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Negotiate Peace In Ukraine Now – OpEd

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During the past week, U.S. President Joe Biden has been in Europe “rallying” the NATO nations.  He has promised to intensify economic sanctions on Russia, to send Ukraine more than one billion dollars in humanitarian assistance, and to continue to supply Ukrainian military forces with weapons that have so far been used to kill approximately ten thousand Russian soldiers. Interestingly, most news sources in the U.S. and Europe continue to attribute Russia’s military difficulties in Ukraine to their own incompetence or Ukrainian heroism, but seldom to the $3.2 billion worth of high-tech weapons that the U.S. has shipped to Kyiv since 2014.

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Joe Biden, of course, is an architect of this de facto Western alliance with Ukraine. What his end game is nobody can say.  Perhaps the President thinks that Ukraine can repel Russian aggression and win the war. Or he may believe that a costly military stalemate there will eventually compel Vladimir Putin to accept a disadvantageous negotiated settlement.  In either case, the U.S. policy is to weaken Russia by financing a war of attrition that is turning Ukraine into a smoldering desert and a death trap for both Ukrainians and Russians.  Continuing the struggle will inevitably multiply this destruction – unless, of course, the Russians decide to escape the trap by bringing even more destructive weapons into play, or by attacking the supply routes used to transport military equipment into Ukraine.

If such escalation takes place – heaven forbid! – the West will continue to disclaim responsibility for the violence. The underlying idea seems to be that since Putin began this war by invading a neighboring country, he is responsible for all subsequent damage is inflicted by either party on the Ukrainian people.  He must be punished for his behavior, not negotiated with or conciliated, lest he march on the Baltic republics and the nations of Eastern Europe like Adolf Hitler devouring Poland.

The World War II analogy hangs heavily over this whole drama.  The West claims to see Putin as Hitler redux and the Donbass region as his Sudetenland.  The Russian leader calls the Kiev regime “Nazi,” no doubt recalling not only the neo-Nazi militias that supported the Ukrainian rebellion of 2014 but the large number of anti-Soviet Ukrainians who welcomed the German invasion of 1941.  It should be needless to say that these analogies are mistaken.  There are neo-Nazis active in Ukraine, but the Zelensky regime is not Nazi.  For his part, Mr. Putin can certainly behave violently, but he is a conservative nationalist aiming to restore Russian security and pride, not a lunatic bent on world conquest and the extermination of “inferior” peoples.

The analogy persists, nevertheless. Among Westerners it serves several purposes, including providing reasons for continuing to ignore the factors that have inclined Russian leaders to act aggressively.  If Putin is the new Hitler, his alleged security concerns must be as phony as der Fuhrer’s obsession with the “international Jewish conspiracy.” Similarly, Westerners convinced that Putin is purely malicious can dismiss Russian objections to NATO’s vast expansion and the establishment of missile bases in Poland and Romania.  They can ignore concerns about the overthrow of an elected government in Kyiv by U.S.-supported forces and the killing of thousands of Donbass separatists by that new regime.  And they can view the Russian leader as a power-mad imperialist, not recognizing for a moment that the United States and Europe together constitute the most powerful imperial alliance in human history.

The historical factors motivating Russian insecurity and violent behavior are clearly relevant to the current situation.  They do not furnish acceptable excuses for invading another nation, but they do point in the direction of shared responsibility for the tragic conflict in Ukraine.  That perception is a key to possible peace negotiations. The conflict in Ukraine is a war that must end in a negotiated peace, must it not?  But if that is true, what is the point of prolonging and escalating it?  Aren’t 3 million refugees enough?

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These are some of the thoughts that prompted faculty members at the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution to convene a group of foreign affairs specialists and scholars last week at Point of View, the School’s research and conference center, to consider other approaches to this horrifyingly destructive conflict.  At the close of discussions, they adopted the following appeal to the conflicting parties in Ukraine:

Negotiate Peace in Ukraine Now!

All parties to this conflict are hurting.  The costs in human life and suffering are mounting and the damaging effects of the conflict are rippling around the world.  It is high time for the parties to agree to an immediate and complete cessation of hostilities.  Continuing the struggle inevitably multiplies the damage and poses increasing risks that nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction may be used.  

 Along with the U.N. Secretary General, we believe that conditions now exist for negotiating an agreement acceptable to all parties.  The parties should therefore set about negotiating a comprehensive peace agreement with no preconditions.   

 We call on the international community to support peace as it emerges, offering humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding support for the long-term process of recovery.    

 In addition, it is imperative that all OSCE Participating States commit to a thoroughgoing review of the existing security architecture.  This review should begin immediately with a view to updating the Helsinki Final Act and other security agreements at the OSCE’s forthcoming 50th Anniversary in Helsinki in 2025.  

Signatories of the statement (the list is growing rapidly) include former U.S. ambassadors and foreign policy officers, officials of international organizations, experienced mediators and negotiators, scholar-practitioners, and others who might reasonably be considered practical, realistic people.  Even so, many readers of the statement respond by declaring it unrealistic on the grounds that “Putin will never negotiate” or “You can’t negotiate with dictators like Putin.”  This objection is often made in conjunction with declarations that the Russian leader is not a rational calculator of his country’s national interests but a crazed right-wing ideologue obsessed with restoring the Russian empire to its former czarist grandeur.

