MAVERICK CITIZEN TUESDAY EDITORIAL
‘Damn you masters of war’: Looming war over Ukraine threatens social justice globally
Overnight news has come in that Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to enter Russian-controlled areas of southeast Ukraine following his decision to recognise Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states. As the conflict looks to escalate frighteningly, it is essential to understand the real issues behind and real implications of a possible war.
Sunday, 20 February was meant to be the World Day of Social Justice.
But instead of focusing on social (in)justice – hunger, inequality, a pandemic that has taken a far heavier toll on the poor – the world’s attention was elsewhere… Internationally, much of the news was focused on the rumblings of war over Ukraine and the escalating danger of a direct or proxy war between several of the world’s military (if not economic) superpowers.
For a country like South Africa, caught in multiple social crises, at risk of war with itself, the drums of war sounding over Ukraine may seem disconnected from issues of social justice. They may sound too faint and far away to merit much attention.
They should not be.
If a war does break out its repercussions will soon ripple and be felt in every village and town of South Africa and the world – even if people don’t understand the issues at stake in the war.
And most of us do not.
As the mainstream news degenerates into what journalist John Pilger calls “raw propaganda”, active citizens have a right to accurate information and analysis. We should not take what we read and view on global media channels at face value. We have been fooled about the real reasons for wars before – remember the non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq?
We are about to be fooled again.
In this regard, once more it is falling upon independent civil society organisations and the independent media to rally citizens to ask deeper questions about what our governments are up to. How does one discern the truth when all sides are telling lies? Whose is the hidden hand in this war and what are the real issues and interests behind the conflict?
And, if we can answer these questions, how do we, the people who will pay the price, avert a disaster of huge proportions?
Let’s start with some questions.
One of the people speaking out against this war is Andrew Feinstein, a former MP and whistle-blower on the arms deal in South Africa. Today Feinstein works for Shadow World Investigations. He has meticulously researched the global arms industry in his book and film The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade.
In England, where he is now based, Feinstein is collaborating with the Stop the War Coalition (SWC), a movement that is campaigning against what it calls “the British establishment’s addiction to war and its squandering of public resources on militarism”. In a petition already signed by thousands of people the SWC says: “Britain should be advancing diplomatic proposals to defuse tension and seek a solution to the crisis over Ukraine rather than ratcheting it up.”
The SWC points to the role of the UK government and arms industry in arming both sides of this impending conflict, quoting research that: “shows that £56-million worth of export licences for military goods have been approved to Russia [since 2010], compared to £38-million in the case of Ukraine”.
We should also question whether it is a coincidence that three of the main protagonists in the war – Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden and Boris Johnson – are all facing serious domestic crises.
Putin, the deranged totalitarian kleptocrat and former KGB agent, has catalysed the crisis.
But Johnson seems intent on inflaming it. A few days ago, Johnson – up to ears in corruption and cronyism – was on the brink of being removed as prime minister by his own party. Now it’s as if he’s received a perverse gift-horse from Putin with which to shore up his own battered image and behave like wannabe Churchill. It won’t wash.
For his part, Biden’s popularity is falling fast in the face of his Presidency’s failure to address many of the inequalities and injustices that confront US society. After Afghanistan the last thing he may want is this conflict, but the pressure to put on a fake bravado is dangerous to all.
These are some of the factors that should cause us to question what really lies behind the warmongering?
One article suggests that the real reason is to stop the coming into operation of a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany that will slowly change the balance of power in geopolitics. Whether this is true or not we can’t judge (yet). Others cite Putin’s insecurity as Nato has edged closer to Russia’s borders.
The reasons may be some or all of the above. But the least the West is guilty of is rank hypocrisy because while Russia has invaded at least three countries since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the US has invaded or toppled regimes in more than 50 countries and maintains more than 800 in countries around the world.
Put simply, the logic seems to be that whilst the US can invade Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, Russia should not invoke similar reasoning and invade Ukraine “to protect its security”. The invasion of Ukraine should be unreservedly condemned, but doing so on the basis of double-standards doesn’t persuade us.
Global governance and human rights in crisis
Sadly, the deepening crisis over Ukraine (if Ukraine is what it is really about) reveals all that has gone wrong with governance in the world, as wars always do. It is revealing again how international law and multilateralism, particularly the United Nations, has been broken. Remember that that process accelerated when the US, supported by the UK, unilaterally decided to invade Iraq, as documented by respected British lawyer Philippe Sands in his 2005 book Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules.
Overnight Russia has begun occupying parts of Ukraine. The West’s next move will be seen in the coming hours and days. But we should pray that this war does not now escalate into a full-blown military conflict.
May we, the people of the world, be permitted to ask what is the greater threat to human safety and security: Russia or global heating? Ukraine or pandemic unpreparedness?
The issue is NOT that Russia should not be resisted – it should – but how and by whom and through what processes.
Even before the first missiles have been fired this war has taken a dreadful toll: diverting billions of dollars into rearmament and away from tackling poverty, pandemics, education, inequality and the burgeoning climate crisis in a critical year.
Barely three months ago at COP26 developed countries were balking at the cost of an energy transition from coal to renewables. The $100-billion climate finance fund was considered unaffordable. Yet when it comes to funds for the military industrial complex, cost is not a consideration.
Finally, as we try to rally people the world over to confront great existential challenges that affect the whole planet and the civilisations we have built upon it, we cannot afford a planet further divided by national and regional hatreds.
These are some of the reasons the coming war is a social justice question and a matter that ought to concern everyone in South Africa. We cannot be seeking truth in South Africa, but avoiding it in other countries and regions of the world.
It is a time for global citizens to reach out, engage, find each other…
Finally, up to now our own government has been mum. It needs to find its voice. But when it does so it is not a choice of siding with Russia or the US, but of siding with truth, multilateralism, peace, human rights and the best interests of the planet. DM/MC