There is a revealing difference between the peace proposals for the Russo-Ukrainian War that come from the Global South and peace proposals that come from the NATO-aligned West. For starters, no peace proposals have come from the West, while several have come from the Global South. But when the West talks of a negotiated settlement, they insist on Russia losing the war, granting the essential concessions first and only then negotiating the enforcement. The Global South just wants the killing to stop: first stop the war, then negotiate the settlement.
The West has made its position clear at every stage: don’t call for a ceasefire or negotiate during the war. First defeat Russia, then hold talks to impose a settlement. In the early days of the war, when Ukraine was willing to negotiate an end to the fighting, then-United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quick to scold Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky that Russian President Vladimir Putin “should be pressured, not negotiated with.” He added that, even if Ukraine was ready to sign some agreements with Russia, “the West was not.”
The West refuses to negotiate during the war. “Now we see Moscow suggesting that diplomacy take place at the barrel of a gun or as Moscow’s rockets, mortars, artillery target the Ukrainian people. This is not real diplomacy,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price explained. “Those are not the conditions for real diplomacy.” Don’t stop the war by negotiating peace, first win the war, then negotiate. “If President Putin is serious about diplomacy,” Price said, “he knows what he can do. He should immediately stop the bombing campaign against civilians [and] order the withdrawal of his forces from Ukraine.”
When China put forward a twelve point peace proposal, the United States dismissed points two through twelve and insisted that the proposal should “stop at point one.” Point one said that “[t]he sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld.” The American script was clear: first Russia concedes and gives into Western demands, then discuss the peace proposal. “My first reaction to it,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan scoffed, “is that it could stop at point one, which is to respect the sovereignty of all nations.” Reading from the same script, Blinken quipped, “If they were serious about the first one, sovereignty, then this war could end tomorrow.”
It is a novel theory of diplomacy that you don’t negotiate with enemies at times of war. When else do you negotiate? Who else do you negotiate with? Is it diplomacy if it is just imposing the result you won by war?
When point three of the Chinese proposal suggested “ceasing hostilities,” the United States rejected it. The Chinese proposal says that “Conflict and war benefit no one,” and requests that “All parties should support Russia and Ukraine in working in the same direction and resuming direct dialogue as quickly as possible, so as to gradually deescalate the situation and ultimately reach a comprehensive ceasefire.” But the U.S. did not want to resume dialogue “as quickly as possible.” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby explained that “a ceasefire, at this time, while that may sound good, we do not believe would have that effect,” it would not be “a step towards a just and durable peace.” He then clearly stated that “we don’t support calls for a ceasefire right now.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the peace proposal a “tactical move by Russia” that was “supported by China” and warned that “the world should not be fooled.”
The Global South sees diplomacy differently. Where the West wants to continue the fighting to allow talks, the Global South wants to stop the fighting to allow talks.
On May 16, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he had held phone calls with Putin and Zelensky, who both agreed to separately receive a delegation of African heads of state in their capitals to discuss a possible peace plan to end the war. Joining South Africa in the delegation will be Senegal, Uganda, Egypt, the Republic of the Congo, and Zambia. In opposition to Western demands that Russian troops withdraw from Ukrainian territory as a condition for talks to begin, the African heads of state “propose that Ukraine accept opening peace talks with Russia even as Russian troops remain on its soil.” Reversing the order of the West’s agenda, South African Presidency Spokesman Vincent Magwenya said, “First is the cessation of hostilities. Second is a framework for lasting peace.”
Brazil has also “pressed for a truce.” And on June 3, Indonesia offered a peace plan that, like those offered by China, Africa and Brazil, placed the ceasefire first on the agenda to allow for the talks that would follow. Indonesia’s proposal calls for a ceasefire first, then the creation of a de-militarized buffer zone, followed by referendums that would allow the people of the “disputed territories” to democratically determine the post war boundaries.
The West, once again, rejected the order of business on the agenda. “I will try to be polite,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov responded, “It sounds like a Russian plan…We don’t need these mediators suggesting such a strange plan.” Josep Borrell, the European Union high representative for foreign policy, asked that there be a “just peace,” not a “peace of surrender.”
But how is the Indonesian proposal “strange” or a “peace of surrender”? A senior Biden administration official told The Washington Post, “African leaders have made clear to White House and administration officials that they simply want an end to the war.” The official acknowledged that Africa and the United States “disagree on what tactics to use to get to a settlement…as the Africans oppose the idea of punishing Russia or insisting that Kyiv must agree to any resolution.” Africa stresses diplomacy first; the West stresses victory first. While “The Africans want to see a diplomatic solution to this conflict,” the West wants “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” according to the official.
The Global South wants a lasting end to what they see as a European war and the global hardships it causes. They do not seek to punish Russia and defend democracy partly because they do not believe this is a war for the triumph of democracy over autocracy or a Manichean war between good and evil. It is just a devastating war that needs to be stopped. Africa remembers Western colonialism and their sponsored coups. And Indonesia’s Defense Minister, Prabowo Subianto, upon introducing Indonesia’s peace proposal, reminded the West, “We in Asia have our share of conflict and war, maybe more disastrous, more bloody than what has been experienced in Ukraine…Ask Vietnam, ask Cambodia, ask Indonesians how many times we’ve been invaded.” He might have added to ask Indonesia about the half a million to a million Indonesians who were slaughtered with the complicity of the United States.
The Global South has a very different view than the West that gives shape to a very different view on how to end the war. Most obviously, while the West refuses to push the warring parties to negotiate an end to the war and has offered no peace proposals, the Global South is pushing hard for an end to the war and has offered several peace proposals. Unlike the West who favors winning the war before allowing diplomatic talks, the Global South favors a ceasefire that would stop the war as soon as possible in order to allow diplomatic talks.
Ted Snider is a regular columnist on US foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets.