Living on Borrowed Time?

Kathy Kelly

The extraordinary March 10, 2023 announcement that China’s top diplomat, Mr Wang Yi, helped broker a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran suggests that major powers can benefit from believing that, as Albert Camus once put it, “words are more powerful than munitions.”

This concept was also acknowledged by General Mark Milley, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff who said on January 20th, 2023, that he believes Russia’s war in Ukraine will conclude with negotiations rather than on the battlefield. In November of 2022, asked about prospects for diplomacy in Ukraine, Milley noted that the early refusal to negotiate in World War One compounded human suffering and led to millions more casualties.

“So when there’s an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved…seize the moment,” Milley told the Economic Club of New York.

 “War is worse than an earthquake,” a surgeon, Saeed Abu-hassan, told this writer during Israel’s 2008-2009 bombing of Gaza, called Operation Cast Lead. He pointed out that rescuers come from all over the world following an earthquake, but when wars are waged, governments send only more munitions, prolonging the agony.

As the world enters the second year of war between Ukraine and Russia, some say it’s unconscionable for peace activists to clamor for a cease-fire and immediate negotiations. Is it more honourable to watch the pile-up of body bags, the funerals, the grave digging, the towns becoming uninhabitable, and the escalation that could lead to a world war or even a nuclear war?

Estimates of Russian and Ukrainian military casualties vary, but some have suggested that more than 200,000 soldiers on both sides have been killed or wounded.

Gearing up for a major offensive before the spring thaw, Russia’s government announced it would pay a bonus to troops that destroy weapons used by Ukrainian soldiers which were sent from abroad. The blood money bonus is chilling, but on an exponentially greater level, major weapons manufacturers have accrued a steady bonanza of “bonuses” since the war began.

Shortly after Western countries agreed to send sophisticated Abrams and Leopard tanks to Ukraine, an adviser to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, Yuriy Sak, spoke confidently about getting F-16 fighter jets next. “They didn’t want to give us heavy artillery and then they did. They didn’t want to give us Himars systems and then they did. They didn’t want to give us tanks, now they’re giving us tanks. Apart from nuclear weapons, there is nothing left that we will not get,” he told Reuters.

Ukraine isn’t likely to get nuclear weapons, but the danger of nuclear war was clarified in a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists statement on January 24, which set the Doomsday Clock for 2023 to ninety seconds before the metaphorical “midnight.” The scientists warned that effects of the Russia-Ukraine war are not limited to an alarming increase in nuclear danger; they also undermine global efforts to combat climate change. “Countries dependent on Russian oil and gas have sought to diversify their supplies and suppliers,” the report notes, “leading to expanded investment in natural gas exactly when such investment should have been shrinking.”

 Over the past decade, this writer was fortunate to be hosted in dozens of trips to Kabul, Afghanistan, by young Afghans who fervently believed that words could be stronger than weapons. They espoused a simple, pragmatic proverb: “Blood does not wash away blood.”

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Vol 55, No. 45, May 7 - 13, 2023