The threat of military conflict in Europe is one of the greatest in my lifetime, and it is becoming greater. This weekend was Remembrance Day, whose origins in the First World War no one now living can remember. Remembrance Day also plays strongly on the memories and mythology of the Second World War, which very few can now remember as adults. The politicians and military who set the tone of the day play up the threat of war, part of the new cold war against Russia and China. But their ‘answer’ to the threat of war is to produce more of the weapons that would make it more deadly than ever. More militarism and an uncritical view of war which ignores the misery and desperation that it brings to millions of people.

The First World War ended in millions dead. The supposed peace heralded a period of huge instability with wars in Abyssinia, Manchuria and Spain, and a new world war just a generation later. That war was even more devastating, with 60 million dead worldwide. The unconditional surrender of Japan did not prevent the dropping of two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then we have seen development of ever more deadly weapons, a succession of imperialist wars, and a huge increase in the amount of arms spending worldwide.

At the weekend I spoke at a conference, organised by CND and Drone Wars, which focused on the development of new war technologies and what it means for peace campaigning. I argued that we should redefine what ‘security’ stands for: does it mean governments spending billions on ever more sophisticated weaponry as part of a dangerous international arms race, or should we think about housing, health, the welfare of future generations when we consider what makes us secure. I also said that one important task of an anti-war and peace movement is to try to demonstrate that these weapons are not cost-free, either in monetary terms or – more importantly – in human ones.

So only last week the British Ministry of Defence admitted that many more children than previously acknowledged had been killed in Afghanistan as a result of military operations during the occupation there. They were killed either in ‘crossfire’ or by aerial bombing. Drone wars kill many civilians. Smart bombs somehow seem to create ‘collateral damage’ despite the claims of their operators. Yet civilian casualties have been repeatedly ignored or minimised by a media which wants to present the military as somehow humanitarian and avoiding death and injury.

The reporting of the current war in Ukraine is rather different in Britain, because it is a Russian invasion rather than a US or British one. Here reporters tell us much of the horror of war – civilian bombing, destruction of infrastructure, displacement, food shortages and the fear of what will happen. The victims of war in Iraq and Afghanistan never received this coverage. However here too we are denied an accurate picture. So we have seen in past days how people celebrated the Russian withdrawal from Kherson, but there is much less either about the difficulties now facing the inhabitants of the city because of shortages and infrastructure damage, or about wider issues of the war.

The costs to the Ukrainian people – and indeed to many Russians – have been extremely high. According to one US general, there are 100,000 Russian troops dead, with a similar number on the Ukrainian side. Many tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or injured, and far more displaced. Even if this is an exaggeration, the figures appear to be very high. If, as the Ukrainian government now talks about, the war will continue until it takes Crimea, this will be a long, bitter war with far higher military and civilian casualties to come. The danger of this war dragging on is real, either as a long-term war of attrition or a more widely escalating conflict.

The war began with Putin’s totally unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine back in February. However it is clearly a proxy war between Nato and Russia, where Nato powers are providing huge amounts of weapons and training to Ukraine. In this, the UK government is second only to the US in its support and in doing everything that it can to scupper any negotiations or peace talks. It has supplied £2.3 billion in military assistance so far this year and is pledged to send as much again next year. In recent months 7,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been trained by the British military, with another 3,000 by Xmas. Another 15,000 troops are being trained in Poland and Germany.

Nato military spending overall is 17 times that of Russia. Their delivery and intelligence are crucial to Ukrainian advances. However the involvement in this war threatens to escalate it much further. Already Europe is rearming, with US nuclear weapons planes once more based in Germany and Britain. Despite the talk of some of the media, the war is far from coming to a conclusion. Indeed, approaching winter and digging in by troops on both sides may help defensive tactics favoured by Russia. The war is already also proving costly in terms of the number and sophistication of weapons needed.

There are also political choices. The British government is happy to support war abroad at great cost while waging wars on us domestically. The energy and food crisis in Europe is leading to economic and social turmoil and this is likely to get worse over the winter. So there are very high stakes here.

There are no winners in this war. Putin is using it to increase repression and to expand his influence in the region – although Russia’s military failings have made that harder to do. The western powers are using it to massively increase military spending (alongside a real increase in domestic repression as well). The people of Ukraine are likely to be the big losers as this is a war which will not end soon unless there is a push for some sort of settlement.

Even in Washington there is talk of negotiations, as at least sections of the US ruling class realise the difficulties of continuing with the war and feel that Zelensky has been too ready to reject them. The alternatives posed otherwise – unconditional surrender or regime change – are simply not on the horizon at present. There are all sorts of problems with a peace – but it would at least mean the absence of war.

Further than this, the prospect of future hot wars, especially between the US and China, are too terrifying. The arms drive going on at present unfortunately makes them much more likely.

14 Nov 2022 by Lindsey German

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