The tragic, illegal war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine should end now, with a ceasefire and then a comprehensive peace agreement. It could be based on the previously negotiated 2015 Minsk II agreement, which is quite detailed and balanced in seeking to resolve territorial, political, cultural and linguistic disputes. What makes this war so ghastly is the eventual outcome was widely known and achievable before Russia invaded, namely Ukrainian neutrality, no NATO membership, and territorial, legal and political accommodations over Crimea and the Donbas region.
NATO expansion eastward toward Russia’s borders and US/Western post-Cold War triumphalism was and is a problem. It was a strategic mistake to treat Russia, with its justifiably proud history and culture, as a miserable, groveling loser that had no choice but to swallow Western supremacy in Eurasia and the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But none of that excuses Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion. Moreover, it has backfired horribly, as Finland and Sweden are now likely to join NATO.
Ukraine has the right to defend itself, and US and Western arms manufacturers and politicians are glad to oblige with military aid and weapons transfers, but the risk of escalation, up to and including threats of using nuclear weapons, needs to be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, the conflict also has potentially dire ripple effects. The Middle East and Africa face a serious food security crisis as wheat, other grains and food, and fertilizer prices are soaring from shortages due to the war, which has and will continue to decrease agricultural production in Ukraine and Russia, the breadbasket for hundreds of millions of people.
“I have to say that I am deeply concerned, namely with the risks of hunger becoming widespread in different parts of the world because of the dramatic food security situation we are facing because of the war in Ukraine,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said recently.
The solution to ending this tragic war might well be to go big and go broad, with multilateral negotiations to address areas of common interest to the US, Russia, Ukraine, Europe and the world, on the following issues:
-End the war now, as noted above. Not one more Ukrainian civilian, or Ukrainian or Russian soldier, needs to die or be maimed for life in this senseless slaughter. As noted, the issues to resolve are clear and well-known to all parties. Let’s get on with peace talks, brokered by whomever is most trusted to bring them to a successful conclusion.
-Revive negotiations on nuclear disarmament. As the Doomsday Clock stands at a mere 100 seconds to midnight, the two most heavily armed nuclear powers cannot be allowed to dither, or worse, accelerate a nascent new arms race. Immediate, mutual declarations of No First Use policies, thus forswearing the initiation of nuclear hostilities, could ease global fears. Further cuts to strategic, deployed nuclear weapons below New START levels of 1,550 each (which had been discussed as recently as the end of the Obama-Biden Administration) could be made reciprocally, without a treaty. Ditching exorbitant, wasteful plans to squander trillions of dollars on the next generation of nuclear weapons, while encouraging the seven other nuclear powers to do the same, would be another smart move for Washington and Moscow.
Russia, the United States and the seven other nuclear nations (China, France, Britain, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) should support and participate in next month’s First Meeting of States Party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna. To date, 89 countries have signed the treaty. Lastly, the two nuclear behemoths need to lead on honoring their Article VI commitment to pursue global nuclear disarmament codified in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which will convene its delayed (because of Covid) Review Conference at the UN in New York in August. These issues are of the utmost importance on their own, and the war in Ukraine has added new urgency to the denuclearization agenda.
Washington and Moscow already collaborate on many regional nuclear security concerns (Iran and the Middle East, North Korea and Northeast Asia as two examples), and this work needs to be urgently rejuvenated to avoid nuclear proliferation or threats of war in parts of the world already rife with conflict and instability. China can be brought in on some of these issues if the parties agree (Beijing is already engaged in resolving the Iran and North Korea nuclear problems). Improving US-China-Russian relations in general is crucial to heading off needless and disastrous global conflict.
-Discuss and commit to collaborative action on issues of common, and global concern – climate chaos, the pandemic, and reducing military expenditures in order to invest in rebuilding physical and social infrastructure. Again, China should be included. The recently released 2022 Common Security report, based on the model of a similar report in the 1980s that helped end the Cold War, can be a helpful guide on many of these issues.
-And what of legal accountability for Vladimir Putin? This is a tough issue, and there was no accountability for Bush, Cheney and their cabal for the illegal invasion of Iraq. Neither the US nor Russia are parties to the International Criminal Court, so a special tribunal would need to be created. The possible benefit of legal consequences for Putin and his government, as punishment and/or a warning to other would-be invaders, needs to be weighed against the possibility of foregoing an opportunity to tackle the serious problems listed above, while diving headlong into a protracted new Cold, and maybe not so Cold, War with Russia that the people of both countries and the world can’t afford.
It’s a broad agenda, and may seem too ambitious given the dismal state of relations between Washington and Moscow. But let’s put conventional political considerations aside. These are real solutions sorely needed by the people of the United States, Russia, and Ukraine, and a whole world badly in turmoil and on the brink of worse.