Chris Nineham completes his series on Ukraine by analysing the cliché motif of ‘war is peace’…

Peace and security are central stated aims of the West’s operation in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has, supporters of the war argue, disrupted the ‘security architecture’ and raised tensions in the region. The result is somewhat paradoxical. For in the minds of the war’s supporters, all actual calls for peace must be opposed and all peace initiatives ignored. All in the interests of…peace.

‘Peace is something more than “not war”. We should not confuse the terms.’ So said Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in June referring to the war. ‘Of course we want peace’ he went on to say, ‘but unhappily, we have to face a situation where the war will continue.’

The deployment of the idea of peace to justify war is not new. It’s use reflects the fact that war is generally unpopular and that most people think that peace in general is preferable.

The knack here is twofold. First, ensure that the opponent is regarded as the aggressor. Second, create the idea that however belligerent your own side is, in a general sense, peace is one of your core values.

This explains why in war after war, the Western powers have been so desperate to portray the enemy as the fire starter. The Afghan Taliban were held to be responsible for the 9/11 attacks. We were told in 2003, with zero evidence, that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was 45 minutes away from attacking the west. It was claimed Libyan leader, Muamar Ghaddafi, was about to unleash military terror on the rebel city of Benghazi when the British and French started their devastating 2011 aerial bombardment that ended with his killing. ‘We came, we saw, he died’ crowed US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, at the time.

In the case of Ukraine, Russia invaded in February 2022 and the anti-war movement rightly condemned that invasion and called for Russian troops to withdraw. The movement has consistently protested at continuing Russian aggression and done everything possible to support the Russian anti-war movement.

Two things however are absolutely crucial here. First, as argued in a previous instalment of this series, that invasion, while utterly wrong, was far from unprovoked. A long list of senior Western military experts and political commentators have repeatedly made clear that the eastern expansion of NATO, and particularly talk of incorporating Ukraine, was likely to lead to war.

To give just one example from 1995, Russian scholar and Moscow correspondent for The Times, Anatol Lieven, surveyed elite and popular opinion in Russia on just this question. After conducting interviews with senior political, military, and diplomatic figures from across the political spectrum, he concluded that “moves toward NATO membership for Ukraine would trigger a really ferocious Russian response,” and that “NATO membership for Ukraine would be regarded by Russians as a catastrophe of epochal proportions.” He quoted a Russian naval officer, who made it clear that preventing NATO’s expansion into Ukraine and its consequent control of Crimea was “something for which Russians will fight.”

There is no question that the Western leaders knew that plans to bring Ukraine into NATO, first publicly discussed in 2008, would be seen by Russia as an act of aggression.

A thought experiment helps reinforce the point. How would US elites react if Mexico were to invite Russia or China to station warships in its ports and bombers in its airfields?

As it happens, Benjamin Schwarz and Christopher Layne writing for Harper’s magazine explain that a civilian military analyst who has worked at the Pentagon has put just this question to rising leaders in the U.S. military and intelligence services. Their reactions, unsurprisingly, ranged from cutting economic ties and exerting “maximal foreign policy pressure on Mexico to get them to change course” to “we need to start there, and then use military force if necessary,”

Secondly, does anyone really believe that the pursuit of peace has been at the heart of Western foreign policy over the last few decades? The fact is, the west’s recent wars fought across the Middle East and beyond in the name of confronting terror have, in the process of inflicting terrible suffering on the lives of millions, made the world a much more dangerous place. As well as creating a series of failed states, they have helped spread civil wars and proliferate terror groups around the Middle East, central Asia, and swathes of the African continent.

The briefest scan of US security documents over the last two decades make it crystal clear that behind the fine phrases about anti-terrorism, peace and prosperity lie the drive to defend US interests against economic competitors. As a key document of the neoconservative hawks argued in 2000, the priority was to use military power to defend the US’s position as the world’s unchallenged superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union

“Preserving the desirable strategic situation in which the United Sates now finds itself requires a globally preeminent military capability both today and in the future”.

After 9/11, this position indeed became official US policy. The national security strategy document for 2002 is explicit about the aim to stop emerging economic challengers becoming great powers:

“As we defend the peace, we will also take advantage of an historic opportunity to preserve the peace… We will strongly resist aggression from other great powers—even as we welcome their peaceful pursuit of prosperity, trade, and cultural advancement…We are attentive to the possible renewal of old patterns of great power competition. Several potential great powers are now in the midst of internal transition—most importantly Russia, India, and China.”

What then has the West’s response to the invasion of Ukraine done for peace? It has totally failed to bring the war in Ukraine to an end, but it has involved the biggest accumulation of weapons and troops in eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War. It has led to a situation in which great powers have publicly threatened to use nuclear weapons for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

It has accelerated the expansion of NATO with Finland, which shares a border with Russia, joining and Sweden set to join. Both have abandoned long-term commitments to neutrality. Under pressure, German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has declared a historic sea change in Germany’s attitude to military spending and set aside €100 billion to modernise its armed forces.

Overall, it has led to the steepest rise in military spending in Europe for thirty years. For the first time, arms spending has surpassed that at the end of the Cold War in 1989. Some of the increases for countries not involved in the war are eye watering. Finland has boosted arms spending by 36 per cent, Lithuania by 27 per cent, Sweden 12 per cent and Poland 11 per cent.

As a result, the whole region is on high alert, the slaughter in Ukraine continues with no end in sight, borders have been progressively militarised, drones attacks on Moscow and Kiev are a regular occurrence, missiles, tanks, cluster bombs and other munitions continue to pour into the region, anti-war protestors on both sides are being arrested. No neutral observer could possibly claim that the militarised Western response has brought peace closer. Peace it turns out, does not equal war.

08 Aug 2023 by Chris Nineham

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