The long war
It is dead (sic) easy to get into war but extremely difficult to get out of it.
The war in Ukraine is a classic ‘long war’ where no side can gain sufficient advantage to get into the situation where it can ‘win’. In that, and in its trench warfare, it is reminiscent of the First World War except with 21st century weapons and technology. So both sides continue to pour soldiers, civilians, and money, down the drain. And the more money and blood expended in the cause, the more difficult it is to sacrifice that ‘sacrifice’ to move to peace; Shakespeare put it eloquently into the mouth of Macbeth – “I am in blood / Stepped in so far that should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” – ‘tedious’ here meaning difficult.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said on 17th September (speaking to the EU Parliament) that “Most wars last longer than expected when they first begin. Therefore we must prepare ourselves for a long war in Ukraine.” He went on to say that ““There is no doubt that Ukraine will eventually be in Nato”* – a crazy thing to say when it was Ukrainian prospective membership of NATO which was a major cause of the Russian invasion. He also conflates or confuses future Ukrainian security with Ukrainian membership of NATO when the two are very much not the same thing; there can be guarantees of Ukrainian territorial integrity which are nothing whatsoever to do with NATO. *INNATE continues to use the upper case acronym ‘NATO’ rather than ‘Nato’ as we consider the latter an attempt to make it seem like a friendly neighbourhood organisation rather than a major war alliance with nuclear weapons.
Continuing the comparison with the First World War there is another, extremely dangerous, possible parallel with the First World War. The Second World War was a direct result of the First through the penalisation and victimisation of Germany. The disorder of the post-First World War years in Germany, which were brought about partly by economic and other penalties on Germany, led to the rise of fascism – and the rest, tragically, is history.
There is the danger that the West, especially the USA but others as well, want Russia to be humiliated through this war, not just to have a settlement that they and Ukraine can live with. For the West it is a proxy war. We have already seen what happened when NATO, against Russian warnings, continued to push its boundaries eastward – something which they undertook not to do at the time of the collapse of Soviet communism and control in Eastern Europe.
We have stated here previously, numerous times, that the USA and the West expected Russia to accept something which was totally unacceptable to the USA. In 1962 the world came close to the brink of nuclear war when Russia/the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba. This was ‘the enemy at the gate’ and the USA threatened nuclear annihilation if the situation was not remedied to its satisfaction. Russia compromised. And yet the USA and the West expected – expect – Russia to accept NATO weaponry, of all sorts, on its borders in Ukraine if it joined/joins NATO and/or the EU. The USA is a world superpower militarily and Russia now only a regional military power – admittedly flexing its muscles in Africa and the Middle East – but the situations are identical. The West misjudged the situation and expected Putin to roll over.
While what was said had its own nuances, Jens Stoltenberg in his September address to the EU Parliament https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_218172.htm?selectedLocale=en went on confirm many of the details of Putin opposing NATO expansionism. Putin in autumn 2021 “sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And was a pre-condition for not invade Ukraine……So he went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders. He has got the exact opposite.” While Putin was looking for more than the above in terms of the withdrawal from NATO by countries in central and eastern Europe, it has to be recognised that their membership was contrary to promises previously given to Russia.
Not to have entered talks and negotiations with Russia was a monumental error and part of NATO’s belligerence and feeling of superiority; perhaps a modus vivendi could have been reached as opposed to the current modus morendi (way of dying). In terms of military thinking, Russia had a legitimate interest which was brushed aside by NATO. Russia’s demands might have seemed unreasonable by the standards of realpolitik but that is what discussion and mediative processes are about; the different sides put out their stalls and views and, then, collectively look at whether movement is possible. There could indeed have been ways to reassure Russia on its security but NATO did not bother to look. This is a substantial cause of the war in Ukraine – obviously not the only one with Putin deciding he could pull a fast one militarily but he got bogged down by Ukrainian military resistance.
Should Russia be humiliated in defeat, with consequences for the Russian state and society, it is quite possible that the same scenario could emerge as in Germany after the First World War – the emergence of leadership which makes Vladimir Putin look like a screaming liberal. Brutal and unnecessary as Russia’s war on Ukraine has been, the art of trying to put a conflict to bed and being able to move on is through giving both sides an ‘out’, not in penalising one side, the losers. In other words, Putin has to be allowed to save face, whether that is liked or not. We are not saying Russia and Russians should not face war crimes trials; we are saying Russia and Russians need to be allowed to move on to hopefully a more peaceful future.
