Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is completely unjustified but the way to deal with it is not to increase the threat or war

The new head of the British army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, certainly wants a war. His speech on Tuesday spells that out. And like Boris Johnson, he evokes the events surrounding the Second World War as his justification. Johnson told the BBC from the G7 summit that ‘The price of freedom is worth paying’, when asked whether Britain would continue to send huge amounts of money and weapons to Ukraine. On its own figures, the government has already spent £1.3 billion on military support for Ukraine and the figure is in reality likely to be considerably higher.

Sanders told British soldiers earlier this month that they must be ready to ‘fight in Europe once again’ and said that, ‘There is now a burning imperative to forge an army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle.’ He echoed these sentiments in his speech, where he claimed that Britain was in ‘its 1937 moment’ and must prepare for war. They are not alone – both politicians and military figures are determined to use this moment of continuing war in Ukraine to increase the influence of the military both in terms of extra spending, more troop numbers and equipment, and much greater deployment in preparation for battle.

Their speeches chime with much of what we will hear in Madrid over the next couple of days as the NATO summit gears itself up for much greater intervention in eastern Europe and makes clear that its sights are also on China. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is completely unjustified and must be opposed, but the way to deal with it is not to increase the threat or war, nor to refuse to countenance peace talks and negotiations as Johnson has. NATO is hardly in a position to claim the moral high ground here, given its involvement in wars of aggression and invasion going back to the 1990s, its expansion eastwards since the end of the Cold War, and its insistence that member states have to contribute 2% at least of their national wealth on military spending.

Both Johnson and General Sanders should also be reminded that the record of the British army in recent decades has not been good. It was driven out of the south of Iraq in Basra province by 2009. Last year British forces, along with their US and other allies, faced a humiliating defeat in Afghanistan and were forced to leave after a 20 year occupation. So the claims about fighting in battle in Europe should be regarded with some scepticism, given British forces’ very heavy reliance on the US. The effect of Johnson and sanders however, by harking back to the Second World War, is to try to revive a sense of British imperial power which does not match the reality. It is worth recalling too that it was Johnson’s political ancestors who appeased Hitler before the war, because they preferred his politics to those of the left. Hitler controlled the second largest power in the world, Putin’s Russia is in a very different situation.

The war between Russia and Ukraine is a proxy war. The NATO powers still fear fighting it directly with Russia because the danger is this will drag them into a much larger war between nuclear powers. So their strategy is to engage in everything but direct military conflict with Russia. That means the militarisation of Europe which is going on at very high levels, especially in the largest power, Germany, which is doubling its military spending. It means a tearing up of NATO’s previous plans in relation to Russia. The new Strategic Concept will increase on a previously undreamt of scale the number of troops deployed in the Baltic states and elsewhere near Russia’s borders. It means sanctions on Russia which are having an effect on food and energy prices worldwide and causing real misery in large parts of the global south. It means admitting previously neutral Sweden and Finland into NATO, and putting pressure on Ireland to follow suit. This has been facilitated by an appalling deal with Erdogan’s Turkey which will lead to greater repression of the Kurds and a green light for further arms to be used against them.

None of this will make Ukraine safer but it will increasingly strengthen the NATO camp against both Russia and China. It does not serve the interests of working people around the world, but increases the profits of the masters of war who provide the arms and the governments who facilitate them. In Britain, defence minister Ben Wallace has called for a major increase in military spending to 2.5% of GDP. Already it is over 2% and is due to rise 0.5% above inflation. This shows a markedly different attitude to workers’ demands for pay rises. While rail workers, nurses, teachers and post workers are all expected to take pay cuts and worsening conditions, the Tories want more money for the military. Britain already spends a staggering £48bn on ‘defence’.

We have had 20 years of failed wars and this government is heading towards more of them. Starmer’s Labour and his particular brand of parochial patriotism means there will if anything be even further demands to increase spending on the army from that quarter. We need to link opposition to war with the cost of living crisis. The urgent need in the world today is for peace not war. That call will not be heeded in Madrid – it is up to the movement internationally to do everything possible to make it happen.

29 Jun 2022 by Lindsey German

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