May 4, 2022

Rethinking Peace Politics

Eva Wuchold and Jan Leidecker

Left-Wing Perspectives on a New Security Architecture

Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, unlike the other brutal wars which have been waged over the years, has destroyed a number of cherished certainties about peace and security, not only because of its sudden arrival, but mainly as it is taking place in the middle of Europe, broadcast non-stop via social media into our homes. The concept of the former ‘Neue Ostpolitik’ introduced by Egon Bahr in 1963 with the Tutzinger speech, based on the promise of change through rapprochement or trade, no longer applies. Similarly, the left-wing promise of Russia as a peace-power, bound to become part of the European peace and security architecture, cannot possibly have any application now.

The war of aggression waged by Russia is contrary to international law and has, in the briefest of time scales, set a great deal in motion. The solidarity of the European population towards the ten million internally displaced Ukrainian refugees, and the almost four million others who have left to go to neighbouring countries and from there travelled onwards to numerous other European countries, has been cross-border and consistent throughout all European countries, unlike 2015. Moreover, the countries of the European Union also seem to been particularly united, which has clearly not been the case for some time, as demonstrated by the rapid decisions on economic sanctions against Russia and by allowing Ukrainian refugees to enter the European Union without registration.

On the other hand, within the German political left in Germany, after weeks of debate over Putin’s stance and NATO’s role, unanimity was reached only when Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the decision on a 100 billion special fund for the Bundeswehr in a government statement. To reject the increase in German arms spending in the wake of the Ukraine war on the grounds that there was no broad democratic discussion and that – in compliance with the debt brake – massive cuts in the social, cultural and public sectors will follow is of course right and good. However, the whole thing only becomes credible if questions such as that of a European security concept, or better still a European and global peace order, are addressed at the same time.

The house of cards built by the left since the end of the Cold War, based on the division of the world into the imperialist protagonists of the US/NATO/NATO member states and the targets of imperialist politics (Russia, China and their spheres of influence), collapsed in just a few minutes in the early hours of 24 February 2022. For the political left, this has at least two consequences. On the one hand, for the first time, the left must also face the issues of national and collective defence, beyond the possibilities of civil conflict management. Admitting the fact that, in recent years, the German left simply ignored the real security concerns of the Eastern European states and categorically condemned, and thus rejected, the associated allied interests based on Russia’s alleged security concerns resulting from NATO’s eastward enlargement, was a mistake is simply not enough. A discussion is still needed on how those security concerns, which have by no means diminished after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, should be taken into account in the future. This also includes an analysis and discussion of the state of Germany’s national defence. On the one hand, parts of the left concede that Ukraine was also the victim of Russian attack also because it was not part of NATO. At the same time, however, presenting NATO as a relic of the 20th century is part of the problem and not of solution. This is baffling to the outside world, especially in the absence of a discussion, at the same time, about how national and alliance defence in Europe can be organised outside NATO.

In the current situation, rejecting a European defence union and cooperation between NATO and the European Union without any alternatives, as was the case before the war, is neither politically nor socially acceptable. What the political left should do, instead, is offer proposals for a security system which meets left-wing criteria, such as ensuring strong parliamentary control over it and rejecting arms exports. One possibility would be to create a system of mutual collective security based on the obligation to provide mutual assistance pursuant to Article 42 (7) of the EU Treaty in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. Another possibility might be reviving the OSCE process between European Union and neighbouring countries, rather than between the individual Member States of the European Union and their neighbours. However, in both cases, this does not mean that the principle according to which war must not be a means of politics no longer applies. On the contrary, disarmament must be a central component of a new peace and security order, especially in view of the current German and international rearmament initiatives. But in order to work, this will have to be adopted on a global scale and therefore only in due course. The negotiation process for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) by the Eighteen Nations Committee on Disarmament in Geneva could serve as an example.

