Category Archives: Editorials

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Editorial: Neutrality – being the best we can be

Ireland faces a choice as to whether to be a small bit player in a militaristic EU/NATO alliance or to plough a perhaps sometimes lonely but much more fulfilling role as an active agent for peace in the world. But any loneliness would only be temporary because of the friends it would make – as it is, an Irish passport is one of the most acceptable around the world because of Ireland’s past positions and ‘soft power’. Those who think that NATO and the EU are agents bringing peace need to consider the process of 20th and 21st century history – and extrapolate from current EU stances to the EU becoming a bullying superpower on the world stage, similar to the USA, later in the 21st century (just look at the current role of Frontex). The development of the EEC/EU as a force for peace in Europe is well and truly lost in the past.

It is hard to establish exactly where the Irish government and establishment push for full military and foreign policy integration with NATO and the EU comes from. Wanting to be with the ‘big boys’ is certainly part of it. This editorial will, further on, give some quotations from Afri’s new “A force for good?” pamphlet on Irish neutrality. But we would go further and raise the question of whether this fixation stems partly from an inferiority complex, perhaps coming from Ireland’s colonial past. The revolutionary generation in the Free State/Republic had an emphasis, naturally enough, on anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism (Karen Devine’s contribution in the Afri pamphlet is a brilliant summary of the positive aspect of this in Frank Aiken’s thinking and action). But as EEC membership beckoned, neutrality became considered by some politicians as backward, regressive and not what was needed in Ireland – in a sense a ‘culchie’ option – making its way in a world dominated by the USA and a rich Europe.

In the Afri pamphlet, Iain Atack and Carol Fox do refer to the idea that to be ‘good Europeans’* has been part of the thinking in abandoning neutrality (along with other factors). But what does being a ‘good European’ mean? Supporting militarisation and the arms industry? Being uncritical of the development of the EU as a military superpower closely aligned with NATO?

With formerly neutral countries in Europe joining NATO, surely there is a greater need than ever before for Ireland to take a neutral and active stance for peace. It is simply nonsense to think that the only possible international role Ireland can play in the future is a small, even insignificant, member of a large military alliance. The promulgation of Irish neutrality goes back as far as Wolfe Tone. Eamon de Valera played a significant role in the League of Nations. As the Afri pamphlet points out, the drift to Irish EU foreign policy and military integration has led to relative neglect of the UN – and, we might add, perhaps a wasted role as a UN Security Council member. Ireland has played a significant part in the development of peace internationally. Current directions will lead to the total negation of that role and Ireland simply being another cog in a great western militarist machine. It is already happening – for ‘NATO in Ireland’ see https://www.thejournal.ie/irish-defence-forces-nato-evaluation-artillery-5927841-Nov2022/

There are many ways that Ireland can play a positive role in peacemaking in the future, all of which are either dependent on, or would have a contribution made by, Irish neutrality. Building up a skilled team of mediators for different levels of conflict is one such role, engaging before there are even ‘rumours of war’ or armed conflict. Engaging with different parties or governments before conflicts have got ‘hot’ is another related area of work. Pushing and working for the further development of international law in relation to war is a further area – and working to get existing laws implemented and respected. Nonviolent peacekeeping can be explored as well as Ireland’s well-established – and respected – role in military peacekeeping.

This is only scratching at the surface of what is possible, even for a small country like Ireland, and all could be achieved for a small fraction of the additional money which the country is going to spend on army and armaments – which is irrelevant to Ireland’s human and ecological security needs (see the video of the StoP webinar on this, mentioned in the news section). Our politicians and elite seem to suffer from a total failure of imagination and seek no more than being a very small cog in a very well-oiled, and destructive, military machine.

Now, on to a few quotes from Afri’s pamphlet (see news section in this issue). The title of Joe Murray’s Foreword says it all: “Ireland should be a voice for Demilitarisation, De-escalation and Disarmament in the World”. Karen Devine points out that “Ireland used her postcolonial identity and history to gain support from other UN members. A fiercely-guarded commitment to independence from big power pressures, facilitated by an equally strong commitment to neutrality, produced radical and far-reaching proposals for peace in central Europe. Frank Aiken’s formulae for peace are vitally relevant to resolving the Ukrainian situation today……”

Mairead Maguire is quite clear that “Contrary to its claims, NATO is not a defensive organization. Its purpose from the start has been to act as an instrument for US world domination and to prevent all challenges to US hegemony.” John Maguire meanwhile teases out what has been going on in Ireland: “The….strategy involved: Government denials at every stage that referendums were necessary; joining NATO/PNP without the manifesto-promised referendum;’reform’ of the Referendum Commission’s mandate, from presenting the arguments For and Against to magisterially pronouncing on ‘The Facts’ – and above all the blatant rejection of two legally binding referendum results, Nice 1 and Lisbon 1.” John Maguire also usefully uses the image of a funnel: “The abiding image is of a funnel; such debate as cannot be prevented is guided – if necessary, simply shoehorned – into an ever-narrowing channel; a travesty in what our constitution still confirms is a republic.”

In the Afri pamphlet, Tarak Kauff concludes his piece “Stand up Ireland, defend your neutrality. The global community needs you to do that.” Ireland may be a little island falling off the edge of Europe but Tarak Kauffman’s admonition shows that such a matter is of much greater significance. As peacemakers we can stand tall. As warmakers we will collude with, and hide under the coat tails of, the great powers, and contribute to the militarist mania infesting the world.

* INNATE’s printable poster on being ‘a good European’ can be found at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ under “Europe and World…[EW]”

Editorials: 1) Dangers of war – and nuclear war 2) Choices for and about unionists in Northern Ireland

The dangers of war – and nuclear war

If you look at war from the beginning, military resistance seems plausible and a possible solution. If you look at it from the end, the `military solution´ is a disaster.”

The above is a quote by someone from the Balkans, who would have lived through the wars there, at a recent Church and Peace https://www.church-and-peace.org/ conference which took place in Croatia. Most wars begin with optimism about the result – on all sides – and a belief in the cause, usually in the European and some other contexts blessed by the churches. But hope turns to fear, dread, regret, mourning and a thousand other negative feelings – but once warfare begins it is difficult to end as chauvinism and stubbornness kick in. We face Macbeth’s dilemma, in Shakespeare’s words ““I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er”. And there is the feeling that some benefit from the war must be shown for ‘the blood of the martyrs’, those who have died for ‘our’ cause.

It is totally understandable why Ukraine decided to resist the Russian invasion with military means. In Mohandas Gandhi’s hierarchy of responses to injustice, inaction comes bottom, violent reaction next, and nonviolent resistance is preferred. But how may will be killed, in Ukraine and Russia, at the end of the war? How many will have had their lives ruined or disrupted? How long will it take to rebuild anything like normality?

And what dangers have we yet to pass through? We have previously spoken about the dangers of even mentioning the threat to use nuclear weapons, as Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian figures have done. We also have stated that it is simply holding nuclear weapons that is the danger and the UK, for example, has no ‘no first use’ doctrine – in other words they would use them if they felt it necessary. The problem with a war like the war on Ukraine by Russia is that we do not know what escalation might happen, and how it might happen, and it remains a very real danger. If Russia used a tactical nuclear weapon then NATO would respond strongly and militarily and we could be on the road to a European, and possibly wider, armageddon. There is a strange sense of deja vu to be contemplating the horrors of nuclear war once again – for those old enough to remember the 1950s, 1960s, or 1980s.

Carl von Clausewitz may have said that war is the continuation of politics by other means but while it may be an attempt to do so the result is very different. Politics as such does not necessitate the filling of body bags. Politics does not destroy whole cities and displace whole populations. Politics does not precipitate the hate and venom that war does. Politics, we should hope, creates few orphans and widows. Of course some politicians may see war as a continuation of politics – and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a political misjudgement of mammoth proportions, and an attempt to get by force what he had been unable to get through diplomatic and political pressure, insofar as he tried those.

But Putin was not the only one to miscalculate. NATO’s promise to Russia on the fall of communism in eastern Europe not to expand eastward was broken again and again. The failure to have Ukraine state categorically it would not join NATO was another crass mistake, as well as the failure to implement the Minsk agreements which would have given relative autonomy to eastern provinces of Ukraine; even if Russia was not keeping to its side of the bargain, the move to implement its obligations by Ukraine would have pulled the rug under further moves by Russia.. Len Munnik’s cartoon on the transfer of ‘foremost enemy status’ from the USSR to Islamist militant militant fundamentalists after the end of the Cold War was very perceptive (see NATO entry at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ ) – but the problem is now that ‘foremost enemy status’ has switched back to Russia, and the west has had a large role in turning an erstwhile friend into a deadly enemy.

The risks of war, and managing a proxy war like that in Ukraine (NATO supplying Ukraine with war equipment but not itself fighting) include not only the destruction of the people and territory involved but also a significant risk of escalation. We have referred to nuclear risks above. The world is actually lucky not to have had nuclear exchanges (see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/27/cuban-missile-crisis-60-years-on-new-papers-reveal-how-close-the-world-came-to-nuclear-disaster ) and it has been a very close run thing at times, not to mention the many accidents which could have been catastrophic. These dangers continue in a very real way. Nuclear power is another, although somewhat related. Matter but we see its danger in the war situation in Ukraine as well.

The only way to eliminate the threat of nuclear war and nuclear blackmail, by all sides, is to work for universal nuclear disarmament. Some will say that goal is utopian. We would say that goal is realistic in that this is the only way to eliminate the ever real danger of nuclear war – and we may not always be as lucky to avoid that eventuality as we were in 1962 with the Cuban missile crisis between the USA and USSR. Of course nuclear disarmament is only likely to come about through wider international rapprochement and the creation of human and ecological security way beyond what exists today. But the alternative to moving forward on disarmament is to move backwards to greater human insecurity and misery – and the denial of wellbeing to billions because obscene amounts of money is spend on weapons and the military. There is a long road to travel.

Choices for, and about, unionists in Northern Ireland

It is understandable that unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland feel cheated or even threatened by the Northern Ireland Protocol between the UK and the EU. Whether it affects their standing in relation to the Good Friday Agreement is a moot question but it has changed part of the economic relationship between the North and Britain, whatever about the constitutional position – though in relation to that, Northern Ireland still ‘feels’ and functions as part of the UK even if culturally distinct from Britain.

If unionists were sold out in any way then they were sold out by their own government and there is no one else they should blame apart from their own role in the debacle. It was an English nationalist move both for Brexit and especially a ‘hard’ Brexit which created the issue of an EU single market boundary. A hard Brexit was a move which had staunch DUP support and led directly to the NI Protocol.