There are many ways a settlement could come about while retaining justice for Ukraine. Crimea was mainly ethnically Russian and a possession of Ukraine’s based on a whim of Stalin, a move not too significant at a time when all were in the Soviet Union. Ukraine accepting the loss of Crimea would be a psychological blow but could be a price well worth paying. Accepting Crimea as Russian might seem to give in to ‘might is right’ but compromise may be necessary to avoid endless bloodshed. So far as the eastern provinces of Ukraine claimed by Russia, we have suggested Russia withdrawing but allowing all there to claim Russian citizenship. Attending to Russian interests in terms of security guarantees is part of meeting Russian interests rather than being put off by its positions and this was an important part of the Russian invasion to begin with, aside from arch-nationalist concepts of a ‘Greater Russia’.
A long war is in nobody’s interest except the arms companies who, as usual, are happy to make a killing (sic) from it. Attempting to get Russia into harmonious relationships with the rest of Europe has to be a long term aim, a possibility which was badly dealt with after the fall of the Soviet communist regime when the West did nothing. This does not mean excusing Russian crimes but nor should it mean excusing other countries’ crimes; Brown University’s study attributes 4.5 million deaths to the USA’s warmaking since 2022 https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/2023/IndirectDeaths – and where are the penalties and sanctions on the USA? And there are carrots as well as sticks which can be used, even if better relations with Russia may have to await another leader than Putin.
Ireland, meanwhile has jumped on the bandwagon of military support for Ukraine through training for Ukrainian soldiers as well as ‘non-lethal’ support. Not only is this incompatible with neutrality but denies Ireland the opportunity, which it should be taking, to explore possibilities for bringing the war to a close, a war to which there is currently no end in sight. If you don’t look then you don’t see. If you don’t explore possibilities to end the war then it is permitting more and more death and misery. Those seeking peaceful solutions and resolutions should never be put off by the position adopted by the different sides but strive to find ways to meet sufficient of the belligerents’ interests that an end to the war becomes possible. Ireland is doing nothing in this regard.
– See also ‘Readings in Nonviolence’ in this issue which looks at different peace proposals and possibilities to end the war in Ukraine,
A miserable legacy
Challenges to the British government’s Legacy Act, formally the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, as it now is since it passed into law, are coming from from a variety of sources, national and international – including possibly the Irish government. So, just perhaps, it may not get too far. It offers a conditional amnesty to those accused of killings during the Troubles and will stop any new Troubles-era court cases and inquests being held.
However the whole sad saga presents an appalling picture of how the current British government treats Northern Ireland. To act against the will of every single political party in Northern Ireland takes some doing not only because of the way that represents the vast majority in the North but because such unity, such unanimity across the board, is so unusual. Even if the British government really did believe its Act is the way forward (which is dubious) it should have hesitated to act against such universal opposition; its actions smack of superiority and, dare we say it, colonialism.
The current system and possibilities are not ideal but all the Northern Ireland political parties and victims’ groups are certain it is preferable to the new Legacy Act. With the passage of time the chances are getting steadily slimmer of justice in the courts, or even for truth through the coroners’ courts, but this was considered preferable. Meanwhile, of course, the British government reneged on the deal which it had done in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement which did provide an agreed way forward and institutions to match. The government failed to implement the deal and then, in 2020, announced it would develop its own proposals – resulting in the Legacy Act of today.
Cui bono? Apart from a few commentators, only British military veterans’ groups are in favour and that gives a clue. But a major factor is surely not only protecting former British military personnel, it is even more protecting the state. We already have a certain amount of information about the actions of the state in running informers within paramilitary organisations but there are major questions about what agents of the state knew about forthcoming paramilitary actions where they could have prevented deaths but did not do so to protect their sources or agents, or for other reasons. And then there is the impunity given to informers who in some cases were involved in appalling actions. This is, of course, aside from where deaths and human rights abuses were perpetrated by soldiers and other agents of the state.
Human rights groups have been scathing about the Legacy Act, drawing comparisons with what was done in Chile introducing impunity for those involved with the Pinochet regime. The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) states, for example, that it “fails to honour the UK’s obligation under the ECHR to carry out proper investigations into deaths and serious injuries that occurred during the NI conflict“ – and indeed that the UK government is in serial breach of its obligations to do so. They also state that it would “shut down existing legacy mechanisms at a time when such mechanisms are increasingly delivering for families.”
The Troubles were a terrible time for many people living in Northern Ireland. Moving on from the Troubles, even 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement, has also been very difficult. For the British government to do a ‘solo run’ on the legacy of the past when there was a very reasonable collective agreement on the issue nearly nine years ago is quite bizarre and would suggest that they are acting primarily in their own interests to protect the British state. That is particularly sad for victims across the board – civilian, paramilitary, police, military, whoever. Justice delayed, or in this case negated, is justice denied but truth has a way of emerging in the end. And the judgement on those who closed off possibilities for justice will not be a warm one.