After Russia invaded Ukraine, Western nations rallied in support of Ukraine. But many have pointed out that NATO countries, especially the United States, might not entirely have the moral high ground.
As of writing this, the Russian army has relented in its invasion of Ukraine, committing various war crimes along the way. Additionally, Putin has threatened military action against any nations that so as side with NATO, including Sweden and Finland. It is expected that these threats might escalate to threats of the use of nuclear weapons. These actions have been widely condemned by the United Nations and NATO and its allies. While these condemnations are essential towards countering aggression by an authoritarian power such as Russia, they struck many around the world as hypocritical.
The world order as it exists today was spearheaded in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s by the United States, which achieved superpower status after coming out of WWII virtually unscathed. Princeton Professor and International Relations Scholar G. John Ikenberry suggests in his paper, Power and Liberal Order, that the current world order, which is mostly dominated by the United States and US-moderated institutions, is a net benefit for the world. According to him, this world order ensures the spread of democracy and the countering of communism and authoritarianism from the USSR and later China. While the current Western-led world order seemed to provide global security as it has since the fall of the Soviet Union, it is important to recognize that many people might disagree strongly with Ikenberry in this respect.
Among those in dissent towards the idea of Western-led hegemony are people residing or hailing from nations that have previously been attacked by the United States, especially within the past 30 years. During the period of Western hegemony immediately following WWII, the United States has bombed over 29 countries. Among these countries are many Middle Eastern and North African nations like Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. NATO has not sanctioned the United States on any of them, even carrying out bombings in Serbia in 1999.
Additionally, the United States was also engaged in a 22-year-long war in Afghanistan that it withdrew from hastily in late 2021. This long, grueling war resulted in 241,000 casualties on the Afghan side, of which 71,000 were civilians. Among the civilians killed were innocent women and children, many of whom may never have known why they were being killed. Ironically, the US wanted to bring democracy to Afghanistan. To the average Afghan citizen, this so-called “democracy” looked almost as bad as the Taliban.
The United States has also used the CIA to fund and offer support for countless military coups and assassinations worldwide throughout the Cold War, namely in Latin America. Ironically enough, many of these nations, especially Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba, and Iran, face crippling sanctions of their own for aggressive and authoritarian policies that were indirectly caused by American intervention.
Other NATO countries such as Germany, the UK, Belgium, Canada, France, and Italy have all engaged in similar shady practices. Not only did all of these nations practice devastating colonialism worldwide, but they also supplemented the United States in its war in Afghanistan as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). To many directly affected by the countless wars, bombings, and coups spurred by the US government and NATO, the Liberal World Order is simply a means for the United States to practice imperialism and assert dominance globally.
The United States is not perfect, nor are its NATO allies. As of right now, the United States continues to carry out attacks that kill innocent civilians internationally through bombings and even domestically through police shootings. Additionally, NATO-enforced sanctions often result in needless death and suffering among civilian populations. While the Russian Federation is currently engaging in horrific war crimes in Ukraine, it is impossible to ignore the sins of NATO, especially the United States. The world has never been more stable under American hegemony, but we must still acknowledge that this hegemony has come at an immense human cost. Denial will get us nowhere and eventually worsen the situation. We need to acknowledge that the Liberal World Order may be a preferable alternative to a Chinese or Russian hegemony, but it has serious flaws that need to be acknowledged and addressed.
First published by Modern Diplomacy