Any system of government in Northern Ireland has to have broad support across both major political entities, unionist and nationalist, ‘cross-community’ (there are issues in relation to a vote for a united Ireland and constitutional change in this context which we have explored and will explore again). At the moment ‘the system’ clearly does not have such cross-community support. We doubt whether the DUP boycott of Stormont is justified given the severe issues which face the North, as well as the fact that the NI Protocol is a UK-EU issue; although boycotting is a classic nonviolent tactic it is not always for positive reasons or results. The whole matter is also caught up with internal unionist brinkmanship and showing that ‘we are stronger on the Union than you’ within the unionist community which is an unfortunate game of ‘chicken’ (and more like a game of ‘Dodo’).

Realities have changed in Northern Ireland but other realities remain the same. A new election would be pointless, the two largest parties might gain a seat here or there but the result would be the same stalemate. What are needed are substantive talks which involve all sides in the North. Yes, the issue may be a UK-EU one but where there is a will there is a way, and there is no reason why parallel, simultaneous talks cannot take place which provides input from, and feedback to, the Northern parties while the EU and UK do some final bargaining. This would be the most democratic option with the inclusion in some form of all sides in the North.

There are various parts to the current reality. One is that Stormont is only a part-time partial success; whether you judge this to be a ‘total failure’ is an open question, but even when functioning it has not dealt successfully with many issues of which education is a glaring example. It could have better decision making mechanisms which encourage compromise and at least partial consensus. But some republicans and nationalists are very unwise to recently talk about ‘joint authority’ (between Britain and Ireland, Republic of) as an alternative ‘backstop’ to the Stormont assembly, either as a threat or possible reality – apart from any issues of practicality it is not in accord with the Good Friday Agreement and such talk gets loyalist paramilitaries preparing to go on the warpath – not that they should exist or be in position for any warpath.

But the more major, societal change which has a major bearing is the demographic one that unionist parties are no longer in a majority, but then neither are nationalists. The DUP is reputed to have spent less than half an hour deciding to back Brexit, showing a very considerable lack of strategic thinking. Unionists need to think strategically about what will ensure, for their constitutional preference, the continuation of the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’.

So what is the best way for unionists to ensure the continuation of the ‘UK’? Clearly it is by making it as attractive a place to live for people – especially nationalists, ‘others’, and not-naturally-unionists’. How? By making Northern Ireland an economic success, which it clearly is not at the moment – and by making people feel ‘at home’.

And how can the North be made an economically successful ‘homely’ place? For one, providing political stability, making the system (whatever it is) work, and building on the privileged access which the NI Protocol gives to exporters to the EU (including continuing to grow sales to the Republic). Certainly there are issues and problems with the NI Protocol in the EU having been overly strict but then the UK has been overly lax in meeting its obligations. The EU is well disposed towards Northern Ireland so a bit of effort by the British government, plus compromise and creativity, on both sides, should get a win-win-win result (for the EU, UK and NI itself), and this ongoing sore settled.

As to making people feel ‘at home’ in the current constitutional situation, unionists need to think ‘what do other people want’ – and if possible give it to them. A specific Northern Ireland human rights act (as promised as long ago as the Good Friday Agreement) – certainly. Support for the Irish language act – yes. Creativity and generosity of spirit would go a long way. And perhaps some awareness might be warranted that nationalists in the North do not have the constitutional arrangements that they desire – and this might temper unionist anger at perceived changes under the NI Protocol. Both sides need to think what it is like to walk in the other side’s shoes; it is actually to their advantage to do so..

Please note that we are not saying ‘we support a united kingdom’, what we are saying is we support the coming together of the people of the North, whatever the constitutional situation. And unionists have usually been their worst enemies when it comes to strategic thinking. That may have worked relatively well for them when unionism was in a clear numerical majority but not any more – and even less so in future. If they choose ideological purity over practical progress then everyone will certainly lose – including themselves. But for anything to work there needs to to a stable and relatively strong unionist voice (not necessarily from one party)..

There are many myths about ‘the Protestant work ethic’ (and that is certainly not a runner in the Ireland of today and it never was an unvarnished fact) but there was a reason many Quaker businesses thrived in Britain and Ireland in the past. Apart from any hard work and creativity on the part of the proprietors, they were known to be trustworthy and reliable, and they treated their workers well by the standards of the time. Unionists could do worse than learn from this by thinking of everyone and not just themselves. Compromise can seem a dirty word to some but it can also be the means to achieve a lasting result which is found acceptable to all.

But current unionist concerns need addressed and a way found to do so. Thinking of others includes thinking of unionist concerns by nationalists and the British and Irish governments.

Editorials: Ukraine war, UK miitary-monarchical complex

The reality of war hits Russians – but not the Irish government

It is obvious that there is and has been considerable reaction against the ‘partial’ mobilisation or conscription of men in Russia for the war in Ukraine. Some of that reaction has included the torching of recruitment centres and, in one case, the shooting of a recruiting officer. While some men may feel it is their patriotic duty to go and ‘serve’ their country, many others are looking at how they can possibly avoid being drafted. In a move reminiscent of many men in the USA leaving that country to avoid the draft in the Vietnam war in the 1960s, many Russian men have been fleeing abroad. But women have been protesting too either on principle or because they do not want the men in their family to be cannon fodder. It represents a sad brain drain for Russia. While polling shows just over 70% of people still supporting the war, there are many qualifications to that support.

There were also a reported 1300 arrests in demonstrations following the mobilisation announcement. The mobilisation itself has not been well handled from the government point of view, and seems to have been targetting ethnic minorities and country people more than metropolitan white Russians – while in a rather despicable move some of those arrested for protesting have been served with call up papers as a penalty. While many Russians have been brainwashed by state control of the media, it is obvious to all that the fact there is this mobilisation means the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine has not been going to plan. The number of Russian soldiers already killed is uncertain, Ukraine claims it to be 55,000 but it is certainly far in excess of the figure, a tenth of that, admitted by the Russian state, and people in particular areas may know how many local people have died as soldiers and the real human cost of the war on their side.

Some in other parts of Europe are sceptical of people only showing their opposition to the war now. But this is largely mistaken. Of course it would have been desirable if more people had protested against the war earlier in Russia but at what cost? When the potential cost came, literally, knocking on their door then they had to make up their minds fast. It takes courage to go against the state in Russia and whether acting from principle or self interest (we do not recognise the concept of ‘cowardice’ in relation to militarism), it does not matter if men avoid the draft, the effect is the same, to undermine Putin’s war in Ukraine. And in such situations we are all likely to have mixed emotions, including a desire not to be killed or to kill people from a neighbouring country which has had extremely close links with ours.

All countries should provide safe passage and refuge for Russian war resisters, whoever they may be and whatever their reason for refusing to fight. It should not be too difficult for people to prove that they have been conscripted. Of course false conscription papers could be provided to Russian agents wanting to come to the west but the Russian state has rather a lot on its hands at home and in Ukraine at the moment.

It is uncertain how much Russian mobilisation will affect the course of the war, certainly in the short term. The fact that the war may be longer term brings up all sorts of issues about the final cost to both sides. And that includes a very significant cost to Russia in terms of lives lost and opportunity cost, mainly men from the bottom of the pile in Russia. We hear little, as part of deliberate policy, on the cost of the war in Ukrainian lives except for civilians, that is the number of Ukrainian soldiers killed, while the obliteration of whole towns and cities in Ukraine is staring us in the face.

Warnings or threats about using nuclear weapons, which have emanated from Putin and other senior Russian government figures, are reprehensible. The possibility of a cornered Russia, on the cusp of being defeated, using small ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons against Ukraine is an appalling prospect and one which cannot be ruled out even if the repercussions could be beyond the beyond. But let us get one fact straight; the very holding of nuclear weapons is a threat to humankind (they are held as a military threat) and totally reprehensible, and now also illegal. The western powers of the USA, Britain and France are all holders of massive amounts of nuclear weaponry. When do we hear prominent figures denouncing western nuclear weapons?

This brings us back to the coverage we have previously given to the possibility of nonviolent resistance to the Russian invasion. The longer the war goes on, the greater the cost in lives and the destruction of essential infrastructure. Ukrainians may well have felt they had no choice but to resist militarily. But that was not actually the only option. Nonviolent civilian resistance was, is, also a possibility. As stated in these pages, it would have had a different time frame but would have avoided the massive loss of life and destruction which has been part of this war.

There is also the question of how the war can end. The Irish government has paid €55 million for military aid to Ukraine though the European Peace Facility (sick) though admittedly for body armour and non-lethal supplies – however any army does not march on its bullets and bombs and needs such provisions as part of its total outlay, so the distinction from lethal supplies is academic. The Irish government could have been more usefully employed in looking at how the war could be brought to an end with a just solution.

Neither side has shown signs of being willing to have a ceasefire and negotiate which is why great creativity is needed by third parties who want the war to stop immediately, not parroting pro-war slogans like the Irish government. Of course this might include things like a fictitious ‘victory’ for Putin in such things as a guarantee of Ukrainian neutrality (likely to be part of a settlement anyway) but the government seems to studiously ignore Article 29 of the Constitution about the pacific resolution of conflicts which is both very sad and rather bad. The Irish government and elite has been gunning (sic) anyway to be part of NATO and EU militarism – they have attempted to leverage the war in Ukraine towards this. They could have been using their imaginations and explorations towards peaceful ends. The organising of a second military/arms fair in Dublin [see News section], with an outlandishly greenwashing name (including ‘Ecosystem’) is a further indication of where the Irish government’s heart lies.

All wars come to an end. What is most needed is governments and NGOs who stick their necks out to work on non-violent solutions, and press hard for them so belligerents, and aggressors, take note. Instead of playing a positive neutral role – militarily neutral but practically on the side of justice and peace – the Irish government has been content to be a cheer leader for a military ‘solution’ which look more like it could turn out to be something of a pyrrhic victory. Meanwhile the dangers of escalation and nuclear warfare are considerable. This all represents a massive amount of wasted potential by a supposedly neutral country whose constitution emphasises peaceful solutions.

The death of Queen Elizabeth and the perpetuation of the UK’s military-monarchical complex

Queen Elizabeth II was a dedicated and hardworking woman who fulfilled to the highest degree her understanding of the role which she occupied. And no one under the age of 75 would likely remember another monarch in the UK. She had a good grasp of current affairs and a sense of humour – something instanced by her interaction with Paddington – and was reputed to be a good mimic. She also led an extraordinarily privileged but circumscribed life, the latter perhaps contributing towards her love of dogs and horses who would not distinguish between a member of the royal family and a lesser human being.

The extraordinary ten day mourning period in the UK following her death was very revealing. The pomp and circumstance gave ordinary people an opportunity to mourn her death but it also upheld the status quo of the country and the transition to a new monarch. At most times it looked like too many of those involved in the ceremonies chose unwisely from an extravagant dressing up box. But, as with Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee (celebration of 70 years as queen) the presence of the military, and military symbolism, was everywhere – she was titular head of the armed forces. Even her four mourning children, following her coffin in Scotland, were all dressed in military uniform, except for Prince Andrew and that was only because he has been in disgrace for sexual abuse and/or rape (and whose military titles were removed to avoid tarnishing the military brands he was associated with); they were all in military uniform for a short vigil around her coffin in London.

