Tag Archives: Imperialism

Readings in Nonviolence: New Patterns of Conflict and the Weakness of Peace Movements


Just as military generals can often be portrayed as fighting ‘the last war’, so peace activists can be caught out in thinking which is outdated and inadequate to address current realities. In this thoughtful and insightful editorial from the 29/8/22 issue of Transcend Media Service, Richard Rubenstein addresses some of the questions and issues arising from the Russian-Ukrainian war and from ongoing global conflicts or rivalries. His thoughts on imperialism are also very relevant to Ireland and the question of neutrality; is Ireland simply going to buy in wholesale to EU and NATO imperialisms or neo-imperialisms? Avoiding being a world at war is a difficult task but we need clear analysis to take the right paths in working for peace.

By Richard E. Rubenstein – TRANSCEND Media Service

No.760. https://www.transcend.org/tms/

The beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian war in February 2022 dramatized a transition already underway to a new and highly dangerous period of global conflict. The war itself was mainly a Western affair, of primary interest to the immediate parties and the Ukrainians’ European and North American suppliers. But it erupted in the context of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between the United States, which continues to claim global hegemony, and its former Cold War adversaries, Russia and China. As a result, a regional conflict that might have been resolved either by conventional negotiation or problem-solving dialogues between the immediate parties became relatively intractable, with no immediate solutions in sight.

Temporarily, at least, the struggle between Russia and Ukraine solidified the relationship between the United States and Europe, while reinforcing the U.S.’s dominant role in that “partnership.” While the parties to what some termed a “new Cold War” increased their military spending and ideological fervor, other aspirants to Great Power status such as Turkey, India, Iran, and Japan maneuvered for temporary advantage. Meanwhile, the Ukraine war began to assume the status of a “frozen conflict,” with Russia succeeding in occupying most of the restive, Russian-speaking Donbas region, while the U.S. poured billions of dollars in high-tech weaponry, intelligence, and training into the Kiev regime’s armory.

As often happens, the emergence of new patterns of conflict caught analysts by surprise, their theoretical equipment having been designed to explain earlier forms of struggle.  As a result, the changed environment was not well understood and conflict resolution efforts were virtually nonexistent.  With regard to the Ukraine war, for example, the conventional wisdom was that a “mutually hurting stalemate,” with neither party able to win a total victory but with each side suffering greatly, would render this sort of conflict “ripe for resolution” via negotiation. (see I. William Zartman, Ripeness Promoting Strategies). But there were two problems with this formulation:

  • New forms of limited warfare featuring the relatively restrained use of high-tech weapons, while killing or wounding thousands and causing serious damage to property and the environment, still lessened the amount of suffering that might otherwise have been expected in a war between neighbors. While the Donbas region exploded, consumers dined out in Kiev. While Russian casualties mounted and the West imposed sanctions on the Putin regime, citizens of the RFSR enjoyed a relatively peaceful and prosperous existence.

Moreover, contrary to Western propaganda, with a few tragic exceptions Russia did not undertake large-scale indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population of Ukraine, nor did the Ukrainians launch many attacks on targets outside the Donbas. This relative restraint on both sides (not to understate the horror caused by thousands of unnecessary deaths) appears to have reduced the massive “hurt” needed to produce a “mutually hurting stalemate.” This movement toward what might be called “partial warfare” can be seen as a feature of the military transformation that began in the U.S. following the Vietnam War with the replacement of conscripted soldiers by “volunteers” and the replacement of ground troops by high-tech air, artillery, and naval weapons. Ironically, limiting the intolerable suffering caused by war has opened the door to partial warfare as a tolerable, potentially permanent feature of Great Power foreign policy.

