Gaza and Ukraine: How the US Risks Losing the Global South

The Global South – or perhaps more acutely, the Global Majority – is a loose club of countries who share growing confidence in their economic strength and in their ability to resist US hegemony in favour of working with multiple poles in pursuit of their own national interest instead of America’s interests. The US has been unable to recruit the Global South into its historically convenient portrayal of an unprovoked Russian invasion or to pressure it into its sanction regime against Russia. And this emerging trend in the Global South is being cemented by the US position in the two wars being fought in Ukraine and Gaza. The price of the position the US is taking could be the loss of the Global Majority.

The main issue is not the issue of right or wrong. The Global South is consistently aligned with the US in its condemnation of Hamas’ atrocious attack on Israel on October 7. The main issue is the consistent application of international law. The essence of international law grounded in the charter system and the UN is its universal application. The main issue for the Global South is that UN led international law not be replaced in global affairs by a US led rules-based order in which the unwritten rules are made up as you go along and in which the rules are invoked when they benefit the US and its partners and are not invoked when they don’t.

What is at risk for the Global South is the preservation of international law; what is at risk for the US in the positions it is taking in Ukraine and Gaza is the Global Majority’s trust. In the eyes of the Global South, the US is being exposed as the hypocritical hegemon that invokes international law unevenly in the service, not of global justice, but of American advantage that it has long accused the US of being.

The Global South was first amazed by the political West’s hypocrisy by the statements of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. A year ago, von der Leyen loudly declared that “Russia’s attacks against civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, are war crimes.” She condemned “Cutting off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with winter coming” as “acts of pure terror.” She then demanded that the world “call it as such.”

But she didn’t call it as such when Israel acted on Defence Minister Yoav Gallant’s promise that there would be “no electricity, no food, no water, no gas – it’s all closed.” Instead, she has consistently called upon Israel’s right to defend itself.

But it was US President Joe Biden who, as the leader of the unipolar world, took the lead and set the tone by linking Israel and Ukraine. In his October 19 speech, Biden that “the assault on Israel echoes nearly 20 months of war, tragedy and brutality inflicted on the people of Ukraine” and that “Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common. They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy – completely annihilate it.”

Von der Leyen echoed that link, saying that the two “conflicts have one thing in common: they are about the struggle between those who seek peace, balance, freedom and cooperation – and those who do not want any of this because they profit from the chaos and disorder.”

Linking and equating the two wars was tone deaf to the Global South. No one in the Global South dissented from the criticism that the two attacks were brutal. No one dissented from the judgement that both attacks were in violation of international law. And no one disputed the right of Israel and Ukraine to defend themselves. But no one in the Global South heard the US or the EU compare an occupied people’s right to defend themselves against occupation. The US and its allies were aggressively insistent on Ukraine’s right to resist occupation by Russia. Aggressively insistent enough to flood them with weapons and to provide them with all the funding, intelligence, planning and training they need for as long as it takes. But this time the link was not made, nor the equation drawn. No one allowed – not, of course, for Hamas’ present illegal attack on and kidnapping of civilians – but for Palestine’s historic right to defend itself and resist occupation. The US saw only a comparison between invaded countries: Israel and Ukraine. The Global South saw also a comparison between occupied people: Palestine and Ukraine. The Global South did not disagree with the former, but they sought a consistent application of the latter.

It was not the first time the subjects of US hegemony had questioned the selective application of international law. While the US and NATO rightly rail against Russia’s breaking of international law by violating a sovereign country’s borders, the world remembers Panama, Grenada, Libya, Kosovo, Iraq and Syria: all of whose borders were violated or whose people were bombed by the US without Security Council authorization.

The Global South had long suspected that the US had insinuated itself into the position of arbiter of international law and source of authorization for aggression, replacing the UN at the head of the international system. The Global South had long accused the US of the sleight of hand of substituting the codified and agreed upon international law with the unwritten and American made rules-based order. But in the clear juxtaposition of Gaza and Ukraine, the hypocrisy was confirmed. And America’s loss of the Global South became a real possibility.

The first sign of the breaking away was not in a failure to condemn Hamas nor to assert Israel’s right to defend itself. No nation in the Global South broke with the US on that. The first sign of the independent break was the simultaneous demand in both Ukraine and Gaza for diplomacy, for a consideration of historical context, and for a demand for a ceasefire. The US risked losing the Global South over the failure to apply international law impartially and consistently.

If the right of an occupied people to resist occupation is applied in Ukraine, should it not be applied everywhere? If attacks on civilian infrastructure and, especially, electricity are war crimes, are they not war crimes everywhere? If the killing of civilians is against the rules of war in Ukraine, is it not against the rules of war everywhere?

It is not a question of whether any of these specific acts are against international law, it is a question of the non-hypocritical, universal application of international law.

A senior G7 diplomat recently said that “We have definitely lost the battle in the Global South. All the work we have done with the Global South [over Ukraine] has been lost . . . Forget about rules, forget about world order. They won’t ever listen to us again.”  The diplomat added that “What we said about Ukraine has to apply to Gaza. Otherwise we lose all our credibility.”

America’s self-serving and unprincipled application of international law in Ukraine and in Gaza risks serious harm to its future foreign policy, to its global reputation and ability to command trust, and to the security of its place at the head of the international table. It is US hypocrisy in the application of international law, more than competition from China or Russia, that is challenging US hegemony. For the Global South, it is not the question of the judgement of right and wrong. It is the defense of international law with its foundation in the United Nations over a rules-based order with its foundation in Washington that is applied according to a hypocritical standard that benefits the US and its selected partners and not according to a universal standard that benefits the whole global community.

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on US foreign policy and history at and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets.  To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at