Much of the set pieces for the monarch’s funeral process were not ancient traditions but dated from the early 20th century. When there is an emotional but also potentially divisive happening it is extremely difficult for it to be marked or celebrated in a way which satisfies supporters but does not make others feel something is being stuffed down their throat (and BBC main news could be half an hour of what was happening after the Queen’s death, five minutes on the war in Ukraine which was going through a critical phase, before returning to more news of the obsequies).

All of this impacts on Northern Ireland. While Queen Elizabeth is considered a reconciling figure to some extent because of her reaching out to both sides in the North, and her visiting of the Republic and what she did there, royalty in the North is a deeply divisive matter. Most Protestants and a considerable majority of unionists in Northern Ireland would be royalists and monarchists, and some few Catholics as well. There is also the ‘celebrity factor’ of those who follow the rich, famous and powerful. But the more one identity is emphasised by the state – as with the obsequies for Queen Elizabeth – the more divisive it is. Obviously the whole matter is divisive for the considerable minority in Britain who are not monarchists but it has further ramifications in the North where by definition of identity up to half of the people are excluded.

The military-religious-royal complex of the past in the UK, the alignment between these forces – the armed forces, the church, and the royals – and the buttressing which each gave the other, has changed somewhat insofar as British society is now very largely secular. The position of the Church of England, and the monarch being the titular head of it, is wholly anachronistic and unworthy of a modern state. The Church of England is still a part of the establishment in a minor way but the military-royal complex continues unabated. The non-military involvement in the pageantry presented after Queen Elizabeth’s death was exremely limited and most parts of the public mourning was a festival of militarism. The queen’s aura was cast over the military, and the military spectacle in turn emphasised the importance of the monarchy. The military-royal complex, or military-monarchical complex to give it a bit of alliteration, is alive and well.

Although relatively minor as mentioned above, the Church of England/Christian aspect of it all is rather unsettling. How any church got from ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ words of Jesus through to outright support for militarism is difficult to comprehend. To anyone believing in peace and nonviolence, all the military trappings are an insult to the deceased person as well as a militarist drug for the masses. We return, as we frequently do, to Gandhi’s saying that the only people who do not believe Jesus and his teachings are nonviolent are Christians. Queen Elizabeth was an enthusiastic member, and titular head, of the Church of England so it is highly appropriate that they should be involved in her funeral arrangements but that is not what we are talking about.

The UK is the European country, or certainly one of only a couple (and we include Russia in this), most likely to be at war at any time. Its colonial wars on freedom fighters in its colonies may be substantially a thing of the past but it has been a participant in various other recent wars including Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which have been completely disastrous for the countries and regions involved, as well, for example, involvement in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya which has also had violent and destabilising consequences. The UK remains a nuclear armed state which has engaged in sabre rattling, e.g. in the South China Sea, and in illegal drone strikes to kill islamist militants..

The class system in the UK, and economic inequality, is among the worst in Europe. While Queen Elizabeth undoubtedly had a strong sense of noblesse oblige, the fact is that the monarchy is one of the bastions of inequality, and part of the circus element of bread (sometimes dread) and circuses which keeps such inequality at least partly palatable to people. Unintentional it may be but the recent mourning period for Queen Elizabeth was a distraction from the real issues including energy prices and resultant poverty which face people.

There are also matters of free speech associated with the aftermath of Queen Elizabeth’s death and the transition to a new monarch. There were instances of people arrested for mildly proclaiming alternative views. There are also more who feel their free speech was constrained by the oppressive faux-consensus and the threat of violence. However there is also an issue of ‘nonviolent communication’ to be taken into account; challenging people’s views when they are mourning, albeit for someone they have probably never met, is unlikely to be the best way to get people to question the establishment orthodoxy. It would be better for them to wait but free speech should apply for those who feel they cannot do so. And, as with all divisive issues in Northern Ireland (it goes with the territory or the territorial division) some people, on all sides, resort to mockery which is extremely insensitive and divisive.

The people of the UK are, of course, free to choose what they want in terms of government and social and state structures. But an antiquated and unjust electoral system (the first past the post voting system is very distorting of anything that can be considered remotely to be ‘the will of the people’) has facilitated right wing whirlwind change under Margaret Thatcher and more recent Tory prime ministers.

Queen Elizabeth rarely put a foot wrong in terms of the establishment’s view of her role. People from countries colonised by Britain are likely to have a more nuanced view. The recent royal obsequies were also about the transfer of power and prestige from one monarch to another and thus ensuring passive stability. It remains to be seen how King Charles III will exercise his role, and how popular he will prove with his subjects. Charles’ vocal and long term support for environmentalism (in theory if not necessarily in practice) should not hide the fact that the monarchy in Britain remains a bastion of class division, privilege, and militarism.

There are many things which the people of Britain can be proud about, and many things which unionists in Northern Ireland can appropriately celebrate in terms of the Northern Ireland link to Britain in the United Kingdom (but rarely do so). Such things were invisible in the mourning and funeral process, with people in some cases queueing for nearly a day to pass her coffin, and the effect of such concentration on the very apex of British society is anti-egalitarian. This has unfortunate consequences in a country where the health service, social security and economy were once in good shape by international standards and served the people relatively well but have been declining rapidly and are failing the people they should be helping.

Editorials: Depressing, distressing support for violence

Northern Ireland

Depressing, distressing support for violence

Northern Ireland is one of the most surveyed and polled parts of the universe. Sometimes there are glimmers of hope, and indications that the North is travelling away from sectarianism and violence. At other times the results are thoroughly depressing. Some polling which came out in August fits into this latter category and makes us realise how very far those in the North have yet to travel. When Michelle O’Neill, northern leader of Sinn Féin, said the IRA had no alternative to armed struggle in the Troubles that set up considerable comment and debate with unionists and many others naturally questioning her logic.

However the most depressing point was not that she said it but the acceptance of what she said in the Catholic/nationalist part of the community. Sinn Féin strategy in exiting armed struggle and moving forward politically has consistently been to justify IRA actions in general (regretting a few in particular) in order to take people with them, and this has had considerable success. Michelle O’Neill said in a BBC interview “I think at the time there was no alternative, but now, thankfully, we have an alternative to conflict and that’s the Good Friday agreement.” However she also said ““My narrative is a very different one to someone who’s perhaps lost a loved one at the hands of republicans. But we need to be mature enough to be able to say that’s OK, we’ll have to agree to differ on that one, but let’s make sure that the conditions never exist again that we find ourselves in that scenario.” And yet politics in the North frequently looks like the continuation of war by other means.

It subsequently came out “In a LucidTalk opinion poll for the Belfast Telegraph, 69% of those in the nationalist and republican community believe “violent resistance to British rule during the Troubles” was the only option, with just 25% disagreeing……Three-quarters of young voters support Ms O’Neill’s position. Surprisingly, so too do almost six in 10 over-45s. ….” https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/seven-in-10-nationalists-agree-with-michelle-oneill-that-there-was-no-alternative-to-iras-campaign-of-violence-new-poll-reveals-41924287.html

The take on all this which INNATE has had is that of course there was a nonviolent alternative to armed struggle and violent action by all sides but that generally those supporting such violence did not see the alternative, or thought it to be likely less effective. This of course was false but it was what most people, on all sides, believed. Northern Ireland could have arrived at political accommodation through nonviolent action which would have prevented the terrible destruction of lives and bitterness which came through the Troubles, and this might have set up higher chances of political agreement on an ongoing basis than exists today with a functioning Stormont being an intermittent feature of political life.

However the argument that nonviolent action is more effective than violent, and it not just being a question of ethics, is not something which even today holds sway in general. Something like Chenoweth and Stephan’s analysis of the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle compared to violent is not widely known, and the possibilities of nonviolence are largely ignored. Laying the blame for this lack of awareness falls at the feet of the peace movement as much as anyone else.

But it is also the case that in the North the story of those who consistently opposed violence on all sides have not been taken into account. INNATE has argued that the role of all parts of civil society in the Troubles and its seeking to oppose and overcome violence – including trade unions, churches, community groups, women’s groups, peace and reconciliation groups etc – has not been properly documented. We have gone on to say that the failure to do so, to document the challenge to violence which civic society groups made during the Troubles – would play into the hands of paramilitaries and the state who justified their own violent reactions. Our prophecy has, tragically, been proved to be true in this recent reflection on Catholic/nationalist views.

However it would be naive to think that it is only Catholics have not come to terms with what peace means. Loyalist paramilitaries have continued to exist in a way that republican ones do not. And the threat from either has not gone away. However on the unionist side of the house, and among those in general who have supported the British state, there has tended to be support for wars that the UK has fought internationally, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have resulted in far greater destruction, death and misery than any IRA or other paramilitary campaigns in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. Those who believe in nonviolence do not go for the myth of state backing justifying violence, nor that a death somewhere distant abroad is any less significant or important than a death at home in the grand scale of things, even though a local death may impact on us in a way that a distant death does not – but for those close to that death distant from us, that is what impacts them, and not a death here.

The significance of all this is that it is not just Northern Catholics/Nationalists who have supported the use of violence who may go on to support violence in the future, should the conditions be judged to be appropriate, but the majority on all sides. It might have been hoped that the inhabitants of the North and their descendents, given the experience that people passed through, might have realised that violence was counter-productive and nonviolence was a far better way forward. It seems that few have come to that conclusion.

The task before us is to educate people in, and allow them to experience, the power of nonviolence. That is a huge task. We invite you to participate in that and contribute to that work, in whatever way you can. But it is both depressing and distressing that so many should have gone through so much but learnt so little. We say that not from a sense of superiority, that ‘we have the truth’, but a sense of failure on our part and a sense of the enormity of the task.

Republic

Depressing, distressing support for violence

The ongoing elimination of Irish neutrality continues, engineered in an underhand way by the ruling political parties in the Republic. Bit by bit, slice by slice, the political elite (not just politicians but also others including an incipient military-industrial complex, and some in the military) has been desiccating and destroying neutrality while all the time denying what they have been doing. There is a huge contrast between the fearless and principled non-aligned stance of the Irish state of old, for example under Frank Aiken as minister for foreign (‘External’) affairs, in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties (and Fianna Fáil’s anti-imperialist stance at the time) and the current craven attitude of most of the political parties who can’t wait to be a full member of the emerging EU superstate and its wider military ally, NATO.

An active neutrality on the part of the Irish state, allied with military peacekeeping (of which most Irish people are proud) has been a distinctive part of Irish identity. This is being lost and sold down the river. As peace and nonviolent activists we would strongly support Irish neutrality because the alternative is being either a fellow traveller with, or, as is increasingly becoming likely, a full blown member of the nuclear-armed and confrontationist NATO cabal. And the EU itself is increasingly militarised; it will become another global neo-imperialist player as the 21st century progresses. If things continue on the current track, Ireland will be a fully paid up supporter of violence internationally which will undoubtedly be unleashed by the EU in times to come.