  • The local struggle in Ukraine intersected with a revival of imperial conflicts globally, particularly when the United States decided to embrace the anti-Russian cause and to pour billions of dollars in advanced weapons and intelligence into the Kiev regime’s coffers. The stated reason for this militancy, according to top officials of the Biden regime, was to “weaken” Russia as a global competitor and to warn China that the U.S. would resist any Chinese moves against Taiwan or other Asian targets that it considered aggressive. Its result was to embolden the Ukrainian leader, Zelensky, to declare that his nation would never compromise with Russia on disputed issues (not even on the issue of Crimea), and that his nation’s goal was “victory.” One never knows, of course, when a leader who preaches victory at any price will decide that his/her nation as paid enough and that it is time to talk about cutting losses and maximizing benefits.  Nevertheless, at this writing, neither Mr. Putin nor Mr. Zelensky is willing to say a word about ending this apparently endless conflict.

This second theoretical deficiency has proved even more costly to the cause of peace than the misunderstanding of partial warfare. While advocates of Western hegemony find ways to justify U.S. and European military support of “democracies” against “autocracies” and Russian ideologues such as Alexander Dugin dream of a revived Great Russia, most peace and conflict studies scholars remain devoted to the analysis of identity-group struggles as a way of understanding both global conflict and internal polarization. Some peace scholars have identified important new sources of conflict such as environmental destruction, global medical crises, and climate change, but a great many continue to ignore the problem of empire and the emergence of new conflicts between would-be hegemons. (An outstanding exception to this shortsightedness is the work of Johan Galtung, whose 2009 book, The Fall of the US Empire – And Then What? TRANSCEND University Press, now seems prophetic.)

This general lack of attention to imperialism and its vicissitudes has reasons rooted in the history of the conflict studies field, but its political dimensions need to be identified if we hope to overcome the obvious weaknesses of peace movements when confronted by conflicts like Russia vs. Ukraine and NATO or the U.S. and its allies vs. China.  Particularly in the West, the current polarization of politics tends to produce two major tendencies: a right-wing populism whose ideological commitments are ethno-nationalist and isolationist, and a left-leaning centrism whose ideology is cosmopolitan and globalist. Neither tendency understands the emerging patterns of global conflict or has any real interest in creating the conditions for global peace. The Right advocates avoiding unnecessary wars, but its nationalism trumps its isolationism; thus, right-wing leaders preach maximum military preparedness and advocate “defense” against traditional national enemies. The Left is consciously or unconsciously imperialist, a view that it expresses using the language of international “leadership” and “responsibility” as well as under the rubrics of “peace through strength” and “responsibility to protect.”

Most Democratic Party supporters in the U.S. fail to recognize that the current Biden Administration is a ferocious advocate of American imperial interests and  supports war preparations aimed at China and Russia; or else they do understand this, but view it as a minor issue compared with the threat of domestic neo-fascism a la Donald Trump. Similarly, most supporters of left and left-center parties in Europe fail to understand that NATO is currently a branch of the U.S. military machine and potentially the military-industrial establishment of a new European empire. Or else they suspect this but view the rise and expansion of NATO through lenses of hatred and suspicion of the Russians and fear of right-populist movements like those of Viktor Orban and Marine Le Pen. In either case, the result is that advocates of global peace tend to be separated from the domestic constituencies with which they might otherwise ally.

This isolation has been particularly notable in the case of the movement for peace through negotiations in Ukraine, which has yet to obtain any real traction in any Western nation. Indeed, the strongest advocates for immediate peace negotiations, aside from officials of the United Nations, tend to be figures associated with Middle Eastern and Asian nations like Turkey, India, and China.  From a Western perspective, then, the question most vexed and most in need of an answer is how to overcome the isolation of peace movements.

Two answers suggest themselves, but each produces problems that generate a need for further discussion:

The first answer: establish an alliance between left-wing and right-wing peace advocates. Anti-war liberals and socialists could unite with conservative isolationists and libertarians to create a cross-party coalition against foreign wars.  In fact, this sort of coalition sometimes comes into existence spontaneously, as in the United States during the period following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The difficulty, of course, is that this is precisely what Marxists call a “rotten bloc” – a political organization that, because it finds common cause on only one issue, is bound to break apart when other issues become salient. In addition, if anti-war work means uprooting the causes of war as well as opposing some current military mobilization, the elements of a “rotten bloc” are unlikely to agree on how to identify and remove those causes.