Photo: Zaur Ibrahimov / Unsplash

In addition to the debate on the new European security and peace order, Germany’s political left should discuss further points relating to the prevention of future conflicts which have not yet been addressed. Even though the disputes within the EU that existed before the war in Ukraine, based mainly around constitutional law, have now become quieter, the possibilities offered by common ground should be used to resolve them. Other ongoing lines of conflict should also be addressed. This includes discussing the handling of the EU accession prospects of Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, especially given the fact that Serbia intends to join the European Union, but at the same is worried about potential issues with Russia. Another concern which must be addressed is that of the people in Latvia who do not have citizenship. Indeed, it is simply unacceptable that, thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, more than 200,000 Russian-speaking people in Latvia still have no citizenship. A European approach is needed not only for Ukraine, but also for Moldova and Georgia. In this regard, the creation of a fund for the reconstruction of Ukraine and the stabilisation of the entire region needs further discussion today. In addition, many other EU issues need a solution, notably with respect to asylum, migration and border management, if we want, in the future, to resolve conflicts by civil means or, even better, avoiding the possibility of them actually arising in future.

In fact, this is just one of several crises that we will have to face in the coming years and which, among other issues, will lead to even greater displacements than we have seen to date. The climate crisis has already made some parts of the world uninhabitable. According to the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels and degraded ecosystems may lead to 1.2 billion people being displaced worldwide by 2050. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), due to the global Covid-19 pandemic there has been an increase in the number of people affected by acute food insecurity from 135 million to 276 million since 2019. Because Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, and Ukraine the fifth largest, the war in Ukraine is going to lead to a further increase in the number of starving people, according to forecasts by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This is the case not only in the regions where there is already an existing crisis. Moreover, the crisis of extinction of species must be considered, which has a direct impact on people at the bottom of the food chain. In addition, there is the energy crisis: it is already becoming apparent in the form of high gas and oil prices, due to the effort to limit energy supplies from Russia, but in the future it could produce rather different effects.

All these crises increase the global potential for conflict and escalation and, in the context of our global world, have a direct impact on peace in Europe. Therefore, they must be placed on the agenda as among the issues to be faced and be included in the solutions to be developed. The second necessity is to do everything possible to value the importance of multilateral order, because there is no alternative to it. The whole mechanism of international cooperation has been disrupted by the events of recent weeks, due to the fact that a war is being waged by one member of the UN Security Council, while another member simply stands by (or actually, supports the actions). Ukraine has become the scene of a struggle which is not only between democracies and autocracies, but also concerns the maintenance of a system based on rules, in which the interests of individual countries are not imposed through the use of force. Although the universal objectives and principles of the United Nations Charter remain valid, the United Nations and the entire multilateral system seem more powerless than ever before in the face of Russia’s war of aggression. Right at the moment when the UN Security Council met on 24 February 2022 to prevent further escalation of the conflict, Putin declared war on Ukraine, and Russia vetoed the UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine.

At the same time, the current situation shows the importance of international institutions such as the UN General Assembly as a place of negotiation. It was a good decision to allow the vote at the UN General Assembly, because it has shown how the different states position themselves. Future strategies must now focus on protecting and strengthening this rules-based system. It is time to figure out which institutions can enforce internationally agreed rules in war situations such as the current one, but also in relation to other violations of the rules. The framework for action also needs to be considered. From a left-wing perspective, such a framework for action should place international law and human rights at the heart of political action. This also means reminding everyone that the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two UN covenants on human rights are not reserved for the West or the East, the North or the South, but that their protection is binding on all states and that they are a fundamental requirement for international order. Thus, other bodies and institutions working to protect human rights, such as the UN Human Rights Council, must also be strengthened. They also offer a protected framework for exchange across world regions in war situations.

Such exchanges will be needed not only in relation to issues of war and peace, but above all, to combat the human crises previously described. The already-discussed U-turn with respect to energy transition would have catastrophic climate policy consequences. Why not call for a thirty-year moratorium on conflicts, in order to resolve the climate and biodiversity crisis and thus force the much-needed policy change? This would allow for the necessary restructuring of the above-mentioned international institutions and at the same time, concrete solutions could be tested. For example, we could discuss the global investment structures best able to support the countries which are likely to be most affected by the phasing out of fossil fuels. As well as mastering the greatest ecological transformation of all time, the aim would also be to prevent future wars. Ultimately this would restore society’s faith in the future. According to the latest poll by the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy, the war against Ukraine has led a collapse of optimism for the future that is unprecedented in German history. Left-wing politics needs to aim at removing people’s fear. If afraid for their lives, people are unable to respond to other topics. Fear has no potential for emancipation in society.

Eva Wuchold, Programme Director Social Rights, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Geneva Office
Jan Leidecker, Director, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Geneva Office

This article was first published in German language on