One recent manifestation of this has been the backing by Ireland of military training by the EU for the Ukrainian army. According to the Irish Times of 30/8/22, “Minister for Defence Simon Coveney called the agreement to establish an EU training mission the “next phase of military support” for Ukraine in its fight against Russia. He said Ireland “would like to be involved” and would provide practical support for the mission.” Here again we see the political elite using the war in Ukraine to push back boundaries on Irish action. Peacemaking? No. Peacekeeping? No. Is it supporting the pacific resolution of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination, as in the Irish constitution? No. Warmaking? Yes.

Polls have consistently shown considerable Irish support for neutrality. However an online poll conducted in June-July raised major questions about this, showing approximately even numbers for and against joining NATO (52% for, 48% against) but a slight majority (54%) in favour of joining an EU army rather than NATO. https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2022/08/28/public-divided-on-nato-membership-new-poll-shows/ Paradoxically this poll still said “Six in 10 people said Ireland remaining neutral was important to them but just 42 per cent said it would keep the country safe in the event of global war.” However this begs the question of what questions were asked for the poll; what would keep the country safe in the event of global war?????? However the question is relevant of what would keep the country safest.

It would seem that a majority of the Irish public is attached to neutrality but is unaware of what this entails, or could entail. This is perhaps hardly surprising since Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael (in particular), Labour, and the Greens have done such a good job, from their point of view, of obfuscating issues and trying to ditch it by stages. The above mentioned poll showed Sinn Féin supporters were divided on neutrality so if they come to be the major party in a government after the next election it depends whether their politicians have the courage to chart an Aiken-esque path or keel over and join the imperialists.

With no party championing neutrality and what it can entail it is perhaps not surprising that we have arrived at this sorry state, post-Nice, post-Lisbon, post-’Partnership for Peace’ (sic), post-PESCO. The sad, sad fact is that as Sweden and Finland join NATO there is more than ever the need for a neutral voice or voices to call and work for peaceful resolution of conflicts – as the Irish constitution advocates and stipulates. There is a crying need for the vision of peace, of non-alignment, which Ireland has previously supported, and taking this into the 21st century.

Joining the rich man’s (sic) military club may feel like belonging for many politicians and others but it will be done at great cost, and great opportunity cost. No longer will Ireland be able, even if it wanted to, to offer a critical view of western neo-imperialism, forthcoming EU military manoeuvres, or NATO’s brutal and wrong-headed foreign wars. The motto will be ‘Blessed are the warmakers for they desperately want to be on the winning side, whatever the cost’.

– – – – –

Editorials: Irish neutrality under attack, Not following Protocol, Ukraine war of attrition

Irish neutrality under sustained direct attack

Naomi Klein in her book “The Shock Doctrine” details how capitalism can use economic and political crises, of whatever cause, as a means to extend its grip on society and overcome democratic norms and control. In the same way the exponents of ditching Irish neutrality have been using the war in Ukraine as a means to leverage Ireland (the Republic) towards NATO and a fully fledged EU army, and attempting to circumvent Irish popular opinion.

This is despite the fact that there is no threat to Ireland from anyone and that some Irish policies associated with neutrality have been an important contribution to peace in Europe and the world. The idea that because Ireland is a ‘good’ member of the EU that it should contribute militarily is a non sequitur; it can be strongly argued that the EU surge to militarism is precisely a reason why Ireland should resist, stand back, and make a very different and peaceful contribution rather than adding a few cents worth of militarism (metaphorically speaking – PESCO entails a massive increase in Irish military spending at a time when the climate crisis demands immediate action and massive expenditure, and domestic issues like housing in the Dublin area need considerable resources to fix). But issues of ‘human security’ tend to lose out to perceived ‘military security’ which is a chimera.

The move to ditch Irish neutrality is nothing new. It has been going on before and since Ireland joined what was then the EEC in 1972. It has gradually built momentum through Nice and Lisbon treaties, through involvement in NATO’s ‘Partnership for Peace’ (sic or sick?), and joining PESCO. At each stage the government and Irish political elite have said ‘Nothing to see here – Irish neutrality is safe’ as they lied through their teeth.

Now, however, with the war on Ukraine there has been the perceived opportunity to come out openly to speak about joining NATO or being fully integrated in EU militarism – and since the EU is increasingly becoming the European arm of NATO, there is very little distinction. There is the usually unexpressed feeling or impression that EU military power would be used ‘constructively’. There is no evidence for this and much evidence against it if you look at the history of the larger military powers involved (or, in the case of Britain, who have been involved and still very much part of NATO). European state backing for the USA’s military escapades, and the ‘Fortress Europe’ approach to borders now adopted by the EU, do not augur well; nor does the ‘European Defence Fund’ or other moves to back the arms industry and develop a unified EU military structure (army).

Once a military empire is established then that power will be used for its own interests. We have spoken before about how the EU will, on current projections, become a player in resource wars later in the 21st century. Of course it will all be wrapped up in verbiage about humanitarian intervention and “we have to intervene” but it will be a revamped empire (including the former imperial powers) flexing its military muscle.

There is also the unspoken idea that EU military developments is part of internationalism. It is not. It is supranationalism, the creation of a new supranational unit which is likely to act as an empire just as much as the USA has in the past or may in the future. Internationalism is a concern for, and engagement with, the whole world and its institutions such as the United Nations. Many EU developments, economically and militarily, are the antithesis of internationalism.

The moves away from Irish neutrality have been spearheaded (sic) by Fine Gael and fully backed by Fianna Fáil. Parties such as the Greens have not stood up for what they might supposedly have believed in. Whether a Sinn Féin led government, presuming such comes to pass after the next election in the Republic, fully stands up for neutrality remains to be seen but it is to be hoped that it would. Some other influential parts of civil society and the military have also been keen on developing EU/NATO militarism.

Seán and Seánín Citizen, however, have had other views. Polls have consistently shown popular support for neutrality has been strong, and maintained even after the Russian war on Ukraine. The citizens have, however, been taken in by protestations by the political elite that each step taken away from meaningful neutrality and in step with EU militarism has not affected Irish neutrality. Clearly it has. And now that Ireland has moved closer to EU and NATO militarism the question of NATO membership is openly raised.

Micheál Martin spoke recently about a ‘constitutional assembly’ which may be a much more limited and circumscribed affair which will be designed to give the nod to joining an EU army in full; this term, ‘constitutional assembly’, is a new one to emerge which may indicate an attempt to fix the debate. See https://www.irishtimes.com/politics/2022/05/29/taoiseach-expects-constitutional-assembly-on-irish-neutrality/

Martin subsequently said that a referendum would not be necessary before joining NATO: “We need to reflect on military non-alignment in Ireland and our military neutrality. We are not politically neutral. We don’t need a referendum to join Nato. That’s a policy decision of government.” This view or eventuality is a very worrying one,

He went on that “We would need a referendum to join a European Union defence pact, if one was formally developed and declared, because there are provisions in our constitution that would demand such a referendum.” https://www.irishtimes.com/world/europe/2022/06/08/ireland-would-not-need-referendum-to-join-nato-says-taoiseach/

Can the Irish public finally make a stand against the encroachment of NATO and EU militarism on Irish neutrality? Can the final ‘neutralising’ (annihilation) of Irish neutrality be avoided? Will the Irish government succeed in its mission (and it is seen as a mission by them) to become a full part of western militarism? We have a lot of work to do, and a lot of conscientisation to engage in. Don’t just watch this space – engage.

If there is a level playing field and opportunity to put forward the arguments for peace and a meaningful neutrality then there is a lot of hope that the argument could be won by the forces for peace, and that the drift to militarism could finally be halted and reversed. But the government and forces working for militarism are not keen to give the people a meaningful say, or, if they have to, they will obfuscate the issues as much as possible. Navigating the dangers ahead is perilous but if we don’t then we face far greater dangers in the future – to which we will be making a negative contribution.

Not following Protocol

We may be repeating ourselves here somewhat, but who would have believed that a century and a half after ‘the Irish question’ came to dominate British politics that ‘the Irish question (post-Brexit)’ would still be a prominent theme in Westminster and the parliament there. The British government negotiating with itself in its proposals for dealing with the Northern Ireland Protocol, an internationally agreed treaty, is a fascinating spectacle of the ruling elite in a country not only losing their marbles but blowing up the drain to find them (cf “Wee Willie’s lost his marley” https://www.itma.ie/dustybluebells/explore/counting-and-skipping/wee-willie-lost-his-marley ). The British government’s contempt for Northern Ireland is clearly shown in its legacy proposals which are supported by no substantial bodies of any kind in Ireland., North or South.

The British government protests that it is doing what it is doing in relation to the Protocol is to protect the Good Friday Agreement and restore power sharing. The DUP meanwhile, having pragmatically shifted to full on opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol for which they were partly responsible, gives no guarantees for when they will engage at Stormont and never formally backed the Good Friday Agreement anyway which they vehemently opposed in 1998. The fact that an arithmetic majority of MLAs in the NI Assembly back the Protocol, as it can and should be amended by agreement, does not seem to have impinged on the British government who again – having previously done a deal with the DUP to stay in power – are acting in the interests of one particular section in the North. But, of course, the most reprehensible and irresponsible aspect of all this is the British government using Northern Ireland for its own political purposes.

In addition, it is clear that an increasing majority of people in Northern Ireland do not want the Protocol ditched but do want it amended, and do not support opposition to the Protocol as a reason for opposing powersharing at Stormont. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/majority-of-ni-voters-are-in-favour-of-the-protocol-poll-41800239.html

There are important issues to be dealt with regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol. There may also be the possibility to involve Northern politicians in the UK-EU structures dealing with the Protocol, to resolve the question of a ‘democratic deficit’ on the issue. Of course unionists have every right to be concerned. The EU could also be more flexible but the British government has positively discouraged this by its intransigence. The British government does not seem to have read any negotiation manuals which state clearly that trust is an important part of fair and principled negotiation. In unprincipled negotiation however you can negotiate with yourself and lie through your teeth.

Ways need to be found to assuage the anxiety of unionists but some unionist leaders act as if they still ‘own’ Northern Ireland. It was ‘their’ British government which signed a binding international agreement with the EU. British rule still exists in Northern Ireland, it remains part of the United Kingdom and the alternatives to a limited ‘Irish Sea border’ have even less to recommend them. A ‘hard border’ between the Six and Twenty-Six counties would be dangerous and even more inconvenient to ordinary people and a border between the Republic and the EU is not going to be acceptable to the Republic which had no hand in deciding that the UK would leave the EU.

The Northern Ireland Protocol has problems and opportunities; negotiation and full cooperation is the way to minimise the problems and maximise the opportunities. In what is partly an argument between unionist-leaning and nationalist-leaning economists and analysts about the effects of the Protocol on the Northern economy it is still too early to be certain but the pudding will be well cooked in a year or three and it can be properly tasted and tested then. As with most changes, some people win and some people lose. The continuation of the Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol debacle in its current form means everyone loses except Boris Johnson and his band of blustering Brexiteers, and unionists and loyalists in the North who thrive on strife.