The second answer: convert the left-liberal party to the perspective of anti-imperial peace advocacy, or split the putative left into pro-war and anti-war constituencies and work to secure the latter’s supremacy. The obstacle to doing this is not only the general fear of a right-wing takeover noted above but the weakness of the peace camp within the left-wing milieu. In the U.S., most “progressives” (including self-anointed Democratic Socialists) have been eerily silent on the war in Ukraine, either out of fear of isolating themselves on domestic issues or because they accept the conventional justifications for a war against “Russian aggression.”  This suggests the need to break with the empire-builders and to build anti-capitalist organizations committed to ending imperialism and making global peace. This is the solution to the problem, at least in theory, but whether people can be mobilized in large enough numbers to enact it during the period of “partial war” is doubtful.

This suggests a connection between the two emerging forms of violent conflict discussed earlier. Partial wars of the sort being fought out in Ukraine can intersect inter-imperial struggles like that between the U.S./Europe alliance and Russia. When this occurs they become “frozen” conflicts which, however, have the capacity to escalate dramatically – that is, to move toward total war – if either side faces a disastrous defeat, or if inter-imperial conflict intensifies significantly. Inter-imperial conflict itself can be conceived of either as a revival of the Cold War manageable, to some extent, by the processes of mutual deterrence developed during the earlier era, or as a new type of struggle posing new risks, including a much greater danger that nuclear arms (starting with low-yield weapons) will be used either by the major parties or by their allies. My own view, to be presented in a later editorial, is that it represents a new type of struggle that greatly increases the danger of all-out nuclear war.

The immediate conclusion that one may draw from this is that there is an urgent need for peace scholars to recognize emerging forms of global conflict, analyze the new conflict dynamics, and draw practical conclusions from this analysis.  At the same time, peace activists urgently need to identify the causes of their current weakness and isolation and to devise methods to increase their influence greatly among members of the public and reachable decision-makers. In these efforts international conversations and actions will be of critical importance, since the world as a whole is finally, and rightfully, slipping out of the control of the West.


Billy King, NN 287

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hello again. This is where we came in, this month a year ago, with lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions. I hope the year has not been too disastrous for you and that you have been able to take the good (such as less or no time commuting, and more positive time with family if you live with them, and more time with nature) with the bad. It has been a strange old year. One great boost in the early part of last year was the excellent weather – and April is usually the driest month in Ireland – so I hope the weather pattern will be repeated this year so we can really shake off those winter coronavirus blues. Though ‘a summer’ would be great too.

Still, there’s a grand stretch in the evenings – sez he as he raises his arms and pushes them outwards after tea-time….

No frog in my throat….

…but one in the garden, I have met them/him/her a couple of times recently, more visible at this time of year before foliage grows. I saw a young frog in the garden last autumn so I don’t know if we have two. We have a slightly bigger than average suburban garden which has a 2.75m wall around it and the only way in or out is through a garden door – or over the wall. I did wonder if native Irish frogs can climb as foliage from what had been wilderness the other side of one part of our back garden would have touched foliage in our garden – but the advice I received (from Ethna Viney no less) was that it would have come through the door.

A frog is certainly a gardener’s friend. The part of the garden when ‘our’ frog tends to be is much less problematic in terms of slugs and snails than elsewhere (though they may also eat worms which is not so positive for the soil). With a garden grown on organic lines, and a little bit of montbretia wilderness that I leave as 365-day cover, I hope it’s an agreeable environment. We first realised we had a frog a decade ago when I opened the back door to bring in the small compost bin we keep in the kitchen, it was draining after being washed, and in hopped a frog……that visitor was a bit of a surprise.

Frogs don’t actually need water except for breeding, as frogspawn and tadpoles need it, and where they get that around here I don’t know (maybe there are garden ponds I don’t know about). But it feels a privilege to play host to this particular variety of wildlife, and have our garden as a ‘croak park’ (we are an attentive audience when we see our friend). If the lifespan of the frog we have in this part of the world is 5 – 10 years it is just possible that my friend I saw recently is the same one that hopped through the door a decade ago.

