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Ukraine crisis: Think deeper or we all lose

By Jan Oberg | China Daily | Updated: 2023-02-20 07:37
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People stand by a coffee stall at dusk, during a power shortage, in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, February 19, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Whatever other reasons there may be for the Russia-Ukraine conflict, a major one is that we live in times characterized by an increasingly dangerous, perhaps fatal, combination of intellectual-moral disarmament and military re-armament. Militarism is now the main factor holding the Western (US-NATO — EU) world together. Militarism is a religion and NATO its church.

In different ways, militarists argue that their side is historically innocent and are justified to do what they are doing. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg even said NATO is not a party to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. They also argue that they must win, meaning others must lose. The latter is an intellectual fallacy because it is fairly obvious that all parties could also win, all parties could also lose.

Those who have studied conflicts and wars know that, over time, warring parties tend to become mirror images of each other and argue alike — with just the roles reversed — and make the same fatal miscalculations and logical fallacies.

For Ukrainians, Ukraine must win — win back all its territory and get protected by NATO in the future. For Russians, Russia must win — win national security by controlling Crimea and the Donbas region of Ukraine, and ensure that Ukraine never becomes a full NATO member. For NATO-European Union, NATO must win — in the sense of getting Ukraine into NATO, and pushing Russia into a corner and fatally weakening it so it never again transgresses its borders and is economically destroyed, if not dismembered à la Yugoslavia.

These are the parties' completely unrealistically ideal or maximalist goals, illusions, at the war level and the government level. But what about the level of the underlying conflict?

Totally obsessed with weapons and war, neither the media nor politicians seem to have the slightest focus on, or understanding of, the underlying conflicts, the root causes of the violence playing out in Ukraine. They do not understand that the solution — not the win — has to do with an understanding of these root causes. They behave like a quack who diagnoses a patient by asking where the pain is and then applies pain boosters or killers, never asking the most relevant questions: Why the pain and where the pain and what's the cure?

This obsession, together with the three main parties' goals and dreams/illusions, makes for a very long and utterly destructive war which everybody will lose, not only the people in Ukraine but also in Western Europe and Russia.

Only when decision-makers and the media would educate themselves and remove the shroud of conflict — and peace-illiteracy can the focus move to the root causes: What were the conflicts that stood between the parties — the problems which they could not handle peacefully but took to violence to solve — politically, psychologically and militarily?

That is the moment when, in the best of cases, we open a new road to intelligent conflict-handling, to a negotiated solution and a sustainable peace. The think-alike militarists on all sides believe that peace will come when somebody wins militarily. But like the mentioned doctor who never opened a textbook in medicine can't re-create health, this thinking cannot re-create peace. Peace never grows out of the battlefield. Any fool can start a war. Restoring or maintaining peace requires neutral professional expertise and empathy.

If one or more of the parties stop and begin to think — there can be hope that the war will end and the deep conflicts will be addressed — peaceful coexistence can finally become a possibility.

Essentially, Ukraine is about the world's classical dilemma: the mindbogglingly immature realpolitik paradigm with national military "security" based on conventional and nuclear long-range offensive deterrence weapons. Invariably, it will lead to war — which calls for more weapons and leads deeper down into the intellectual and moral quicksand. And eventually someone presses the wrongest of all buttons.

The world of security politics is run by peace-illiterate elites of the Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex, MIMAC. The global military expenditure has never been so high as today. The pace of NATO countries re-armament (already 12 times higher than Russia's before the Ukraine war) has never been so fast. A major war in Europe and the use of nuclear weapons have never looked so probable — while civil society is being starved.

If this weapons-obsessed thinking could bring world peace, it would have happened decades ago. The civilizational truth is that the enemy is us. Governments have let militarism loose instead of respecting the world's finest norm in the UN Charter's Article 1 — that peace shall be created by peaceful means. Ask how many military institutes, academies, think tanks, government units, research facilities and associations there are in the world compared with those for peace. No minister or statesman has peace advisers.

The discourse on peace — in research, politics and media — has disappeared. If we do not stop to think more deeply we shall all lose — dying as patients of society's cancer called militarism.

Let's use the NATO-Russia conflict playing out so tragically in Ukraine to stop and think. Let's make it the last war before it makes this humanity the last.

The author is PhD and director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, TFF, Sweden.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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