Conflict resolution specialists will immediately recognize these objections as typical of conflicting parties who have demonized their opponent and sanctified their own cause, and who believe that they can win by continuing a violent struggle.  They recognize, too, that these attitudes reflect the typical aggressor/defender syndrome in which each side, having lost trust in the other’s good faith, considers its own position purely defensive and the adversary’s purely aggressive.  The victims of historical trauma are particularly inclined to fall prey to this syndrome, which often stands as an obstacle to conflict resolution.

Those attending the Carter School’s round-table discussion noted these problems.  They also discussed how best to satisfy Ukraine’s desire for autonomy and independence while responding creatively to Russia’s legitimate security needs and the interests of other parties in the region.  The conferees disagreed on many points, but on three issues their agreement was clear:

First, the war of attrition in Ukraine must end, and peace negotiations must begin very soon, if not immediately.  The steady increase in human suffering and the conflict’s potential to spread and involve weapons of mass destruction make continuation of the war intolerable. 

Second, there is nothing that makes this conflict inherently unsolvable.  On the contrary, well known principles and precedents suggest a wide variety of alternative terms of settlement once serious negotiations begin.

Third, a peace agreement between the conflicting parties must be followed immediately by a multi-party process aimed at satisfying the needs of all concerned for a just and sustainable peace in the Russo-European region. 

Our unanimous conclusion: It is past time for serious peace negotiations in Ukraine.

Point of View Statement on Conflict in Ukraine: Negotiate Peace Now!

23 Mar 2022 – Peace and Conflict Resolution scholars and foreign affairs practitioners convened at the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School’s Point of View research and retreat facility in Mason Neck, Virginia issued the following appeal to the conflicting parties in Ukraine:

All parties to this conflict are now hurting.  The costs in human life and suffering are mounting and the damaging effects of the conflict are rippling around the world.  It is high time for the parties to agree to an immediate and complete cessation of hostilities.  Continuing the struggle inevitably multiplies the damage and poses increasing risks that nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction may be used.

Along with the U.N. Secretary General, we believe that conditions now exist for negotiating an agreement acceptable to all parties.  The parties should therefore set about negotiating a comprehensive peace agreement with no preconditions.

We call on the international community to support peace as it emerges, offering humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding support for the long-term process of recovery.

In addition, it is imperative that all OSCE Participating States commit to a throughgoing review of the existing security architecture.  This review should begin immediately with a view to updating the Helsinki Final Act and other security agreements at the OSCE’s forthcoming 50th Anniversary in Helsinki in 2025.

Signatories are listed below.  Others are invited to join the statement and to distribute it freely.  For further information, please contact University Prof. Richard E. Rubenstein at [email protected].

John M. Evans
Former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia

Jeffrey Sachs
University Professor at Columbia University

Jack F. Matlock, Jr.
U.S. Ambassador to the USSR, 1987-91

Richard Falk
Professor of International Studies, Emeritus, Princeton University

Alpasian Ozerdem
Dean, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University

Christopher R. Mitchell
Professor Emeritus, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University

Susan H. Allen
Director, Center for Peacemaking Practice, George Mason University

Richard E. Rubenstein
University Professor, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University

Karina Korostelina
Professor, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University

Sergey Utkin, Leading Researcher, Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences

Daniel Rothbart
Professor, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University

Prabha Sankaranarayan
President and CEO, Mediators Beyond Borders International

Hugh DeSantis
Former career office, U.S. State Department, Author

Sara Cobb
Professor, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University

Dr. Margarita Tadevosyan
Research Assistant Professor
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University

Ivan Kislenko
Fulbright Scholar

Alex van Oss
(Former) Coordinator, Caucasus Area Studies
Foreign Service Institute

Michael Shank
Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution

Dr. Lara Olson
Consultant, Peacebuilding and Conflict Sensitive Development
Research Fellow, Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies (CMSS), University of Calgary, Canada

David Carment
Professor of International Affairs
Fellow, Institute for Peace and Diplomacy, University of Calgary

Cynthia Lazaroff
Founder and Director, Women Transforming Our Nuclear Legacy

Omar Grech
Director, Centre for the Study and Practice of Conflict Resolution, University of Malta

Rene Wadlow
President, Association of World Citizens

Kevin Avruch
Henry Hart Rice Professor of Conflict Resolution Emeritus
Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, George Mason University

Peggy Mason
Former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament to the United Nations
Current President of the Rideau Institute

Antonio Carlos da Silva Rosa, M.A.
Editor, Transcend Media Service

Jake Lynch
Associate Professor, Peace and Conflict Studies
The University of Sydney

Diane Perlman
U.S. Convener, TRANSCEND-A Peace Development Environment Network

John Scales Avery
Shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; Professor Emeritus at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Michael Loadenthal
Executive Director, The Peace and Justice Association

Jeremy Wildeman
Adjunct Professor, Adjunct Professor at the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies, Carleton University; and in International Development Studies, Trent University

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*Richard E. Rubenstein is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and a professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at George Mason University’s Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution. A graduate of Harvard College, Oxford University (Rhodes Scholar), and Harvard Law School, Rubenstein is the author of nine books on analyzing and resolving violent social conflicts. His most recent book is Resolving Structural Conflicts: How Violent Systems Can Be Transformed (Routledge, 2017).

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS)

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