A war of attrition

The war in or on Ukraine continues unabated. It is now a war of attrition in the east of the country with Russia slowly gaining ground, at vast human and financial cost to all concerned. Both sides carefully guard information about what is actually happening, and we mainly get pro-Ukrainian views in Ireland but Ukraine could be losing up to 200 soldiers a day, that is 200 soldiers killed and many more wounded. Whether Russia will open up new military fronts elsewhere in Ukraine remains uncertain though it looks like they will continue to hit civilian targets anywhere.

Russia’s losses, meanwhile, in a few months have well overtaken those in their decade long occupation of Afghanistan (15,000 plus), and will also overtake the USA’s military losses in Vietnam at around 50,000 deaths (the Vietnam war was very asymmetric in terms of losses with millions of lives lost in Vietnam itself and neighbouring countries due to US carpet bombing).

Wars are easy to start and difficult to end, certainly to get ‘wrapped up’, as was discovered in the western military debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq. The hopelessness of a war of attrition is a pitiful thing. The trauma and lasting effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine will, whatever the outcome, last for generations. And if Russia succeeds in annexing much of the east of the country then it will be a lasting grievance for Ukraine; if Ukraine manages to retake some or all of their territory, thanks to western armaments, the human cost will still be catastrophic.

We have previously spoken about nonviolent civilian resistance or defence in relation to Ukraine (and Ireland) – see https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/2022/04/01/nonviolent-resistance-to-invasion-occupation-and-coups-detat/ and editorials. This would entail a struggle with a different trajectory and time frame; it would mean the struggle continuing but without the current loss of life and destruction of infrastructure. People often accuse those believing in nonviolence or pacifism of being simplistic and defeatist; when we see the human cost and trauma of the war in Ukraine, we wonder if it is the believers in militarism who are being simplistic. There is no end to the war in sight. Putin, having made a monumental mistake in invading Ukraine, dare not admit he was totally mistaken by settling for less than what he can proclaim as ‘victory’. And NATO will fight to the last drop of Ukrainian blood.

Editorials: Elect-shuns in Northern Ireland, Justice denied, The war in Ukraine continues

Northern Ireland

Elect-shuns

It is fascinating how Northern Ireland has – and has not – moved in the period from Terence to Michelle – both O’Neills. Terence O’Neill was the second last last prime minister (not that there were many as there were then no challenges to Ulster Unionist Party hegemony) of the old Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont; he was at least slightly reforming and forced out in 1969 by hardliners. In the period since then the old unionist certainties have evaporated and while the two blocs of unionist and nationalist are now both on around 40%, there is a new kid ‘on the bloc’, the ‘ cross-community’ Alliance Party on 13.5% of the vote.

But Michelle O’Neill is the person to become First Minister as an Executive government is achieved at Stormont if and when the DUP decide that enough has been done regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol – though as yet how that can come about is unclear. There has been a lot of turbulent and polluted water under the bridge in the period from Terence to Michelle and the flood is far from done yet.

But politics in Northern Ireland remains deeply divided and the 13.5% and 17 out of the 90 seats up for grabs coming to Alliance represents some slight progress for the middle ground (but partly at the expense of others in the middle) it is not, and cannot be of itself, a breakthrough. The Alliance Party still polls relatively poorly west of the Bann. Both unionism and nationalism need to be strong enough and feeling confident enough to make the deals that will deliver any settlements – whether temporary or permanent for the North. The two larger blocs are not going to go away, you know, and while demographic changes may mean nationalism is increasingly on the up, though the nationalist vote is not necessarily increasing, there is a lot of hard talking and hard bargaining to be done in the future; however the fact that there is more of a ‘middle ground’ than there was augurs better for helping to mediate the future.

But, as always, different people can head in different directions at the same time. More unionists went with the hardline TUV which got 7.6% of the first preference vote but not being transfer-friendly remained with one MLA, the redoubtable (and intransigent) Jim Allister. The two Green Party MLAs lost their seats due to the Alliance surge and more of the ‘middle ground’ coalescing around Alliance. The SDLP and Ulster Unionist party lost slightly in terms of percentage votes and seats. Sinn Féin only gained 1.1% in first preference votes and held their own in terms of number of seats while the DUP lost 3 seats and 6.7% of the vote, mainly to the TUV.

However in terms of underlying trends, while nationalism in the shape of Sinn Féin has come in as the largest party, the total ‘nationalist’ vote has been static for decades, very slightly below the total ‘unionist’ vote, despite demographic increases in the number of Catholics to around parity with Protestants (census information in the autumn should tell us more on this). Catholics increasingly voting for Alliance may be part of an explanation here but while Alliance may proclaim itself agnostic on the question of a United Ireland/Kingdom, Alliance is probably less seen as simply a ‘liberal unionist’ party than in the past. Former MLA Anna Lo proclaiming herself in favour of a united Ireland quite some time ago did surprise but it did not open the floodgates of Alliance representatives going for an all-island solution; agnostics on the question, it may be more accurate to say that most individual supporters would favour the constitutional choice which gave them and the people of the North the best deal – and despite all the health and economic questions at this stage about a united Ireland it cannot be assumed that if it came to the crunch sometime in the medium term future a majority would stay with the status quo, or indeed depart from it.

The positive aspect of all this is that there is a ‘middle ground’ who are not beholden to a particular ideology but can make a decision based on their judgement of what will work out best. And that can no longer be automatically assumed to be staying in the UK though republicans would have to do a lot of work to show that a united Ireland is in everyone’s interests. The existence of a middle ground may also act to persuade some – but certainly not all and probably only a small number – unionists/loyalists and nationalist/republicans to be on their best behaviour in order to encourage those more in the middle to shift their direction. Yet others will ignore the centre ground and go on as before.

But the DUP says no to the operation of the Assembly until the Northern Ireland Protocol is ‘fixed’ to its liking or at least changed enough to allow it to claim ‘victory’. Both the DUP and the British government have sought to hide their role in the current crisis. The DUP, in supporting and pushing for a hard Brexit, were instrumental in defeating Theresa May’s compromise proposal of the whole area of the UK staying in alignment with the EU. The DUP backed Boris Johnson, an inveterate liar, helping him to become prime minister. An arithmetic majority in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU.

The DUP only changed to out and out opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol when they saw support slipping away to the TUV; the DUP were not too careful in what they had wished for. They are now demanding their mandate be listened to before allowing business to proceed whereas previously various leadership figures have supported voluntary coalition. The majority of MLAs elected in the Stormont election in May back reform of the Protocol by negotiation but also forming an Executive government straight away to deal with the various crises affecting the North.

In addition, it is clear that while there are problems with some imports to Northern Ireland and the associated red rope (which is rather larger than red tape), business is generally happy to have easy access to the EU market as well as the UK. Originally Tories and DUP trumpeted this – somewhat ironically as the whole Brexit project was about leaving the EU. And if it leads to greater prosperity in Northern Ireland – which is, without British transfers, poorer than the Republic – that may mean that people would be less likely to want to rock the boat and join a united Ireland in which case the North would automatically become part of the EU. So once again it looks like unionists are going with a gut political reaction which is adverse to their longer term interests in securing the continuation of the union with Britain.

However the DUP is entitled, by current regulations, to take the stand it has and to oppose the Protocol. It has a very substantial vote and that needs listened to. The British government’s negotiating tactics are appalling; instead of showing good faith and willingness to implement an agreement they signed, while pushing hard for change and positively exploring how those changes could give the EU what it requires, even as a tactic it is absurd to suggest it can alter an international treaty unilaterally.

But what should unionism be doing with regard to its own interests? Unionism needs to be trying to kill a united Ireland with kindness (cf ‘killing Home rule by kindness’) so it should be accepting Irish language legislation, promoting a Northern Ireland human rights bill (also in its own interests as it ceases to be a majority in the North) and generally thinking of the needs of Catholics and nationalists. This also requires a recognition that, while they may feel or indeed be as British as anyone on the island of Britain, ‘Northern Ireland’ is different and always has been, and unionists are not, and never have been, ‘Northern Ireland’.

What should nationalism be doing with regard to its own interests? It should be exploring in a realistic manner what a United Ireland might entail and building in to its proposals as many safeguards as possible for the Protestant and unionist population. Patience is also required, not pushing for a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland at the first available opportunity that might give a ‘yes’ to a united Ireland but looking to see what would be the most constructive way to move, and when. In particular, in relation to any transition, this should also be seen as an inclusive process and not something to be done in a rush. In the mean time they should be doing the best for the entity that is Northern Ireland.

Reforming Stormont so that no one party can crash the structure is an immediate step to progress and dealing with the many crises which face the North. The easiest way is simply that the two largest parties have the right to form the OFMDFM (Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister) but if they decline to do so then other parties can step in. In a consociational system how the middle ground of Alliance can be fairly treated also requires action seeing as how they designate as neither unionist nor nationalist and therefore don’t ‘count’. But the (lack of) availability of cash from the British Exchequer under the Tory regime also militates against dealing with the major crises such as the health service, education, poverty and specifically the crisis in the cost of energy and food.

Justice denied

Justice delayed is justice denied’ is an old truism. Justice has certainly been denied in this manner for many victims in Northern Ireland. But British government moves on dealing with the past, and effectively wiping out the possibility of prosecution for Troubles crimes, however remote at this stage, is a stab in the back for victims and a deliberate closing down of possibilities, undertaken for English nationalist reasons to protect British soldiers – and the British state. The possibility of families getting information about the death of their loved ones will also suffer.

To unite all parties in Northern Ireland requires some doing – but the British government has achieved this in relation to its legacy proposals with universal opposition. Of course different parties come at this from different angles but the British Conservative line that there is no alternative to their proposals beggars belief. The Stormont House Agreement of 2014 was not perfect but it had a panoply of structures to cover different aspects of dealing with the recent past, including independent information retrieval, and it was accepted almost across the board; it has been the most recognisable compromise agreement between unionists and nationalists in dealing with the past. The fact that it was not implemented has been a major failure of government and governance, and all the while the possibility of justice was being further delayed. How well it would have succeeded in its aims may be debatable but not to have tried is reprehensible.

For the British government to go it alone at this late stage, and not even to have consulted the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, is absolutely astounding and shows them acting in an arrogant, and dare we say it, colonial style manner. While they are now tacking on a condition about amnesty it is generally considered that the threshold for this is very low and therefore this proviso has no teeth and would have no effect; their proposals are in fact still an almost unconditional amnesty.

As referred to in the news section of this issue, experts question whether the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill introduced into the London House of Commons is compatible with the Good Friday Agreement in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights. But the greatest wrong is to act in opposition to the views of victims across the board, on all sides, effectively ignoring their standpoint. Victims and survivors live on hope; hope for recognition, hope for justice, hope for a better future, for themselves and everyone. The British government is taking away much of that hope and show themselves to be totally hope-less.

