignment helps preserve diplomatic doorways open as properly. This appeals to governments cautious of dropping coverage autonomy in the event that they rely an excessive amount of on one highly effective state or bloc for political help.

For all of those causes, non-alignment is probably going to proceed to be frequent. In truth, its strategic attraction is arguably stronger now than it was throughout the Cold War due to larger international integration. Unlike the Nineteen Fifties, most international locations now have sturdy financial, political and, in some circumstances, army linkages to each the East and the West.


Non-alignment could be the smart coverage for particular person states, however it might spell hassle for worldwide safety.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has shattered the phantasm that territorial conquest and great-power wars had been consigned to the previous, and in doing so, put his fist by means of the defining rules of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Reluctance to take sides in such a clear case of aggression can weaken worldwide norms and undermine international safety.

At this stage, most members of the Non-Aligned Movement have condemned the Russian assaults. Yet just one, Singapore, has imposed sanctions. Others are passing the buck, making the war in Ukraine a burden for the United States and its core allies to bear.

In doing so, they’re making it simpler for the Kremlin to maintain a brutal army marketing campaign. They are sending the message that aggression and territorial seizure by main powers might be tolerated. 

I consider this represents a main missed alternative to defend the anti-imperial norms on the core of the Non-Aligned Movement. The motion’s members have profound pursuits in reasserting these norms on behalf of Ukraine, as they’re among the many most susceptible to being subsequent.

John Ciorciari is an Associate Professor of Public Policy on the University of Michigan. This commentary first appeared on The Conversation.

Commentary: Not taking sides in Ukraine war sends a terrible message to Russia

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