In the middle of a brutal assault, it's difficult to talk about demilitarization. And so, it was with trepidation that I recently convened a conversation about exactly that.
One of my guests, Anastasiya Leukhina, a war refugee from Ukraine, has a degree in peacebuilding from Notre Dame. In regular times, she said, she'd describe herself as a sort of peacenik, but now, "considering the situation and the losses that we have on the ground, we really need military assistance and we really need modern warfare and we need as much of it as we can get, as soon as possible."
More warfare is certainly coming. Even if Russian forces draw back from Kyiv and negotiations reach a deal, the conflict has already seen massive growth in weapons spending by the EU and NATO, even by countries like Germany and Denmark who've been spending down for years. Russian spending is up, and the US leads the pack. The Biden administration’s proposed Pentagon budget for 2023 stands at $813 billion. It's bigger in real terms than ever before, as bloated as ever and spending on Ukraine is only a tiny fraction of it.
As Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies pointed out in our conversation, the payment of billions of dollars on new weapons systems failed to prevent Russia's invasion. Indeed, Vladimir Putin used NATO's build up as an excuse for it.
As Phyllis put it, "while there's an inevitable urgency for all things military right now, we know that greater militarization creates more problems after."
The idea of a neutral Ukrainian state gets fainter with every war crime, but if the US and NATO resume their military exercises in Ukraine, the risk of war with Russia will always be with us. In the end, my guests agreed that what's needed for sustainable peace will be an equal investment in the architecture of peace, and not just the president-to-president kind, but the people-to-people sort.
Gesturing to a book on his shelf, published by anti-war activists in 1913, Dmitri Makarov, zooming in from Russia, suggested that in today's interconnected world, we're much better equipped to communicate globally now than we ever were, and every local crisis has global implications.
Could the OSCE, the UN, or the Council of Europe be empowered to monitor and constrain not just Russia's arms deals, but everyone's? Could today's sanctions regime provide a model?
Conversations like this aren't easy but we're going to need more of them. And they won't come on media networks underwritten by arms-makers. That's why I'm happy to be launching season three of the Laura Flanders Show on public television this week.
Scholars of authoritarianism say that mind control begins with the limiting of options, a lopping off of a whole set of realities and choices. Dissenters say that what makes a difference is practice, and this conversation felt to me like practice; practice in holding two things together at the same time: the need to stop this war, and to work across national boundaries to prevent the next one.