Heaping further injustice on victims is beyond cruel.

The Russian war on Ukraine continues

The ‘logic’ of war is becoming somewhat strained after a few months of the fighting between Russia and Ukraine.

Whether Vladimir Putin will settle for conquering the east of Ukraine or whether he will again look to take part of the North, or even Kyiv, who knows, and he may not know himself. Having backed himself into a military fight of a kind he certainly did not expect, he will look to whatever he feels he can salvage from the deadly and atrocious mess which is what the war has become. It is likely to continue for months, and Russia is slowly gaining ground in the east using its trademark tactic of obliteration by artillery.

Russia may get its propaganda retaliation in by holding trials for some of the captured Ukrainian soldiers from Mariupol, some of whom are indeed far right or even fascist. However trying to justify the invasion on the pretext of the ‘denazification’ of Ukraine was, is, an atrocious lie; Ukraine was not in any way perfect – and nor is Zelensky who has had some dodgy financial dealings – but it was certainly not a ‘nazi’ state, and has been much freer than Russia for citizens. With Putin, as an authoritarian ruler himself who has destroyed civil society and free speech in Russia, it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Ukrainian identity and opposition to possible Russian control necessitated staunch resistance to Russian invasion. But the cost of that being military resistance is a massive death toll on both sides, some seven million external refugees and several times that displaced. The trauma of this war will be felt for many decades. Rebuilding Ukraine will also take many decades, even with large scale western financial help when the war ends – that may be forthcoming initially but whether it will last is another question.

Meanwhile we have a proxy war between NATO and Russia, and the former will fight until the last drop of Ukrainian blood. That is why we say the logic of war is becoming strained. NATO and its members are ‘good’ at starting wars and these have not proved any easier to get out of and end.

There was another option and there still is; nonviolent civilian defence and resistance. No, it will/would have a different timescale and way of working but Ukrainians would be able to live to work for freedom another day, and live and plan to overthrow Russian rule without the same death and trauma, though undoubtedly not without struggle and hardship. And, as Stephan and Chenoweth have shown, nonviolent campaigns are much more successful than violent in persuading those on the opposing side to switch support; in other words it would make it easier for both ordinary people and elites in Russia to come out against the war, and in support of Ukrainian resistance and against Putin’s murderous policy and designs on Ukraine.

That many people who should know better do not consider this to have been, or be, a possibility, betrays a fatal lack of imagination. Military resistance seemed to them ‘the obvious’ choice to combat Russian invasion. But wars are easy to start and difficult to end – and meanwhile the victims pile up higher. The human cost grows daily.

Editorials

The cost of war

The people of Ukraine continue to pay a terrible price, in so many different ways, for the aggression visited upon them by Vladimir Putin and Russia. Russia itself is also paying a price, not least in the estimated 20,000+ Russian soldiers (of various ethnicities) who have been killed. With the war now raging for a couple of months, and no end in sight, the death and destruction is truly horrific and the effect across Ukrainian society monumentally damaging.

While the decision to go to war was Putin’s, as has been mentioned in these and other pages ‘the west’ and NATO have some responsibility for policies which encouraged Putin in the course he has taken. The failure of Russia after the collapse of the USSR to ‘Europeanise’ is not just a failure by Russia but a failure by Europe to include it in a meaningful way and it returned to its separatist ways. In addition there is the whole matter of how ‘the west’ regards democracy and how it is woefully defined with frequently contradictory policies which have added to problems, points explored by Peter Emerson in his article in this issue.

While Putin may privately regret going to war, having initially seen it as a stroll in the park to take Kyiv, he is now steeped in blood so far that, with his credibility and power at stake, he feels he has to continue. No matter how brutal he is, no matter how much death and destruction has been meted out, he needs a way to climb down, that ‘off ramp’ (in US English) which was mentioned early on. The bitter pill of sacrificing, and recognising the transfer of, some territory may be necessary, including the Crimea (which became part of Ukraine on the whim of Stalin) but other parts of the east of Ukraine. At the risk of perpetuating myths which Russia has used to justify the war, there might also be some benefit in going along, in some way, with Putin’s supposed aim of the ‘denazification; of Ukraine to allow him to claim ‘victory’ at home. Ukrainian military neutrality will certainly feature in any settlement and should have been agreed previously.

Some western leaders, such as President Macron in France, have attempted to continue to dialogue with Vladimir Putin. However ‘the west’ could also be more imaginative in how it engages with Russia, and, controversially, it might need to offer some sort of carrots as well as the stick of sanctions. But it is indeed a proxy war between Russia and NATO.

We need a paradigm shift away from war. Part of the basis of the War Resisters’ International is that “War is a crime against humanity”. And clearly Vladimir Putin is not the only leader to have felt a bit of warfare was justified; George W Bush and Tony Blair were among many who saw war in Afghanistan and Iraq as worthwhile and justified. The cost of war in these places was every bit as great as in Ukraine. Meanwhile the EU is trying to build up its military power and its arsenals. The USA has 800 or more military bases around the world in a monumental and disgraceful waste of money. The Irish government is set to substantially increase its military budget with uncertain aims.

Getting rid of war is an urgent necessity before war gets rid of us. But it requires both courage and imagination to jump into a future without recourse to arms. Such a world would of course be safer and it could, and should, be more just; to avoid violence, greater economic and human rights justice are essential – and less expenditure on arms and armies leaves more money for things that matter to people, and real human security through health provision, and so on.

That move away from war can take place both unilaterally and multilaterally. Countries and regions with the courage to do so can disarm or at most adopt a clearly defined ‘non-offensive military defence’ – if not the civilian based defence which we would favour. Meanwhile multilateral negotiations, through the United Nations and otherwise, can chip away at the structure of war, penalising those who use aggression and gradually restricting and reducing what is permitted in military structures and equipment.

There are great opportunities for Ireland to contribute in this (a country which has been involved in nuclear non-proliferation, and the banning of landmines and cluster munitions), an area partly explored in the next editorial, on Irish neutrality.

Neutral on the side of peace and justice

There has been much attention to the issue of Irish neutrality since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. Russian aggression against Ukraine was projected by many as a reason to ditch neutrality and hitch up to NATO (and not just in Ireland – Finland and Sweden are much nearer joining up). Taoiseach Micheál Martin postulated the possibility of a citizen’s assembly on the issue. Belligerence because of the Russian invasion was at a prime. Once again newspaper correspondents wheeled out the trope about Ireland ‘hiding behind’ Britain’s military power and being irresponsible. Government ministers tried to further qualify Irish neutrality. Was there a sea change in Irish attitudes?

But then along came a poll commissioned by the Irish Times, itself a paper which supports the decimation of Irish neutrality through a commitment to EU ‘defence’ – and the EU is increasingly the European wing of NATO. Though the Irish Times does take on board Irish opposition to nuclear weapons how that could be manifest in joining a military alliance with nuclear power France, and indirectly Britain, has not been answered. No, the Irish commitment to neutrality remained steadfast. Those getting belligerent and wanting to climb into bed fully with NATO or the EU were not speaking for the people of the Republic – though the state, given its involvement with NATO’s so-called Partnership for Peace, and involvement with EU’s PESCO, is certainly at the bedroom door.

To quote from the Irish Times of 14/4/22 “Two-thirds of voters do not want to see any change in neutrality, with less than a quarter (24 per cent) in favour of a change……Just 35 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Ireland should send military aid to Ukraine, even if this affects our neutrality”, while 55 per cent disagreed.

A similar majority are opposed to Ireland’s involvement in greater EU military co-operation. Just a third of voters (33 per cent) agreed with the statement: “In the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I want to see Ireland play a greater military role to defend the EU”, while 54 per cent disagreed….The two-thirds majority in favour of the status quo was underlined when voters were asked the straight question: “Do you support Ireland’s current model of military neutrality or would you like to see it change?” Again, 66 per cent of respondents said they supported the current model of neutrality, while 24 per cent said they would like to see it change. Eleven per cent said they didn’t know…..Support for neutrality is consistent across all age groups.” https://www.tiny.cc/3t6ruz

There are a huge number of questions tied up with Irish neutrality. One such question is – what kind of presence does Ireland want in the world? To be part of a nuclear-armed, confrontational and militarist alliance (NATO) which along with its constituent great powers has been involved in illegal and highly damaging wars (Afghanistan, Iraq and so on)? To be part of a developing EU military power? Or to be a small but persistent supporter of peaceful initiatives and support for, as the Irish constitution stipulates, the pacific settlement of international disputes?

There is also the question of what strategic threats there are to the island of Ireland, and what can be done about them. The short answer is there are very few strategic threats in terms of conventional military invasion or the like, and if this was to happen it would be in an armageddon scenario where Europe was in meltdown, possibly even nuclear meltdown. In that situation no military intervention would make much difference anyway.

As to solidarity with other countries, does anyone really believe that Ireland would make any difference, in today’s high tech era, to the military capability of NATO if it joined? Surely it is better to be an outside force for peace, available as a neutral intervener, a mediator, and a critical friend? Rejecting the Cold War logic of confrontation does not mean being uncritical or not opposing the likes of Russian aggression in Ukraine. It is a question of how it is done.

For those who are concerned about defence, non-violent civilian-based defence is also possible (as was explored in the article in the last issue of Nonviolent News on ‘Nonviolent resistance to invasion, occupation, and coups d’état’). Given the commitment to neutrality by the population of the Republic, and the cohesion within society, this should be a no brainer.

But while military peacekeeping, under the aegis of the UN, has been a feature of Irish international policy since the late 1950s, and one proudly referred to, it should not be the only model. Unarmed peacekeeping and mediation could be explored more, and larger scale nonviolent interventions in ‘standing between’ violent or potentially violent opponents. But mediation and a mediative presence before violent conflict breaks out should be a much larger aim. Possibilities are limited only by available resources and the imagination which is used; working to move beyond war as in any way being acceptable is another aim.

A citizen’s assembly could be a way of exploring all these issues but given the results of the Irish Times survey it is likely that the political elite will continue to stealthily try to dismantle neutrality bit by bit, as they have been doing, rather than a full frontal assault – which the opinion poll shows them would fail. So the citizen’s assembly which has been mooted at the top political level is now highly unlikely to materialise. If the result in the poll was as it was at a time of clear and very violent aggression by a larger, more powerful, European country against a smaller one then it will take a lot to shift public opinion away from neutrality. The task for peace activists is to make that neutrality more powerful and meaningful, and move away from fellow travelling with NATO or EU military adventures and adventurers.

Editorials: 1) Ukraine: The agony goes on 2) Northern Ireland: Electing for impasse or change

Ukraine: The agony goes on

The often quoted sentence that ‘We had to destroy the village in order to save it” from the US military in the Vietnam war is somewhat apocryphal (though in relation to destroying villages in that war, see https://bracingviews.com/2021/08/02/destroying-the-village-in-vietnam/comment-page-1/ ) However the quote could be transferred to Vladimir Putin’s take on Ukraine: “We had to destroy the country in order to save it”.