Finishing with a joke, well, it’s actually a cartoon: A frog and a snail are comparing notes, the two of them having received the same invitation. One says to the other “This invitation that we both received to dinner at the French embassy does seem a bit suspicious….”

Michael D on imperialism

President Michael D Higgins was going well on his bikeldey (a reference to the Saw Doctors song about him….) and set a cat among a number of pigeons when he wrote about ethical remembering in Ireland concerning centenaries – and (British) imperialism. I have recently penned (keyboarded?) thoughts on colonialism so I will pick this up here as well.

Michael D is totally correct in sayingA feigned amnesia around the uncomfortable aspects of our shared history will not help us to forge a better future together.” He goes on that “It is vital to understand the nature of the British imperialist mindset of that time if we are to understand the history of coexisting support for, active resistance to, and, for most, a resigned acceptance of British rule in Ireland. “ He states “In my work on commemoration, memory, forgetting and forgiving I have sought to establish a discourse characterised by what the Irish philosopher Richard Kearney calls “a hospitality of narratives”, acknowledging that different, informed perspectives on the same events can and do exist. The acceptance of this fact can release us from the pressure of finding, or subscribing to, a singular unifying narrative of the past.”

However the bit that might have rubbed up some of our neighbours the most came in “while it has been vital to our purposes in Ireland to examine nationalism, doing the same for imperialism is equally important and has a significance far beyond British/Irish relations.” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/11/empire-ireland-century-partition-present-britain-history

Commentator Owen Polley responded in “The Daily Telegraph” in a piece entitled “The Irish president has a cheek lecturing Britons about history”. See https://headtopics.com/uk/the-irish-president-has-a-cheek-lecturing-britons-about-history-18662371 He accused Irish nationalists of being as guilty as the British, if not more so, in rewriting history. Of course there are some Irish nationalists who have done just that, and continue to do so. But Polley does not acknowledge the significant process which has been taking place in Ireland – in the North as well as the Republic – to examine history in ‘the decade of centenaries’, warts and all.

He is simply wrong in stating “The stories that the Republic tells itself about its formation have barely changed in 100 years and they are challenged rarely by its historians and columnists.” In saying this he either hasn’t been paying attention and/or hasn’t done his homework, and that statement by him is shockingly ignorant of what has been happening; if he had said it in 1966 it would be fair enough but not today. Though mentioning ‘warts and all’ reminds me of the old cartoon with a stern male school teacher, with cane, reading from the ‘New Balanced History of Ireland’; “And Cromwell, quite reasonably, told the Irish to go to hell or to Connacht….”

Certainly there are more voices in Britain criticising and analysing the great British empire than there were. But surveys have shown most people – and someone like Tony Blair has been of a like mind – indicate strongly that on balance the British empire was A Good Thing. Attention to this area arising from the Black Lives Matter movement has been because of popular feeling. The government and establishment in Britain have been trying to crack down on such ‘subversive’ (my adjective) activities as the National Trust examining links to slavery, e.g. through pressure on museums and other bodies to toe the line – and implicitly funding has been threatened for those who don’t. In relation to this area, the British government has a policy of ‘retain and explain’; this looks to me like it may well be a euphemism for a policy of euphemism about the past.

In the same piece Owen Polley states “In fact, Ireland was not a colony when partition took place. It had been part of the UK for over 100 years and was represented by 103 MPs in the House of Commons.” To label Ireland, or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in relation to the ‘Ireland’ bit in any sense a ‘democracy’ under the Act of Union is flying in the face of reality. Ireland was not dealt with in any way equally or according to the wishes of its inhabitants (my piece in the last issue on how Ireland was treated in the 1846 Famine period is illustrative of this). And the only way in which this ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’ was created in the first place was through massive bribery and corruption by the British government of Britain’s elite in Ireland in getting the Irish Parliament to vote itself out of existence. A massive sum of money was spent in bribes as well as the bestowal of various titles (I believe I have an ancestor, the brother of a member of Parliament, who was a beneficiary).

