Working towards peace and sustainability

The Challenge of Ending the Ukraine War

Peaceworks unequivocally condemns the illegal, immoral and dangerous Russian invasion of Ukraine. This unjustifiable action has cost the lives of thousands, has injured many thousands more and has led to more than ten million Ukrainians being displaced from their homes. The war has also delivered serious harm to the natural environment and destruction of much of Ukraine’s built environment. This is an unfolding tragedy and, unless immediate action is taken to end the hostilities, many more will be impacted and the danger of a wider conflict grows daily. We must address this situation and do so now.

Under international law, to engage in a war of aggression—as opposed to self-defense—is the most serious violation of international law, a Crime Against the Peace, as defined by the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg Principles. Russia is clearly the aggressor and is rightly condemned for it actions.

That said, many actions by our own government have set dangerous precedents that make the U.S. appear hypocritical at best in its response to Russia’s actions. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq immediately comes to mind for many of us. In fact, U.S. has repeatedly invaded and occupied other countries from Grenada and Panama, to Afghanistan for example. Our government has also illegally bombed many countries, from Somalia and Libya to Serbia, Mali and many more.

The U.S. has also supported aggression of allies and client states, from the Moroccan invasion and annexation of the Western Sahara to similar actions by the Indonesians against East Timor and Turkey against Cyprus. At the moment, the most egregious such action is the support of the Saudi and UAE war against Yemen, which has created what the UN has deemed to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. And, for decades, our government has been involved in covert actions and coups in literally dozens of nations around the world.

Follow the Money

The United States currently spends as much on our military as the next 11 biggest spenders combined. This includes China, Russia and a number of U.S. allies. Our Military-Industrial Complex profits handily from the sale of arms to us, the taxpayers, as well as to other nations around the world. These massive corporations have a vested interest in there being enemies, as this provides the rationale for buying and deploying more weapons systems. And, actual hostilities use up these weapons and that fuels demand, leading to even greater profits.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was surely celebrated in the suites. Not only were stockpiles of arms being sent to Ukraine, which would then need to be replaced, but Russia’s aggression is being used to pressure other members of NATO to increase military spending. Meanwhile, last year Biden upped Trump’s last Pentagon budget, and Congress increased that, with spending reaching a new record high. And now, Congress has approved, and Biden has signed off on, a $782.5 billion Pentagon budget for the current fiscal year which is $42 billion more than the fiscal year 2021 budget.

The Broader Threat

The long-run implications of the conflict are deeply troubling. President Biden has joined the Ukrainians in portraying this as the beginning of an ongoing, global conflict between autocratic states and the democracies of the world. Much like the Cold War, which lasted more than 40 years, this conflict holds the potential for dividing the world into enemy blocs for many years to come. This presents us with great risk of expanded hot war, potentially involving the unthinkable; the use of nuclear weapons. And, at the very least, it spells an enmity that distracts us from addressing the world’s greatest threats including climate change, poverty, water and other resource shortages, pandemics and more.

Seeking Solutions

There are no easy answers to the conundrum we face. Our first step must be to seek a ceasefire. From there, we can seek face-saving compromises that allow us to settle the current conflict and move forward toward a common security future. A ceasefire, if attained, should be followed by agreement that Ukraine will be neutral, that its territorial integrity will be respected with the caveat that the Donbas, in the eastern provinces will be granted autonomy. 

This approach would be in line with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the 2014 Minsk Agreement, and would allow Putin’s government to claim that its objectives have been met, while it would leave Ukraine intact with security guarantees to be negotiated. And it would avoid a wider conflict, or more loss of life and limb.

One very tricky detail has to do with the call for a war crimes tribunal. While ideally this would be held, the reality we face is that this would back Putin into a corner. He’s not going to negotiate an end to the war if it means him being arrested and tried for Russia’s crimes. We should also recall that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice and others who masterminded the Iraq War have never been held accountable for their war of aggression and Russia is as unlikely to send Putin to be in the dock at the Hague, as our government is to send those Americans who led us down that criminal path.

The settlement of the war in Ukraine can be laid out as a condition to opening negotiations for mutual, verifiable agreements to limit arms—including nuclear and conventional weapons—and avoid a ramped-up arms race that threatens all of our futures, and robs our progeny of safe and secure lives. This is, therefore, in the interests of the NATO nations, Russia, Ukraine and truly all humanity.