De-Escalatation in Ukraine

Lund, Sweden.

1. Welcome de-escalation

Vladimir Putin’s statements that separatists should not hold referendums on May 11, that he welcomes the elections in Ukraine on May 25 and that Russia is withdrawing troops from the border with Ukraine should be welcomed.

If he has been ”aggressive” and this is a ”turnabout” as many in the West believe, this turnabout is even more welcome.

If he hasn’t been aggressive but merely defensive, it is still helpful in terms of defusing the crisis.

2. Constructive response from the West

The only constructive approach so far seems to be OSCE chair Burkhalter’s “roadmap”. But it needs to get more concrete and detailed.

We now need some constructive response from the US, NATO and EU. It would be helpful if they announced that they will not try to include Ukraine in NATO or EU for that matter but respect the opinion of all Ukrainians.

3. Admit co-responsibility

The West’ co-responsibility for this crisis should be admitted. But Western leaders and major media remain – conveniently but incorrectly – in denial of these causal factors:

a) Twenty years of containment and NATO expansion against all promises made after the dissolution of the Soviet Union – a policy that would necessarily have to end at Ukraine’s border;

b) The EU’s demand that Ukraine would only get closer to the EU if not joining a customs union with Russia and, well-documented as it is:

c) The neo-conservative U.S. elite’s drive at regime change in Kiev through a series of measures that the U.S. itself would never accept on its own territory.

4. Escalation is counterproductive

In response to what has been termed Russia’s revisionist, expansive aims the West has done little but to escalate the tension. Henry Kissinger recently wrote that what has been done so far is nothing but a cover-up for a lack of a long-term policy.

Tension-escalation? Yes – sanctions, intimidating and bellicose rhetorics, blaming, psycho-political projections, movement of troops and fighter planes, the statement by NATO’s Sec-Gen that Russia is part of the problem and not the solution and by his deputy that Russia is no longer seen as a partner but as an adversary.

It’s all counterproductive if the well-being of all Ukrainians as well as mutual trust, stability, and peace is the purpose.

5. Sweden’s role

Even Sweden as formally a non-member of NATO has decided on a series of measures which are not only security-reducing and counterproductive but also aims at misusing the Ukraine crisis for another purpose – that of becoming a full NATO member.

6. The needs for a peace-making capacity

We have seen the basic problem of government policies before in, say, Somalia, 9/11 and the war on terrorists (that only creates more terrorism), Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria:

No one has an idea about de-escalation. No government has a long-term plan aiming at sustainable peace. The tools of broader conflict understanding and peace-making are conspicuously lacking.

Since confrontational and military language is what government people have learnt and weapons are on their shelves, they use what they have no matter whether, over time, it may well cause the explosion they all swear they want to prevent.

7. Conflict and peace illiteracy

Fact is that civilian conflict mitigation, professional mediation, dialogue, negotiation, trust-building and reconciliation – all stepping stones to stable peace – are still foreign to the very concept of international relations and daily foreign policy-making.

Neither the tools or the training nor the institutions are in place. In addition:

8. Compare!

While Europe has countless military academies, centres and institutes, there is not one government that has a peace academy.

While we have a multi-billion dollar, nuclear-based military alliance like NATO, there exist no well-funded civilian, knowledge-based cooperation structure or network for peace-building.

While the world’s nations spend US $ 1700 billion on military violence, they spend about 30 on the UN and all its organisations and 0,7 on disarmament and non-proliferation.

9. Masters of war are not masters of peace

Under such circumstances, genuine peace-makers like Kofi Annan (and soon Lakhdar Brahimi?) must give up, the UN is side-lined, and civil society organisations that are professional in conflict-management and peace-making are ignored.

Governments mistakenly see themselves as both masters of war and masters of peace – some leaders even believing that the first is the road to the latter.

It’s time to let civil society competence into peace-making in a completely new way. Governments are not equipped to make peace.

10. Peace proposals for Ukraine

What should have been done in the Ukraine crisis and what can still be done?

10.1 Empathy and conflict assessment

Judge well the likely perception and responses of the moves you make on the other side. It should have been obvious that attempts at getting Ukraine into the Western fold was a high-risk project. But there was too much US/NATO/EU exceptionalism and hubris for that.

10.2 20.000 monitors and facilitators 

When the conflict began to build up there should have been discussion about bringing in, say, 20.000-30.000 OSCE and/or UN civilian monitors to understand the issues, report, monitor, dialogue and diffuse the situation on the ground.

In addition, governments should have mobilised the community of profssional conflict-management civil society organisations.

10.3 Inclusive consultations and talks

Talks involving all parties, i.e. also separatists, neo-fascists etc as well as peace civil society organisations – not just some helter-skelter meetings between a few foreign ministers. That is, an inclusive definition of who are the parties – and talks before negotiations.

Parties not invited and not listened to invariably make themselves heard in other, violent ways. Read Slavyansk…

10.4  Learn from earlier cases – Yugoslavia

All it takes in Ukraine now is what it took in Yugoslavia in 1991: a little more escalation, polarisation, and war propaganda, a few local building occupations, some people killed, revenge – and violence will spiral out of everybody’s hands.

Study the village of Pakrac in Croatia  where the first shot was fired and learn the lessons!

10.5 Peace is about solving problems, not about punishing people

Avoid steps which de facto escalate the tension and give the other side an excuse for reciprocating in kind.

Above all look at conflicts as problems to be solved, not human beings to be punished.

No conflict anywhere has ever been solved by punishment, only through understanding the thing that stands between parties, i.e. the issue.

10.6 A new type of expert commission

Finally, I would recommend that a group of 5-10 impartial, high-integrity and multi-cultural conflict and peace experts be established – people known for their wisdom and for doing good to society – from politics, cultural life and business.

Business is a very important dimension for peace and not the least in the case of Ukraine. And business people are usually more creative than politicians.

The Commission shall do three things:

* Travel and listen to all parties involved in the Ukraine conflict, including China.

*  Come up with several proposals as to the future of Ukraine– ways in which it can remain sovereign but be useful to both Russia and the West and exploited by neither. For open discussion among all, including the Ukrainians.

* Present strategies for how to maximise the benefits to all parties – the people in Ukraine first of all – and to minimise the possible loss to some parties: The noble art of losing face may one day save the human race, as Danish philosopher Piet Hein stated it.

War is dystopia, peace is realism

If local violence escalates much further and outside forces continue their confrontational policies the future will be dark for all of us: Decades of new Cold War perhaps coupled with warm wars à la Yugoslavia, or worse.

However, as suggested above, if we stop taking steps toward war and begin to think peace, peace is still possible in and around Ukraine.

Jan Oberg is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research in Lund, Sweden.






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Jan Oberg is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research in Lund, Sweden.

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