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Editorial: Truss's vision of enforcing permanent Western supremacy is dangerous – and doomed

THE Nationality and Borders Bill, like the Home Office’s inhuman plans to dump asylum-seekers in Rwanda, gravely undermines Britain’s international obligations to protect refugees.

They expose the hypocrisy of a government that claims to be ready to welcome refugees from the Ukraine war — and to uphold international law more generally.

Concern for the victims of wars — whether those begun by rivals like Russia or conflicts in which Britain was a prominent aggressor, such as Afghanistan or Libya — is not a feature of the British government.

Indeed, providing a safe haven for Ukrainians was a one-line afterthought in Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s Mansion House speech on Wednesday night, drowned out by a dangerous fixation not on ending the war but on inflicting a military defeat on Russia — something which cannot plausibly be done by Ukraine, however much military hardware is sent there. 

By identifying war aims that include driving Russian forces out of all Ukrainian territory, Truss undermines already flagging peace talks in which Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has acknowledged the need for a negotiated agreement on Crimea’s future and on the status of the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk statelets.

By framing the conflict as a fundamental one between Russia and the West, she leaves Ukraine a battlefield for stronger powers to contest at the price of Ukrainian lives — and even greater numbers of Ukrainian refugees. The global economic fallout from the war, including through rocketing energy and food prices, will likewise exacerbate the international refugee crisis — but those affected will not meet compassion or sanctuary at the hands of this government.

Truss’s whole pitch — that Britain and its allies are champions of a rules-based international order being ripped up by Russia and threatened by China — is utterly dishonest.

If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an outrageous violation of international law, so too were the wars launched by Nato powers against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Claiming on the one hand to respect other countries’ sovereignty is contradicted by attacking China for declining to join Western sanctions against Russia, besides indicating a double standard since US allies that have also refused to sanction Russia such as India and Brazil did not merit a mention.

Indeed it is not China’s opposition to the use of sanctions that is not “playing by the rules,” but rather the regular and entirely illegal use of sanctions by the United States to induce regime change — most egregiously in the economic war waged against Venezuela and the criminal 60-year blockade of Cuba.

Though Truss speaks of the “return of geopolitics,” the approach outlined is not one in which the interests of different countries are acknowledged and differences resolved through negotiation and bargaining. It is one in which Britain plays junior enforcer to the United States as supreme “world policeman.”

Her reference to the Soviet Union’s respect for international agreements — included to attack modern Russia for not sharing this trait — misses out the essential point, which is that keeping the cold war cold (in Europe) involved restraint and compromise by both power blocs. Pointing to Russia walking away from arms control treaties when the United States has torn up the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty and Open Skies is just hypocrisy.

But worse, it is extremely dangerous. It is abundantly clear that growing economies in the developing world are not content to follow rules of engagement and trade set by the US and EU, but want a say in shaping global institutions. In this, even ideological and geopolitical rivals like China and India see eye to eye.

If the West’s response is to deploy economic and military levers to enforce compliance with Washington’s agenda, we are in for an extended period of acute instability and great power conflict.

And the crises that afflict the world now, from rising temperatures to growing numbers of refugees, will all get worse.

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