To imply this was ‘democracy’ – or in any way in accord with Irish people’s wishes, even at the time – is outrageous. And the Irish Parliament, while composed of a Protestant elite, was still gathering a bit of steam and self confidence in the late 18th century; a separate kingdom to Britain, it was still subordinate to that island. So the ‘United Kingdom’ of the 19th century as it related to Ireland was camouflaged colonialism because the island of Britain had all the power and superior numbers and the system was designed in the first place to subjugate Ireland after the 1798 Rising.

Yes, Ireland still has a long way to go in coming to terms with its history. However I would argue that Britain and those identifying as British have a longer path to tread. But let’s move.

Hats off to the people of Myanmar

The people of Myanmar have been through a huge amount. They face an enormous struggle against the might and entrenched power of the army. The situation is more blatant now but as some commentators have said regarding the military, “they never went away you know” in terms of the extremely military-friendly (biased) constitution. They have been taking a page out of D Trump’s notebook in alleging fraud at the last election, with absolutely no evidence, and this provided a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party. The NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, meanwhile, lost massive international goodwill through their whitewashing of the brutally violent treatment, and genocide or ‘exocide’ by the army, of the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi has suffered much but both she and the NLD have also been accused of an imperious attitude to others; Suu Kyi is now detained again and subject to ridiculous trumped up charges.

There is no way the people deserve military rule which means there is little or no possibility of advancing human rights, freedom and democracy. A promise by the military of a general election in a year is a meaningless promise and it is probable that the army would only contemplate another election when they have rigged it sufficiently for their preferred candidates to win. What is the point for them staging a coup to allow the same – democratic – results a year later?

Apart from expressing solidarity with the people of Myanmar and asking for the maximum non-violent pressure (not entailing substantial harm for ordinary people) by governments and international business interests involved, I wanted to focus for a minute on the nonviolent actions taken to demand the restoration of democracy (such as it was). Whether these protests can be sustained remains to be seen but hopefully what public demonstrations remain possible, ‘disguised disobedience’ and international pressure can have sufficient effect over time for the generals to realise they are meant to be an ‘army’ and not a ‘government’, and a violent and repressive one at that.

One successful open tactic recently has been cars ‘breaking down’ and blocking roads. Hackers disrupted military and military government propaganda. A widespread campaign of non-cooperation with the new regime, and strikes – even some in departments controlled by the military – has been in place. There have been many more imaginative tactics to express dissent from the coup. However the military is getting more and more violent, and shooting to kill. It is amazing that any body, military or not, should be so isolated from the reality of people’s wishes that it sees a coup, and the force it must have known it would have to use to try to stay in power, as an answer to anything.

In terms of previous resistance to military rule, Francis Wade has said “Activists stacked political pamphlets on the roofs of stationary buses and watched them blow through streets and into people’s hands as the drivers took off. Underground journalists smuggled footage out of the country, sometimes travelling by foot across the border with Thailand to hand videotapes to waiting colleagues, or otherwise uploading footage to the internet via a router in a waiting car outside their home. Exiled female activists, acquainted with the generals’ superstitious fear that their power would be sapped if they came into contact with women’s underwear, posted pants and bras to Myanmar embassies. Farmers continued to till land confiscated by the military. Political prisoners discreetly held seminars in their cells. Teachers in ethnic minority regions refused to comply with orders to instruct only in the majority tongue. These acts all signalled that the opposition, even during the darkest days, still had life.” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/11/generals-myanmar-seizure-power-military

Of course various countries and international bodies are implicated in the current situation. They may have suspended training for Myanmar police because of the coup, but the EU Mypol training scheme worked with the police – though they said only on ‘defensive’ policing. Crowd control techniques for military-controlled police? Sounds like a helping hand for all eventualities. The world needs to get its finger out to support the people of Myanmar.

That’s me for now. We are officially in spring. The daffodils are flowering, and, to use flowery language, I hope we are able to flower too, despite everything that Covid continues to throw at us. See you soon, Billy.