Being a Peace Activist Just Got Harder
In the late eighties, Joe Clark, Canada’s then Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited Moscow and the USSR Foreign Eduard Shevardnadze, took him over to watch the debates in the Duma. After some translations, Shevardnadze said, “see… they want a czar!”. That prophetic statement has come true with a very adept Vladimir Putin. The psyche of the Russian people is set by generations of oppression in different forms, ranging from the then Czar needing to kneel before Genghis Khan, the Napoleonic siege, and the invasion by Hitler during WWII. Add to that the post world war Soviet buildup of their “defences” and you may gain some insight into the lived experiences of several generations of Russians. When trying to evaluate current events, one must understand the common narrative of people in current day Russia. When most of the population buys into the narrative, it is easy to see the pining for the good old days of czarist regimes.
The extent of the current invasion is something I got totally wrong. My expectation was a 2014 style Crimean operation in Eastern Ukraine. Any attack on Western Ukraine, particularly Kiev, seemed otherworldly. The Russians are clearly acting on a premise that Ukraine is a breakaway province of Russia. That is consistent with a statement Putin made to then President Bush that Ukraine is not a real country. There is partial justification for this in that in the middle-ages, the “Rus” people were centred in Kiev. If, however, the Westphalian definition holds true, the “race” as in the Rus people, is not a determinant of sovereign status. If we go down the race path, then Critical Race Theory comes into play, and that misused theory opens another Pandora’s box, as race in common understanding today is quite different than even a hundred years ago, when Canada was made up of two races, English and French. German, East European immigration messed up that nice clean divide and then came the Chinese and the Sikhs, bringing about a new definition of race, but I digress.
The big questions, what does one do now? With all our assessments being mainly transactional, old information is discounted by time. Blaming the current situation on Putin is akin to blaming Trump for the foreign relations disaster left behind. The seeds for all current conflicts are sown many decades before an event. As an example, Iran’s revolution in 1979 can be traced back to the US overthrow of the elected government in 1956. The Taiwan issue with China goes back to 1949 and reiterated during the 1972 Nixon visit. The Kashmir issue goes back to 1947 thanks to a convenient drawing of boundaries as the British anxiously wanted out of the quagmire. As an aside, it was a Roosevelt Vice President Henry Wallace, who laid down the ground rules for de-colonialization in return for military involvement.
With this in mind, in a war avoidance strategy, diplomacy will need to dig far back into history and not allow recent “agreements” to muddy the waters. The fairness of this will be debated as one may introduce a “Statute of Limitations” that stale date certain historical facts. If no limits, then Israel’s territorial claims go back several thousand years. Who will define a framework for this initiative? It is certainly not in the political sphere, as it is the most transactional environment there is. An academic approach might be tolerable, but in the anti-intellectual environment we live in, there would be little support for that. Mediators from “non-aligned” countries? Do they even exist? With all these impediments to diplomatic initiatives, I am driven to a far more pessimistic view of the human condition.
Finally, the ugly option, armed intervention. Bertrand Russel, a staunch advocate for avoiding involvement in the first world war was very supportive of engagement in WWII. He saw a tyranny that was beyond the pale and saw a moral requirement to go into battle. The big question is whether this Russian incursion meets the Bertrand Russel standard for direct action. If you subscribe to this thinking, you will need to have skin in the game. Having skin in the game means that there can be no “volunteer” armies. It is a shared sacrifice. You or your sons and daughters will need to engage directly. You will need to ante up a lot of tax dollars in support the effort. You will need to significantly modify your consumption habits as the global supply chain will lose many more links. Finally, you will need to cede your “freedoms” for the duration. Not a pretty picture, but if this meets the tyrannical standard, there are no other options. Are you in? Are nukes justified?