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War on Gaza: In Munich, the Global South once again saw blatant hypocrisy of western leaders

Against the backdrop of the Israeli war on Gaza, remarks in the Bavarian capital by western leaders against Russian aggression in Ukraine highlight the West’s utter moral inconsistency
The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell opens a panel discussion at the 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany on 18 February 2024. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)
The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell opens a panel discussion at the 60th Munich security conference in Munich, southern Germany, on 18 February 2024 (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

From 16 to 18 February, high-ranking western officials gathered at the 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Germany. With the event kicking off one hour after Russian dissident Alexei Navalny's death in an Arctic penal colony and eight days before the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moscow's aggression was a central theme.

While bracing for Donald Trump's possible return to the White House and paying attention to the showdown in the US Congress over Ukraine aid, many western policymakers have growing doubts about the future of Washington's commitment to Nato and Ukraine.

Concerns grew on 10 February when Trump, while campaigning in South Carolina, openly encouraged Moscow to attack members of Nato that don't pay their share of the defence burden.

"Donald Trump's shadow loomed large - very often not mentioned in name, but always present," said Marc Martorell Junyent, a Munich-based journalist who covered this year's MSC, in an interview with this author.

The upcoming US presidential election will have "far-reaching and potentially existential consequences for Ukraine and the European security architecture as a whole," Christoph Schwarz, a research fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, told me.

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The Vienna-based expert on European security and defence policy noted a "very clear rejection by Trump and large parts of the Republican Party of the US-led security architecture that was built after the Second World War that leaves little room for interpretation about their intentions should Trump once again inhabit the White House."

Addressing the MSC, US Vice President Kamala Harris sought to assuage such European concerns. "It is in the fundamental interest of the American people for the United States to fulfil our long-standing role of global leadership," she declared.

Audiences in the Arab-Islamic world are taking western leaders less seriously than ever when they talk about 'human rights' and the 'rules-based order'

Other western leaders such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, and The Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on the West to continue fully backing Kyiv.

Rutte told the international security conference to "stop moaning and whining and nagging about Trump". The outgoing Dutch prime minister said that European powers should ramp up their defence spending and ammunition production irrespective of America's 2024 race.

However, as Junyent noted, despite European leaders promising to stand by Kyiv regardless of who will be in the Oval Office next year, they are acutely aware that Europe supporting Ukraine without the US on board would be a "challenge of a greater magnitude both economically and in terms of convincing the European audience that this is the right path instead of seeking an end to the war in Ukraine."

A Global South perspective

Against the backdrop of the Israeli war on Gaza, such remarks from Harris, Scholz, and other western leaders this month in the Bavarian capital highlight the West's utter moral inconsistency. To non-western audiences, such rhetoric from American and German officials about standing up for liberal values comes across as tone-deaf, given their unwavering support for Israel's crimes in Gaza, which last month the International Court of Justice ruled could plausibly amount to genocide.

People of the Global South have long understood the West to be hypocritical on human rights issues and never consistent in calls for applying international law. But never before has such hypocrisy been as in-your-face as it is amid the current horrors out of Gaza.

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Israel's backers in the West have double standards towards Ukraine and Palestine that "could not have been more blatant", Matt Duss, executive vice president at the Center for International Policy, told this author. "This is something that the non-western world has been aware of for a long time, but it's rare to see it demonstrated so clearly," he added.

As Junyent explained, "It was obvious [that] both Harris and Scholz wanted to avoid the [Gaza war], and they [either] barely mentioned it in their speeches or not at all."

The MSC's chairman, Christoph Heusgen, asked Harris about the viability of a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. While completely disregarding decades of Israel's ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and violence against Palestinians, the vice president responded by saying that a two-state solution was possible, "but we must then put the discussion in context, starting with 7 October".

As Junyent observed, "Audiences in the Arab-Islamic world are taking western leaders less seriously than ever when they talk about 'human rights' and the 'rules-based order'".

Indeed, only two days after the MSC wrapped up, the UN Security Council voted on an Algerian-drafted resolution that demanded an immediate ceasefire, rejected "the forced displacement of the Palestinian civilian population", and called on all parties to abide by international law. Thirteen of the UN Security Council members voted in favour, with the UK abstaining and the US, for the third time during this war, using its veto to prevent the body from passing a resolution mandating a ceasefire.

Divisions in the West

Notably, some western governments are not on board with Israel's war on Gaza. Belgium, Ireland, and Spain have taken firm stances against Israeli brutality in the besieged enclave. There were several western officials speaking at the MSC who refused to shy away from addressing the West's hypocrisy concerning Ukraine and Palestine.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that the "wind is blowing against the West" as "Russia is taking good advantage of our mistakes". As Borrell told the MSC: "The blame about double standards is something that we need to address and not only with nice words." The EU official further added that the Middle East needs "a prospect for the Palestinian people" and "the security of Israel will not be ensured just by military means".

The Spanish president and Irish prime minister also voiced similar concerns about the West's hypocrisy and that high levels of support for Israel's crimes in Gaza from many EU members could undermine the West's claims about standing up for international law and the ability to unite the global community against Russia's rogue conduct in Ukraine.

How Israel’s genocide in Gaza became a showdown between the West and the Global South
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It seems that Borrell and the leaders of Spain and Ireland genuinely believe what they say about Israel's brutality. The issue has to do with their allies. When asked about Borrell's remarks earlier this month at MSC, Duss explained: "It's significant to the extent that [the EU foreign policy chief's words are] obviously true, but also shows how the EU can't do anything about it while the US continues to back Israel unconditionally."

Aside from Washington's uncritical support for Tel Aviv, the EU functions in a way that greatly limits Borrell's strength. "He needs unanimous support within the EU for major foreign policy decisions. For instance, he explained in Munich that he had to release a statement calling for no Israeli operation in Rafah alone on [16 February], without the backing of the EU as a bloc, because [Hungary] did not want to sign," added Junyent.

Ultimately, with Washington giving ironclad support to Israel's barbaric war while the EU fails to devise a coherent and cohesive foreign policy that breaks from Washington's foreign policy toward Gaza, the countless speeches about the international "rules-based order" delivered by western leaders fell on deaf ears in the Arab world and Global South.

Such shameless hypocrisy does irreversible damage to the West's moral capital, as with each passing day, the world sees new images of death and destruction in Gaza.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Giorgio Cafiero is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics (@GulfStateAnalyt), a Washington-based geopolitical risk consultancy. You can follow him on Twitter @GiorgioCafiero
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