Perpetual, forever war
The analysis seems to be that Vladimir Putin is settling in for a long haul on the war in Ukraine, a ‘forever war’, see e.g https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/28/putin-prepares-russia-for-forever-war-with-west-as-ukraine-invasion-stalls?CMP=share_btn_link However, given his control of the media and the lack of any rights for citizens, this is not too bad an outcome for him. Of course he would have preferred a blitzkrieg which would have had his soldiers proudly promenading through Kyiv after a week or two – as many expected to do – but that did not happen. Instead, making an unvirtue of necessity, he can use the rhetoric of ‘national survival’ as a means to justify repression and uber-nationalism. As long as oil revenues don’t disappear he can certainly try to ride the storm, and his efforts at oil market diversification are bearing fruit, or should we say dollars, even if western sanctions are biting.
But Putin is a late comer to the concept of ‘forever war’, something which the USA and its NATO allies have been practising for years. What was ‘the war on terror’ if not a justification for ‘forever war’? One difference is that ‘in the west’ the mass sacrifice of soldiers is unacceptable and the alternative used is bombing the hell out of places and using remote warfare that does not require your own side to be lambs to the slaughter. Of course drone and missile use is now an integral part of warfare everywhere but the massive death toll of Russian (including Wagner) soldiers would not be contemplated in the west because there would be uproar and the upturning of governmental tables. Russia may have lost more than twice the total number of US soldiers killed in the whole of the Vietnam war, plus many seriously wounded.
Why are there 800 or more US military bases around the world? The US may see itself as the world’s policeman but that is a self justification for throwing its weight about. What were the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq about? If they were about ‘democracy’ and ‘human and women’s rights’ then a very different course of action would have been followed, both in not going to war and, if they did, policies afterwards. And so far as 9/11 is concerned if they were going to attack anyone it should have been their repressive and violent ally, Saudi Arabia. US interests come first, and last, in its foreign policy, wars and warmaking.
The EU is part of this militarisation too. Its commitment to developing the arms trade, and funding of same, is a crying shame or should we say crime against humanity. Its work on the gradual evolution of an EU army is the development of an army for a superpower. It is increasingly becoming the European wing of NATO. It may all be dressed up in fancy language, and the threat of Russia currently used to justify it (but it was happening well, well before any Russian treat to Ukraine) but if NATO had not expanded into eastern Europe (as promised to Russia at the time of the fall of communism) then there almost certainly would not have been any Russian threat – or if the anti-communist NATO had itself disbanded. That and a policy of fair dos for Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine, through implementation of the Minsk agreements, would almost certainly have prevented the current war. And once the war started ‘the west’, including blustering Boris, vetoed any serious talks with Russia.
The more armaments are developed and the higher the expenditure on the military, the more insecure the world will be, and the risks of nuclear war have certainly not gone away, they have just been waiting in the wings. The needs of the world, for economic justice worldwide and the elimination of the armageddon of global warming, are so great that we are struggling for the wrong things. Insecurity grows from the barrel of a gun. A secure world is where there is economic justice and climate security (insofar as we can possibly achieve that now); we need human security not military insecurity.
Instead we are offered the chimera of forever war. It is not dissimilar to a version of George Orwell’s 1984. And that is a terrible place to exist. Maybe enough of us do love the Big Brother of US, NATO, EU and Russian militarism (respectively) to enable the MADness (‘Mutually Assured Destruction’) to continue. But some of us will resist and point to a better future without the military monoliths, their threats to humanity and their current assault on economic and ecological progress through eating scarce financial and other resources and adding considerably to global warming.
“A notion once again”
Northern Ireland is still a very unsettled place, that should be obvious. Even the concept of what is democracy continues to be up for grabs; harder line unionists see the Northern Ireland Protocol as an assault on their Britishness while most of the rest (an arithmetic majority) want the return of devolved government to deal with the dire problems heaped up and getting worse. Educational and health outcome are rather better in the Republic than the North for example (see e.g. David McWilliams in The Irish Times 4/3/23).
