Ukraine crisis shows two tiers of international justice
Published: Mar 06, 2022 10:53 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

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Since the conflict in Ukraine began, the Western public has almost unanimously reacted with outrage. Putin's Russia has been framed as morally evil whilst leaders have pursued tough sanctions against the country, leading to an exodus of Western businesses. The West has also engaged in large-scale censorship against Russian news sources, including the banning of Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik and broadcasting on social media, branding them as "propaganda" whilst also filing a case against Moscow at the International Criminal Court. All of this has been framed in the traditional and longstanding Western narrative of an exceptionalist group of righteous nations who are in a global struggle of good vs evil, or democracy vs authoritarianism. 

As Western sentiment rages against Russia, there appears to be collective amnesia of the reality of the West's own actions and legacy throughout the world, both past and present, and even less remorse regarding the countries of which the US and its allies have wantonly destroyed in just the past two decades. Ukraine is perceived as a tragedy, a horrific state of affairs of which justice must be delivered, yet the West's legacy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and ongoing conflict in Yemen is met with a collective indifference, a shrug of the shoulders and the conclusion that in such countries these events are "normal." On the longstanding history of brutal colonialism in the global south, the West is not apologetic but believes it has done such countries a "favor"— Western foreign policy is subject to a false consciousness on a grand scale.

But it is the legacy of such Imperialism, as opposed to so-called values, which has allowed the Western world (and especially the English-speaking countries) to live under extreme privilege, having long maintained cultural, economic and military supremacy over the globe. This privilege has added to their sense of esteem that their position has been earned through pious devotion to their moral supremacy, as opposed to the material reality of Imperialism, domination and conquest. Through their ruling classes, the Western public has been taught to believe its own myth of exceptionalism through liberal democracy so-strongly, and in its right to evangelize this ideology to others as a ruse for domination, that they possess a monopoly on what constitutes truth and civilization, buying uncritically into the demonization of so-called enemies "wholesale" as the true threats to global peace through the application of atrocity propaganda.

This distorted sense of self creates a two-tier conception of "justice" in the world, through both power and status. In the view of the Western media and political classes, it is made perfectly acceptable to destroy a country in the name of democracy and human rights, killing millions of civilians and causing unforetold suffering, without any consequences. When the UK and the US invaded Iraq in 2003 under the false pretence of "weapons of mass destruction," global condemnation was muted, the mainstream media did not call it out, the perpetrators did not formally face charges of war crimes, and those who were suffering were not given a voice or any kind of global solidarity or backing. Just last August, a US drone strike killed a number of children in Kabul, Afghanistan. The world again did not bat an eyelid. It's as if the lives of these people simply don't matter or don't have an equal value to those in Europe. Western hegemony and Western privilege, is why neither the UK nor the US were proclaimed "pariah states."

Yet even now, the UK and US are backing a brutal war in Yemen, which has involved the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. As this goes on, the blockade of the country has induced starvation, disease and humanitarian crises. Where is the vent of emotion, grief and anger over Ukraine? There is none, and such a situation is representative of the reality that the West only utilizes its ideology, its values and so-called enlightenment as mere tools in upholding its hegemony and therefore creating a structurally unequal and unjust world. Before the Ukraine war, anger has also been whipped up and weaponized against China, and the Western public seems to have no ability to recognize when they are being lied to and manipulated, because the myth of "Western exceptionalism" over the distortion of a backward, uncivilized and cruel east, has been accepted as normal.

Therefore, as the war in Ukraine goes on, the Western public will be continually subjected to an entourage of emotionally inciting material framing it as the scorn and shame of humanity, and sure enough, war is a terrible thing, yet the judgment and consciousness of most people are controlled to a mere question of who's doing it? And who are the victims? It is hypocrisy and disingenuousness of the highest possible criterion to accuse Russia of war crimes given the ongoing butchery by Britain and America, and this only serves to demonstrate why the Global South at large is increasingly disillusioned with the arrogance of the West.

The author is a political and historical relations analyst. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn