The Beginning of the End of the War in Ukraine?

Image of peace symbol.

Image by Candice Seplow.

Unless you are a peace activist, or work for the Pentagon or a weapons contractor, you are likely (blissfully) unaware Congress is about to take up the National Defense Authorization Act, the massive policy bill on Pentagon spending and related military and foreign policy functions. It will likely get nearly $900 billion this year while social programs get short shrift.

Among more than 1500 proposed amendments to the bill on various issues are some that seem a bit oriented toward peace, including ending US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen (and fully supporting the nascent peace process), assessing nuclear weapons systems and policy, and limiting US weapons transfers.

An amendment offered by US Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) could offer a way out of the disastrous war in Ukraine, for the Biden Administration, Russia, and Ukraine itself.

The amendment is relatively modest and straight-forward, requiring the Biden Administration to report to Congress on its strategy, objectives, projected costs, and perhaps most importantly, its diplomatic engagement (or lack thereof) to hasten the end of the war.

The timing of Davidson’s amendment may be fortuitous, coming on the heels of a July 6 NBC News report on previously secret, “track two” talks between former US government officials and Russians including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It is also very likely official, “track one” government-to-government talks are also ongoing but not publicly acknowledged. At the least, the amendment is a good governance, Congressional oversight, checks and balances measure on the Executive Branch, which wields enormous power over military and foreign policy.

It could be more than that, if it passes Congress, becomes law, and gets the attention it deserves. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal, and a calamity for both countries.

The U.S. and other outside powers, while they are far from neutral, disinterested parties, may be needed to bring their influence to bear on ending the war. Over the last several decades, Congress, representing the American people, has become entirely too deferential to presidential power on war and peace issues. This amendment would add to a growing trend to correct that imbalance.

The Biden Administration, for its part, has to know the US cannot endlessly write blank checks to Ukraine for weaponry. Congress at some point will tighten the purse strings. Also, President Biden presumably would like to run for re-election free of this headache, understandably preferring to focus on the economy and improving the lives of people in this country.

I won’t attempt to speculate on the motivations or self-interest of the Ukrainian or Russian governments. But for the people of those two countries, so closely linked by history and culture, this war, which looks to be an intractable stalemate, can’t end soon enough, with negotiations to settle all manner of issues to be determined by the parties with whatever outside help is required.

Every day, people dying on both sides is a needless tragedy. The Davidson Amendment could be a turning point to end this madness. It deserves strong, bipartisan support.

Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.