Some Northern Ireland unionists still want to be the tail wagging the UK dog. That position passed once Boris Johnson won a stomping parliamentary majority using his bluster and lies and Tory dependence on the DUP bloc at Westminster was no more. It is clear from the relatively easy passage for Rishi Sunak of the so-called Windsor Framework that Northern Ireland issues and unionist angst and anger is about as important as the issue of how many angels can dance on a pin head – first of all it does not rate as an issue, and if it did then it is not considered important in the overall British context. This is difficult for unionists in a variety of ways because it is obvious that other British interests (e.g. getting Brexit done sufficiently to have reasonable relations with the EU) trump their concerns.
A poll in the Belfast Telegraph 10/3/23 showed 67% of people in the North back the Windsor Framework deal but only 16% of DUP voters – and 73% of DUP voters proclaim they are opposed to it. How Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP leadership will square that circle, with Jim Allister of the TUV breathing down their neck (just as the DUP breathed down the neck of the Ulster Unionist Party) remains to be seen. Now 54% of unionists as a whole are recorded as wanting the DUP to stay out of the Assembly and Executive until further changes are made or the deal is torn up. The DUP committee of senior party figures set up by Donaldson to consider what to do has reported but there is no smoke of any kind emanating yet on the matter. The DUP practised an ‘in, out and shake it all about’ approach after the Good Friday Agreement which served their interests well; they might try something similar again although there is arguably less wriggle room now.
Of course the return of the Assembly and Executive at Stormont would be the start of the next crisis, whatever that will be, because as night follows day the crises will continue. But the biggest crisis is simply the inability of the system to make decisions and plan in a reasonable manner; some of this may be inherent in the primary division in Northern Ireland but some is a result of the current consociational system in place. Obviously ending the ability of one party to block the system functioning would be progress but the use of more advanced and inclusive voting, such as the Modified Borda Count, could facilitate more effective, collective decisions.
A recent poll on the ‘middle ground’ of those who proclaim to be non-nationalists and non-unionists showed that in relation to the border a considerable majority would currently vote to stay part of the UK (53% would stay in the UK, only 19% opt for Irish unity, Belfast Telegraph 4/3/23). All this means that it is currently not so so much the possibility of ‘a nation once again’ in the near future as only a notion (of a nation) once again. If it is this ‘middle ground’ who will decide the constitutional status in the event of a referendum (given the relative balance between nationalists and unionists), unionists should take this to heart in the sense of relaxing a bit about the immediate future, while Sinn Féin pushing for a border poll is pointless posturing.
However this current balance within the ‘middle ground’ could change over the medium term particularly if the Republic had a coherent plan on unification and what it would mean which shows respect for all the people of the North, and an economic plan which showed how the current British exchequer subsidy to the North would be replaced. The Irish government’s refusal to even look at the topic might be for good reasons (avoiding stoking conflict in the North) but is unhelpful on a wider level since what would or could be in a united Ireland is subject to wildly fluctuating interpretations. At the moment people are comparing the reality they know with an indefinable non-entity.
It has also been very noticeable in recent weeks that loyalist paramilitarism and feuding haven’t gone away. While small republican paramilitary groups primarily pose a threat to the police and ‘security forces’ (though also to civilians as in what tragically happened to Lyra McKee), loyalist paramilitaries at the moment are mainly a threat to the communities where they exist and who they purport to serve, as well as themselves. In addition to dealing in drugs many deal in the dregs of Troubles sectarianism.
The intelligent unionist response would be to make Northern Ireland politics work and deliver for people, along with an acceptance that Northern Ireland is, was, and shall be different to the rest of the UK for a variety of reasons – not least that partition created a then unassailable majority and a humiliated minority (though there will be no unassailable majority, certainly in the near future, the majority-minority position is in the process of being reversed). Compromise and prosperity are the way for unionists to try to continue the link with Britain now that they are no longer a political majority. Whether the Act of Union has been compromised (and as has been previously pointed out in these pages, said Act was only passed through massive corruption) may be important to some unionists but to no one else.
It is of course possible that the DUP will re-enter Stormont after the May local government elections are safely out of the way, and see how they can still make their points on the Northern Ireland Protocol. While the Assembly restarting should be welcomed it will be a rather stale and not a fresh start (and the previous ‘Fresh Start’ restart was not a fresh start either!). Stormont is symbolically placed on a hill, a grandiose building as the parliament for a relatively small statelet; the hill which Northern Ireland has to climb to get out of all its current malaises is far, far higher.