November 26, 2023

The World Does Not Want War

Vijay Prashad

BOTH the wars in Ukraine and Gaza have accelerated a new mood amongst people around the world against conflict and for peace. This mood had been growing before 2022, when Russian troops entered Ukrainian territory, but has only increased since then. Faith in the west’s role in the management of world affairs declined during the pandemic, when certain older trends continued to the horror of large sections of the world. These trends included: the failure of the western governments and their health system to manage the pandemic in their own countries; the refusal of the western governments to prioritise the distribution of vaccines across the world, but their insistence that their populations must have far more vaccines than needed; the insistence that governments in the poorer nations continue to service their odious public debt owed to wealthy bondholders in the west. It became clear that western claims to superiority and to benevolence – already eroded by the west’s failure to win its illegal wars of the past twenty years (Afghanistan, Iraq) – could no longer be sustained. The emergence of several powerhouses of the global south, alongside these failures, hastened these changes.

A new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations (‘Living in an à la carte world: What European policymakers should learn from global public opinion’, November 15) illustrates the depth of this new mood with data from across the world. The report is based on polling data from 21 major countries: the CITRUS states (China, India, Turkey, Russia, and the US), eleven major European countries, and five major non-European states (Brazil, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and South Korea). The polls from these countries show that we are not in the era of polarity, with large majorities of the people wanting to live in a world without ‘one fixed set of partnerships’; instead, people who were polled want their governments to be in contact with all governments and to work with different governments on different issues. Because of this more pragmatic political landscape, the report notes, ‘much of the rest of the world (outside Europe and North America) wants the war in Ukraine to stop as soon as possible, even if it means Kyiv losing territory. And very few people – even in Europe – would take Washington’s side if a war erupted between the US and China over Taiwan’.

Vast majorities of the peoples polled in these countries do not accept the western arguments for the wars in Ukraine and in Palestine. For instance, the report notes that ‘large numbers of people outside the west think that the war in Ukraine could be less a moral struggle than a proxy war between great powers’, with NATO expansion eastwards seen as the author of the conflict. The entry of Russia troops beyond the Donbass region is not seen as the start of the work, but in fact a part of a long-drawn out conflict that has simmered in eastern Europe as the United States has tried to install by any means (including coups) governments favourable to the west. ‘The west (Ukraine, the EU, or the US) is seen as the bigger problem not just by people in Russia and China’, the report notes, ‘but also by those in India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey’. Not only do people believe that the west is to blame for the war in Ukraine, but people believe that ‘Russia will win its war in Ukraine within the next five years’.

Perhaps the most striking part of the data in this report is on the issue of Taiwan. Since the United States established diplomatic relations with the Peoples Republic of China in 1979, it has adopted the One China Policy. This One China Policy means that the US has acknowledged that Taiwan is a part of China. That same year, the US government passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which defines the non-diplomatic links between the US and Taiwan – keeping alive the false hope in Taiwan that the United States believes that it is independent and that the United States would defend Taiwan from full incorporation into China. This duplicity – diplomatic relations with the PRC and the Taiwan Relations Act – has defined Washington’s links with Taiwan over the past 44 years. Tensions increased over the past five years, after the US passed the Taiwan Travel Act (2018) that allowed US and Taiwanese high officials to come to each other’s countries. Since 2018, the US has inflamed tensions with China over Taiwan, as part of the broader US pressure campaign against China.

Half of the Chinese public believes that the United States will start a shooting war against China, while over a third of the population in the west believes that such a war is inevitable between these two important countries. If there is any such war, 62 per cent of the population in the largest European states would like to remain neutral (only 23 per cent said that they would support Washington). Only 8 per cent of Europeans would welcome their troops being involved in a war against China over Taiwan, while only 32 per cent of the US population would cheer on the troops. In both Europe and the United States, large majorities are opposed to such a suicidal war. They want closer ties between these countries, which is perhaps why US secretary of state Antony Blinken flinched in discomfort when US president Joe Biden called Chinese premier Xi Jinping a ‘dictator’; such language undermines the difficult diplomacy that is underway to re-establish working contact between the two countries.

The sensibility of the population, however, is not captured by any of the major political forces in the North Atlantic world and certainly not in any anti-war or peace movement. A sharp information war continues to accuse anyone who calls for a ceasefire in Ukraine or for peace between the west and China as, respectively, agents of Russia and China. There is simply no room for the adult conversation to reflect on the new mood illustrated by this polling data. The growth of the anti-war movement in the west has not been a result of these majorities regarding a war with China, precisely because few people believe that it could actually take place; the actual spur for the revitalisation of this movement has been Israel’s genocidal bombing of the Palestinians in Gaza.

The report from the European Council did not have data on attitudes around the world regarding Israel’s barbarous war on the Palestinians of Gaza. However, there are other indicators that reflect the new mood. Massive protests against the apartheid Israel bombardment of the Palestinians of Gaza continue. An entire new generation has been radicalised by these mobilisations, which have brought tens of millions of people to the streets from Jakarta to Istanbul to Washington, with large marches in Australia and Ireland, as well as in Brazil and Britain. These protests – despite the bans on them in several western countries – call not only for a ceasefire but for an end to the occupation of the Palestinians. Workers have refused to load and unload ships with goods from or bound for Israel, with particular emphasis on weapons deliveries. Calls for International Criminal Court warrants against high officials of the Israeli government now not only come from the streets, but from offices of important governments, such as South Africa and Colombia (many countries have either withdrawn their ambassadors or threatened to break ties altogether with Israel). If there was large-scale polling, it would reveal that majorities of people want the Israeli bombing to end and the Palestinians to be given a path to a dignified life.

The attitude within the United States – let alone Europe – around the Israeli attack on Gaza is astounding. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week shows that the US public support for Israel’s war dropped from 41 per cent (after October 7) to 32 per cent, figures that include equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. Despite the reluctance of all the leading political forces in the United States (from President Joe Biden to the Republican contenders for next year’s presidential election) to back a ceasefire, support for an end to hostilities is at 75 per cent among Democrats and 50 per cent among Republicans with an overall 68 per cent for a ceasefire. Other polls concur, which makes this an adequate illustration of the US public view of the war in Gaza. But only 33 members of the US Congress out of 535 members (and one senator out of the 100 senators) back a ceasefire, showing how alienated are the elected leaders from their own constituencies (almost all of those who back the ceasefire call are non-white). Congresswoman Becca Balint was the first Jewish representative to call for a ceasefire, saying that while ‘one generation removed from the horrific trauma of the Holocaust, which impacted my family’, she believes that ‘killing civilians, and killing children’ in Gaza ‘is an abomination and categorically unacceptable – no matter who the civilians are, and no matter who the children are’.

Not one Republican elected to Congress has joined the ceasefire call. They gathered for a pro-Israel rally in Washington, DC, attended by Israel’s president – who had said that civilians in Gaza are a legitimate target – and Pastor John Hagee – who is a known antisemite who has said that Jews were responsible for the Holocaust. The views of men such as Herzog and Hagee as well as most of the US elected representatives are out-of-touch not only with the views of the world, but even of large majorities of people of the United States.