When it comes to issues of 'human rights' and individual liberties, every country in the world takes a different stance. Culture, religion, and nationality all play their roles, but now it's clear the West wants to change this.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted a picture of the rainbow pride flag raised outside the State Department in Washington, writing that the commemoration of two major LGBT events “reminds us how far we’ve come – and how much more we need to achieve, at home and worldwide.” The key word here is “worldwide.”
As the West elevates LGBT issues to be the highest measure of morality, reorganizing its culture accordingly, it begs the question – how will this manifest itself in foreign policy? Values are deployed as an effective instrument in Western power politics, with liberal democracy held up as a hegemonic norm that allows countries like the US to lead the world and exempt themselves from international law.
Even the CIA is rebranding itself now as an organization guided by the advocacy of LGBT rights, which is a clear indication that the celebration of ‘our’ righteous values will soon be expressed as derision and attack on the ‘other’.
This year, we've marked the period between the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on marriage equality and today's anniversary of the Stonewall Riots by flying the progress flag. The period reminds us how far we've come -- and how much more we need to achieve, at home and worldwide. pic.twitter.com/PV1lMKviaT
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) June 28, 2021
What is the difference between a ‘values-based’ foreign policy and a civilizing mission designed to undermine the sovereignty and cultures of other states? In the post-Cold War era, the West explicitly legitimizes hegemony, hierarchies, and sovereign inequality in the defense of universal liberal democratic values. Is the world heading towards a woke form of imperialism?
Woke values as a hegemonic norm?
Ideologies tend to appeal to grand ideals such as freedom and reason, yet at the same time they can divide the world into good versus bad – leaving little room for freedom or reason.
An open and democratic debate is missing regarding the extent to which modern liberal values are universal. It is, for example, reasonable to ask whether gender reassignment surgery or hormone treatment for children is a universally held value spanning all cultures, and how different states balance parental consent and involvement.
It also seems reasonable to discuss whether people born male should be allowed to compete in sports as women, and the impact this would have on women’s sports. Ideology has reduced these discussions to love versus hate, which suggests that dissent is impermissible. Herein lies the power of ideology that is too seductive to keep out of foreign policy.
Hungary recently passed a law that banned the promotion of LGBT lifestyles to children. Its prime minister, Viktor Orban, argues that this law is intended to protect children and parents from sexual material. As the EU deems this to be an issue of universal values, any nuanced discussion was skipped and it instead moved straight on to talking about punishment.
Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, stated: “My goal is to bring Hungary to its knees on this issue” and called for expelling Hungary from the EU. The French president argued that Brussels should show “no weakness” in facing down Hungary. No sense of irony was apparent as the EU condemned Hungary for “authoritarianism.” The ideological mantra of ‘diversity and inclusion’ ironically accepts no diversity of values for thousand-year-old cultures, and fails to include states with compatible values.
Russia versus the West
Throughout history, the West aimed to prove its civilizational superiority by comparing itself to supposed Russian barbarism. For centuries, ethnicity was at the center as civilized 'Europe' was contrasted with 'Asiatic' Russia. The purported opposite of Western freedom and civilization was this Eastern slavery and barbarism, which gradually became a fundamental part of the liberal ideology.
Through this prism, Russia has been allowed to play two roles: either a lowly apprentice of Western civilization, or a counter-civilizational force that must be contained or defeated.
In the early 18th century, Peter the Great established Russia as a great power and initiated a cultural revolution to Europeanize his country. The Western Europeans applauded Peter for adopting the role as the ‘student’ who would civilize Russia, according to European standards.
In the early 1990s, Russia aimed yet again to ‘return’ to Europe by adopting capitalism and a form of democracy. The West again applauded Moscow’s acceptance of the teacher-student relationship, although it rejected the inclusion of Russia in the European security architecture to any extent that would entail sovereign equality.
The rejection of the role as a civilizational second fiddle to the West, and the implicit sovereign inequality that would go with it, has once more entailed a return to containment and confrontation. Moscow therefore remains skeptical of any foreign policy framed as a civilizing mission.
The West’s commitment to a ‘values-based’ international system has since meant artificially reorganizing and propagandizing all politics as a competition between liberal democracy and authoritarianism. International law, with equal respect for states, is dismantled and replaced with the so-called ‘rules-based international system’. This is portrayed as an extension of international law, but is actually the antithesis of it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently commented: “the beauty of these Western ‘rules’ lies precisely in the fact that they lack any specific content.”
Strategically ambiguous standards are designed to enable NATO countries to decide when the rules have been broken and then unilaterally punish those who run contrary to their values.
The rules-based international system is intended for the West to police the rest, which is why it does not apply to the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or the treason charges leveled against Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk. It also exempts Guantanamo Bay, the Stuxnet saga, NSA mass surveillance, digital censorship, the dismemberment of Serbia, or the hundreds of thousands who have perished in the illegal ‘humanitarian wars’ of Western states. The responsibility of NATO countries to uphold the rules-based system is instead used as the reason for exempting themselves from these rules.
Under the veil of the responsibility to selflessly uphold values, members of the bloc can ever-so casually discuss ways to topple foreign governments with economic sanctions or military power.
Towards woke imperialism?
Will humanitarian imperialism evolve into woke imperialism? It hardly seems far-fetched that woke values will be absorbed into the existing liberal-democratic civilizing mission to remake the world in the West’s image. Can the objective “to bring Hungary to its knees” develop into subversion, regime-change operations, or LGBT wars?
In the current age of liberal authoritarianism, the US is partnering with Saudi Arabia to fight for Syrian human rights by occupying the country’s territory, cooperating with jihadi groups, stealing oil Damascus needs to fund rebuilding, and stealing the wheat required for civilians there to survive.
Indeed, cynical forces are obviously at play when the pride flag is raised over US military bases.
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