Putin has (we must hope if we are going to have a future) made the biggest miscalculation of his life in relation to the invasion of Ukraine. Believing your own propaganda is dangerous for yourself and others; he didn’t talk to Ukrainians or even try to persuade them. He thought that most Ukrainians would welcome Russian troops or at worst that his action would bring a surly but ineffective response. But in invading Ukraine he has a) proved that Ukraine is no ‘fake’ nation and has no desire for unification with Russia (and the ancient entity Putin refers to, Kievan Rus, was just that and not ‘Rus-ian Kiev) and b) given NATO perhaps its biggest fillip ever, especially for states bordering Russia. It can also be stated that c) he has very considerably damaged Russia’s image around the world as he has exposed his ruthlessness and Russia’s shortcomings, politically and militarily.

Sanctions of various kinds and other actions have been appropriate to bring the seriousness of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to their attention, though sanctions are not necessarily very effective in bringing change, and, depending on their nature can be violent (e.g. in causing child deaths in Iraq prior to the 2003 Iraq war); they should be regularly reviewed. But in the long run an isolated Russia is much more dangerous than a Russia which is integrated and well related to other parts of Europe. It is isolation which has led Putin to act on his fantasy of uniting Ukraine with Russia. (See Edwin Markham ‘Inclusion’ poster at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ )

So it is not just a question of providing, in the much used US English term, an ‘off ramp’ for Russia from the current situation. It is also a matter of ‘thinking ahead’ as to how Russia, probably post-Putin – he is 70 in the autumn of 2022 – can be brought into more normal relations with Europe and the world. It is not easy. But it was the disasters of the post-communist transfer to oligarchal capitalism which facilitated the Russian drift back to authoritarianism, and a lack of support from the west. If Russia is kept isolated in the longer term there is more cause for projecting it all as a Western conspiracy against the Russian people and therefore a further reason for internal repression and denial of human rights and democracy.

Putin is also a typical macho politician of the old school; self centred, ruthless, trusting his own judgement without consulting others, prepared to divide society in any way necessary to get his own way. In a recent speech he ridiculed “so-called gender freedoms”. His belief in a different Russian way to the west is a dangerous hodge podge of Russian nationalism, authoritarianism, machismo and anti-feminism. Violence is the way to achieve things where necessary, he believes, and also, in Stalin’s words, that it is not the people that vote that count but the people who count the votes.

However we should be wary of thinking that Putin is the only mass murderer around or the only one starting wars. He cares not a jot for the people of Ukraine and is prepared to kill as many as he feels necessary to achieve whatever he defines as his minimum aims. There might be the idea that such violence is the prerogative of authoritarian or dictatorial regimes who feel they can’t get their way. This is totally false.

The democracies of the USA, UK and elsewhere have participated in – and started – wars this century with much higher death tolls than Ukraine, in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have left traumatised societies with even bigger problems than when they started. President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are, in reality, also mass murderers. Subsequent presidents and prime ministers (USA and UK) continued killing through drone strikes. But where were the sanctions imposed on them???? Oh, “they were working from good intentions and were on the side of democracy” – what rubbish. The effect of death, destruction, trauma and chaos was the same. If we go back another generation or more from the Iraq war to Vietnam the USA was in effect trying to do something very similar to what Putin has been doing in Ukraine, only far worse in terms of destruction and death, and the effect of carpet bombing in Cambodia was to facilitate the emergence of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

That is why we have to erase the cancer of militarism from human society. It is the belief, prevalent in most societies and most political orientations, that might has a certain right and that when you don’t get your way through politics and diplomacy you then try military might.

But the belief in military resistance extends to progressive movements and wronged societies too. Ukraine has been a very courageous example of military resistance to Russian imperialism in the current war. But whether that was, or is, the best choice for Ukraine is another matter. It is for the people of Ukraine to decide how they resist Russian imperialism but if they continue their military struggle, and Russia continues to pound their cities to beat the civilian population into surrender, then they are likely to have a very high death rate and the burnt out shell of a country.

Nonviolent resistance and civilian defence is explored elsewhere in this issue, in ‘Readings in Nonviolence’, in an article on “Nonviolent resistance to invasion, occupation and coups d’états”.

The idea promulgated by NATO is of a humanity divided into armed camps; it refused to disband when its original casus belli, the Cold War, evaporated. The hopes and dreams of the end of the USSR and its military domination of eastern Europe are now a distant memory. And there were opportunities: Michael Randle in his 1991 book “People Power: The building of a new European home” (page 83) wrote in the context of western and eastern Europe, including Russia, that “If in due course a pan-European alliance takes shape, its role would be to provide reassurance and collective security for all the member states. Unlike NATO and the Warsaw Pact it would not be directed against a supposed external enemy but at ensuring that inter-state relations within the area are conducted according to agreed principles…” Why can that not be a dream to hold on to for the future?

However NATO has now played its role in the emergence of a new Cold War, once again ‘turning friends into enemies’. (See Len Munnik NATO poster at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ ) If this is the best that humanity can aspire to then we will continue to live in a world which risks nuclear or other annihilation and there is a very real risk that, through accident or design, we will eventually achieve that armageddon and the destruction of most or all of humanity

The Céide Fields in north Mayo (5,000 years ago) indicates that at least in some places, perhaps universally, humanity once lived a peaceful, relatively settled life (which was also generally in tune with nature though in some places, both there and the Burren, it had ecological effects). At some point there developed an ‘arms race’ from which humanity has never properly recovered; there have been oases from this, of course, but what we tend to think of as ‘civilised’ society is far from that. It is not a matter of getting back to some ‘Garden of Eden’ but arriving at a world where conflicts, at whatever level, are dealt with though nonviolent means arriving at relative justice for both parties.

Of course justice is in the eye of the beholder but compromise is also part of the name of the game, and compromise is also something which we need to learn to live with while still struggling for better. Homo sapiens has many good qualities, and killing is not something that innately comes easy (as Rutger Bregman’s ‘Humankind: A hopeful history’ shows). We can build on the best of life and eliminate the worst, of which war is the nadir. If we don’t eliminate war then war will, eventually, eliminate us.

Building the mechanisms to deal with conflict constructively is a vast task which needs undertaken at every level – interpersonal, local, national and international. But it is a task which is already engaged in by many people in many different ways. What is needed now at the state and international level is the transfer of resources from the war machine which currently holds the majority of countries in thrall to a budding peace machine, a panoply of approaches and methods which can gradually build the capacity to intervene, support as necessary, and build peaceful resolution or outcomes for conflicts – and provide support afterwards so any cycle is not repeated. As Ban Ki-moon said,The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded”; substantially correcting that imbalance can build a momentum to work for eliminating the scourge of war.

Northern Ireland

Electing for impasse or change

Stormont Assembly elections in Northern Ireland take place on 5th May. The reality that the North is not at war but not properly at peace remains a backdrop to these elections which are most likely to see Sinn Féin as the largest party on either side. There is also the fact that the whole exercise may be a futile one insofar as MLAs will be elected but will have no power and no Executive as the DUP (and of course the TUV) will refuse to play ball with electing a first and deputy first minister – and therefore there will be no government and no decisions made.

Sympathy has been expressed in these pages before for unionists and loyalists who object to the Northern Ireland Protocol as causing a divide between Northern Ireland and the island of Britain. They have felt, and been, betrayed by a lying prime minister. While minimising controls on imports to Northern Ireland from Britain should be on everyone’s agenda, the chances of replacing the Protocol are extremely slim, and the British government has no real interest in expending energy on this matter beyond trying to point a finger at the EU. But the NI Protocol is a direct result of Brexit. And the price of Brexit – a hard variety of which the DUP supported and organised for – is the Protocol. It can cause inconvenience but to portray it as pushing Northern Ireland out of the UK is simply not true. But there is still an issue about how to deal with loyalists’ concerns on the matter, and symbolism can matter.

While there are good people in different political parties who want to make things work, the system instituted in the Good Friday Agreement is clearly unstable and needs rejigged for a number of reasons, not least that it ignores and excludes the strengthening ‘middle ground’ who are some degree neither nationalist nor unionist. But the Good Friday Agreement cannot be abandoned until something else is agreed, and achieving that would be another marathon effort; there is no stomach across the board for that currently.

However there are ways in which positive decision making in a Northern Ireland (or any other) Assembly could be facilitated, including the voting methodologies promoted by the de Borda Institute which have built in safeguards for minorities. But politics is so divided at the moment in the North, with so many different points of view, that arriving at a new agreement would be extremely difficult. Perhaps if unionists come to terms with the fact they are no longer a majority – but neither are nationalists – there might be some chance of moving forward in ways which protect everyone but also allow decisions to be made.

Sinn Féin’s pressing for a border poll in the near future is not a wise move for a variety of reasons. Of course they are entitled to do so, and under the Good Friday Agreement 50% +1 in a border poll would bring about ‘some kind’ of united Ireland. But there are far too many questions and issues to be clarified first, and there would be likely no change in the status quo if such questions about the economic future and an all-island health service were unanswered. And if there is “50% +1” for a united Ireland that should mark, as we have said before, the start of a process of engagement with unionists who were not previously involved in the discussion but who now would want to be involved to arrive at the most equitable result.

In the mean time, at the May elections, there is not much that Northern voters can do except support progressive candidates who are prepared to move forward and be inclusive. The North has a long road to travel yet.

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Editorial: War in Europe again

It seems scarcely believable to be talking about war taking place in Europe once again, now in the year 2022, and yet that has been the recent reality. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is unjust, violent, and colonial. To inflict the terror of full scale warfare on anyone, let alone a whole country, is a crime against humanity.

How did we get here? There have been a huge number of factors at work, just some of which are explored below and in this issue of Nonviolent News. And what lessons can be learnt? The most perceptive lessons are not those which have tended to be expressed most dominantly in the media since the invasion of Ukraine when bellicosity has been dominant. If the first casualty in war is truth, actually trying to establish what is ‘truth’ is a very difficult task. But one truth is indisputable; invading Ukraine was unjust and unjustifiable.

The militarist approach has failed; it could not protect Ukraine from a Russian invasion. Bellicose responses from the EU are not helpful though strong opposition, sanctions and so on are appropriate. A strategic analysis is needed, even within military thinking, as to the extent to which Ukrainian military opposition to Russian invasion can or could succeed or whether it will simply lead to more deaths of Ukrainians and destruction in a war which, as this is written, is getting more violent and lethal. This also raises questions about the supply of arms to Ukraine at this stage. Of course it is for the Ukrainian people to decide how they resist Russian invasion but the ‘fighting to the last man’ (woman and child) approach may be brave but also foolhardy.

There is the danger that Ukraine falls into the trap of what a French general said during the battle of Balaclava in 1854 during the Crimean War of 1853–56, “C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas la guerre” – ‘It’s magnificent but it isn’t war’ – when he watched the ill-fated British ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, due to a misunderstood military order. In other words, there are certain things you do in war and certain things you don’t; taking a course of action which is certainly leading to your death and destruction is not wise and is not ‘war’. Continuing to resist militarily by Ukraine when they cannot defeat the Russians is not wise if it leads to their death and destruction. Ending the fight at this stage does not mean accepting defeat in the longer term; it may be to accept reality and ‘live to fight another day’, whether militarily or nonviolently. We need to think outside the militarist box. Ukrainian pride in standing up as a nation can take a different path.

When Ukraine is defeated militarily, and accepts or rejects whatever terms are meted out to it, despite whatever resistance is put up, the focus should switch to nonviolent resistance which can, of course, also be disguised disobedience. They may of course choose guerrilla military action. The Ukrainian people face a hard time indefinitely and it is difficult to see that Putin-controlled Russia will permit Ukraine to escape its orbit again in the near future. It is impressive that in the many demonstrations that have taken place against the war, large numbers of Russians have taken part – and those within Russia who have done so will pay a high price including loss of employment in cases.

Opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine must be medium to long term to succeed. What Putin’s plans are we can guess but presume will include the incorporation of some majority Russian speaking provinces into Russia. How Putin will try to control or instal a puppet government in the remains of Ukraine remains to be seen. But the effects of Russia being made a pariah state will be hard on the Russian people and difficult to cover up with propaganda about ‘the west’ out to get Russia when the vast majority of the globe has the same view.

Nonviolent resistance is difficult to deal with for military and militarist leaders; they don’t know how to respond. See e.g. https://wagingnonviolence.org/2022/02/ukraine-secret-weapon-civilian-resistance/ and https://mailchi.mp/320ff13d52bb/press-release-nonviolent-alternatives-must-be-pursued-in-ukraine-to-deescalate-war?e=c8353e9ef5 The power of various forms of nonviolent resistance is well established, even in Nazi occupied Europe in the Second World War, though not necessarily popularly known. The problem is largely that when people think of resistance to invasion they think only in military terms. This can be disastrous and when there is a major power imbalance, as there is between Russia and Ukraine, there is likely to be only one victor, certainly when they are neighbours, i.e. supply lines are close.

With nonviolent resistance it is much more difficult to justify repression, or, in the case of Ukraine, to attempt to justify action on the basis of ‘denazification’; there are fascists in Ukraine but their number is small even if they have been active and visible, and their significance is disputed. But it is also highly ironic that Putin should accuse Ukraine, which has relatively free elections and a fairly thriving civil society, of being fascist when Putin does not permit free elections and has decimated civil society in Russia. However atrocities have been committed against Russian speakers in Donbas, Odessa for example, by the Ukrainian regime and its allies, so it is not all a one way street and there was enough there for Putin to support separatism militarily.

There was a viable peace deal agreed in Minsk in 2015 which would have given autonomy to the east of Ukraine. Such measures are a standard practice and relative autonomy for different ethnic or language groupings is one way to deal with such inter-group tensions. But it never happened and if it had had support from the USA – which had its own ambitions in the area – and others then Ukraine could have been at peace now.

However it needs clearly stated that in Ireland we do not have our hands clean. It is difficult to even express the irony of Ireland closing its airspace to Russian planes (we are not saying they shouldn’t) when the Irish government gives carte blanche to the US military to pass through and use Shannon airport as a base en route to its illegal and neo-imperialist wars which have been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions. Clearly there is one law which applies to some people and another entirely different law which applies to others – others when the wars involved are outside Europe it might be said — even when both are engaged in highly destructive wars without justification.

Where were the boycotts of the USA and UK when they invaded Iraq? Where was there action taken against the USA when it invaded Afghanistan? What is the difference in terms of death, destruction, displacement and human misery to what is happening in Ukraine? Is it simply ‘our’ wars are just and theirs not so? And to say such wars were ‘altruistic’ in intent is simplistic in the extreme; they were illegal in international law, and arms and security companies made a mint, apart from, for example, US and UK oil companies taking a slice of the action in Iraq. The USA and UK acted against massive worldwide expressed opinion wishing to avoid war in Iraq; ‘they’ knew better and contributed to horror and destabilisation on a massive scale.

And where is ‘Irish neutrality’ in any of this reaction in Ireland, let alone the Irish constitutional commitment to the pacific resolution of conflicts? Even if not ‘buying in’ directly to the EU supply of arms to Ukraine, as a net contributor to the EU, Ireland is helping finance them and this new military departure for the EU.

Many mistakes have been made by ‘the west’ and NATO in relating to Russia. Weak and impoverished after the fall of communism, the regime in Moscow was initially favourable to the west. But the promises given by NATO and the USA not to expand NATO eastwards were forgotten, and a weak Russia was ignored. NATO helped to turn a friend or potential friend into an enemy. In all of this, too, there was an expectation that Russia would accept what the USA certainly would not; ‘enemy’ arms on its doorstep. The USA threatened global annihilation in 1962 to avoid Russian missiles being based in Cuba.

You can certainly understand why countries bordering Russia might want to be part of NATO as a bulwark against Russian expansionism – and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has made more likely what he was trying to avoid, a NATO build up on Russia’s borders. But why would anyone think that Putin’s Russia, in nationalist mode and remembering not just the Second World War but other western military incursions, would accept this, something which the USA would not? We are not excusing anyone’s militarist thinking but saying ‘the west’ expected Putin’s Russia to react in a way which they (i.e. the USA) would not accept. Russia’s demand for Ukrainian neutrality was not unreasonable in the context of power politics..

On a relevant but also slightly tangential note, transition to a green economy is essential to rid ourselves of dependence on fossil fuels which are highly tainted not just by their contribution to global warming but also for giving profits to those who do not need our money. The faster we can transition, the faster we will avoid the risk of a woefully overheated world and a contribution to despots and autocrats (whether in Russia or the Gulf states).

It is time to try a different approach. And for Ireland the message is that a smaller country cannot defend itself militarily against a highly militarised larger one so that again imagination is required in taking a different path; the path of active neutrality, peacebuilding and peacemaking, and civilian-based defence.

We have a choice in the world. Militarisation and highly charged stand-offs between armed blocks and countries is the way the world is going. In this approach there will be periodic wars but also, even in peacetime, enormous waste of resources which are needed to establish real human security against global warming and the risk of pandemics, as well as all the other human needs that exist. The risks include global destruction in nuclear war. With climate change the risk of resource and other wars increases, and highly armed countries make this prospect more likely. The other, rather different, possibility is that countries, whether armed or not, use non-offensive defence and neutrality, or perhaps sophisticated civilian-based non-violent defence, as their territorial security.

The world can be a dangerous place. It may be counter-intuitive for most people, but arming ourselves to our teeth is the way to risk war and invite war to take place, because our perceived enemies also feel they have to arm themselves to the hilt and in this dangerous balance it only takes one slip to unleash the terror of war. In no way are we saying we should roll over to violence and aggression; we are saying that we need to be clever in how we confront it. At the moment we are simply reacting in ways which encourage the violence and war which we say we want to avoid.

Editorial: Northern Ireland – In, out, shake it all about

The collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive, this time through the actions of the DUP, once again show the real weakness of the political system in place. Of course some of it is due to the particular consociational system (stipulating involvement and balance between the perceived two sides) introduced but the wider issue is, of course, the unresolved semi-post-colonial nature of society in Northern Ireland with its entrenched divisions.

However there is currently a strong mismatch between the stand taken by political unionism in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol element of Brexit and ordinary pro-union Protestants. The DUP, reacting to opinion polls showing defection to both right (the TUV) and ‘left’ (a term very much in inverted commas for the UUP and Alliance), chose to veer right and make much more trenchant demands in relation to the Protocol. But other polls have shown most ordinary pro-Union people do not put the Protocol and its replacement at the top of their shopping list and are not in favour of the collapse of power-sharing arrangements at Stormont. And some businesses have been sticking their head above the parapet to proclaim the facing two ways nature of the Protocol to be advantageous.

As we have stated here before, a prosperous Northern Ireland would be less likely to want to risk a move to a united Ireland. So if the Protocol was seen to be advantageous to business then you would expect to see unionists welcoming it but they have become fixated on the Irish Sea border. Of course such a departure is a change to the relationship with Britain, and a betrayal of what they were promised by renowned liar Boris Johnson, but Brexit was going to bring change of some kind – and a majority in Northern Ireland supported staying in the EU and still favour close links. The DUP, with a lot of work in persuading unionists on the advantages of the Protocol, could have stuck with their initial take of ‘the best of both worlds’. It lost its nerve over polling indications and moved to the right on the issue.

The DUP decided to exit holding the First Minister post, and thus bring down the Executive, to attempt to establish their hard line credentials before the May Assembly elections. It probably suits them not to go back into government in the North as the polls all indicate the First Minister post would go to Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin and it may take some time to adjust psychologically to having the Sinners as the largest party; the fact that this may be what the Northern Ireland form of democracy delivers is something they are prepared to ignore and not as important for them as the loss of the largest party slot – and the beginning of minority status for political unionism in the North.

Meanwhile many issues will not be dealt with, and the continuation of the Assembly for a short period currently is only with limited (already in train) business and no three year budget which the health service needs. Come the Assembly election in May there could be a considerable gap before an Executive is formed again.

The Good Friday Agreement should be seen as an important staging post for Northern Ireland but also something which will need replaced, not least because a) the system keeps breaking down and b) it is unable to deal with the emergence of greater support for middle ground parties like Alliance and what is sometimes described as the current 40-40-20 voting pattern (40% unionist, 40% nationalist, 20% others) where the ‘20%’ may even grow. Any such move needs done in an inclusive and consensual manner.

Having decision making on contentious issues made easier should be a goal and there are voting mechanisms, such as those espoused by the de Borda Institute, which not only help to make contentious issue decision making easier but also have built in protection for minorities. The larger political parties may not like these because they make party political control more difficult but this should not be a barrier, although it most likely would be, to moving to a system better able to make the necessary decisions and not break down every few years.

As we have also said here before, perspicacious unionists should be giving nationalists all they are asking for, within the boundaries of Northern Ireland, to establish a generosity of spirit as cultural Protestants become a minority in the North. The census results appearing later in the year should reveal the current state of demographic play. However for some time to come it will be the ’middle ground’ of Alliance, Greens, the unpersuaded, newcomers and others who will have the balance of power in the North. That is certainly to be welcomed and, if unionism and nationalism are wise, will help both of these to be on their best behaviour in order to attract floating voters.

The concept of the power of floating voters is of course a relatively new one for the North, for so long dominated by shibboleths and monoliths (the Republic is also charting new territory with the redundancy of the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael split). Nationalism, with its theoretical basis in stating all inhabitants are Irish (even where they recognise the British identity of many on the Protestant side of the house) can be somewhat ahead of the game here, though Sinn Féin also needs to learn that taking people with you is not a matter of simply getting 50% +1. And unionism needs to learn to play the game by different rules than heretofore if it is to attract floating voters and not antagonise them.