The Ukraine Crisis – IHR Event Recap

War continues to embroil Ukraine as Russian forces advance through the country. Putin’s assurances of only attacking military sites are belied by the mounting civilian casualties in Ukraine. Many Ukrainian individuals have picked up arms for the first time, putting up a valiant stand against the aggressors, while other are seeking safety in neighboring countries. The sanctions levied on Russia and their leadership are likely to have an impact on the country, although they have not yet significantly influenced the current Russian offense. There is, however, a constraint in terms of resources for the Russian troops. For more information regarding this issue, visit Dr. Tina Reuter’s blog post for the Institute for Human Right.

In light of these developments, the UAB Institute for Human Rights (IHR) and the UAB Department of Political Science and Public Administration (PSPA) held an expert panel on March 3rd. The conversation was moderated by Dr. Robert Blanton, the Chair of the Department of PSPA at UAB. The panel was comprised of Dr.Tina Kempin Reuter, Director of the UAB IHR and associate professor in the Department of PSPA as well as the Anthropology Department; Dr.George Liber, retired professor from the History Department at UAB; Scotty Colson, coordinator at the Jimmie Hale Mission and Alabama’s Honorary Consul for Ukraine; Dr. Renato Corbetta, associate professor in the Department of PSPA and Director of the UAB International Studies Program; and Dr. Peter Verbeek, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Director of the graduate program in Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights. Panelists discussed the past, present, and future of the Ukraine crisis and consideration of the implications for the people of Ukraine, international relations, and world peace.

Graphic for the Ukraine Crisis Event, with a light blue background and white text reading, "Virtual Panel Discussion. The Ukraine Crisis. Implications for Geopolitics and Human Rights."
The Ukraine Crisis Panel Discussion took place on March 3rd, 2022.

Historical Context

Dr. Liber began the conversation by providing a historical background for the current crisis. Ukraine has been an independent country since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and a majority of its people have supported a pro-democratic position including, but not limited to, free elections. Putin, in contrast, leads Russia as an authoritarian dictator, controlling the parliament, courts, and state media. Civil liberties have taken a toll under his leadership as the government goes as far as to reshape public opinion through its influence. Putin has always struggled to recognized Ukraine as an independent state and aims to restore Russia to its former power. Two significant events have led to the recent escalation. The first was the removal of the pro-Russian government from office in 2014, and the subsequent appointment of a more democratic leadership. In response, Russia annexed Crimea with the help of pro-Russian annexationists in Eastern Europe. The conflict between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists created great turmoil at the time. The second event that prompted the recent attack by Russia, according to Dr.Liber, was the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which signaled to Putin that the US may be hesitant to engage their military forces at the time of conflict.

The Situation on the Ground

Scotty Colson followed this historical summary with a description of the current situation in Ukraine. He recounted his interactions with former participants in the Open World Program, which is a government funded program that offers young Ukrainian leaders the opportunity to travel to the US and exchange ideas on key global issues with their counterparts. Mr.Colson relays the experiences of participants of this program who visited Birmingham and who are currently in the center of the war in Ukraine. One individual, a lawyer who advocates for the democratization of Ukraine, took up an AK47 despite his lack of experience handling firearms. He now mans a barricade in Ukraine after his regular work hours. Another individual that Colson interacted with was an entrepreneur who created programs to help people receive first aid. He is currently one of the leaders in providing emergency care for war torn areas. Another individual stands guard with a machine gun outside an airport. Colson also mentioned that advocates from other countries are being removed from social media platforms in Russia. He emphasized the connection we have with these individuals, and others, in Ukraine, as they were inspired by Birmingham’s history to lead civil reform in their own country.

Humanitarian Consequences

Dr. Reuter detailed the human rights implications of the conflict. Undoubtedly, there has been an increase in human rights violations, including the right to life and civilian integrity. The air strikes and heavy artillery are in direct breach of international law, prompting an investigation by the International Criminal Court. The number of casualties is uncertain, with the. However, since the UN Office of the High Commissions for Human Rights only counts deaths that they can verify, the numbers reported by them are likely to be an underrepresentation. Moreover, the most concerning development in Dr. Reuter’s opinion is Putin’s remarks during his conversation with president Macron, in which he showed no sign of relenting. At the time of the panel discussion, approximately 160,000 people were displaced, and this number was expected to climb to several millions. Some individuals had to wait for up to 60 hours in in freezing weather before being allowed to enter Poland.

Despite this, the overwhelming attitude towards Ukrainian refugees has been one of warmth and acceptance: the European Union (EU) is set to grant Ukrainian refugees with permission to live and work in the EU, while receiving education and healthcare, for a year. While Dr. Reuter appreciates this response, she points to the problematic contrast in attitudes towards the refugees from Ukraine as opposed to refugees from the Middle East and Africa, who have not been received as positively. Another significant challenge is the delivery of humanitarian aid, particularly since the war conditions have made it more unsafe for aid workers. At the time of the panel discussion, Russia tentatively agreed to arrange for a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians and deliver aid safely. However, since then, there have been reports of air strikes impacting these corridors and other civilian buildings as well, including a maternity ward.

Interventions by the International Community

Dr. Corbetta discussed the possible options for the international community to intervene in the situation at hand. The reason for the hesitancy of western powers in deploying troops is the risk of escalation into nuclear warfare. The escalation may not necessarily be due to a strategic attack but even just an accident by the troops stationed in the area. This is known as the stability paradox – conventional forces cannot be used because it might lead to the use of nuclear weapons, but the potential disastrous consequences of nuclear weapons will encourage the use of conventional warfare instead. Dr. Corbetta believes Putin is attempting to make it seem as if Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons in order to prevent the stationing of conventional troops.

Sanctions are one of the other ways the west will be able to influence the situation in Ukraine. Although the sanctions imposed thus far have been strong, they take act slowly. It is important that the sanctions are increased progressively rather than levying all of the most severe sanctions at once in order to maintain leverage. Hence, the gradual nature of the impact of sanctions gives Putin time to cause further damage in Ukraine. China plays a key role in the success of sanctions as well. Dr. Corbetta says that Putin will count on China to become their key economic partner to reduce the burden of the sanctions. China at the time had not chosen sides, waiting to see the reaction from the West and the precedent that will be set for Taiwan. Another intervention is to have negotiations between Ukraine and Russia with the United Nations present to mediate. This may be particularly likely if the Russian advance is not very successful in the future, although Putin has not been keen on negotiations until now. Mediation can take a more direct form as well, with a neutral group placing troops in between the two countries to prevent conflict.

The image shows a soldier holding a gun. The Ukrainian flag is raised in the background.
“Ukraine Crisis” by theglobalpanorama is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Path to Peace

Dr. Verbeek was asked to speak about the prospects of peace and how to achieve it. He began by distinguishing the two components to peace. The first is negative peace, or the cessation of violence, while the second is positive peace, which goes beyond that to tackle social injustice that prevent the attainment of peace. Dr. Verbeek also cautioned against being quick to take sides and encouraged everyone to consider the human experience on both sides in addition to the actions of the leaders. He gave the example of a Russian soldier’s text message exchange with his parents, who wanted to send their son a package only to find out he was deployed in Ukraine. The soldier, distraught, told his parents that they were promised a warm welcome from the Ukrainians. Similarly, on the other side, it is important to ensure that refugees who are under assault are able to safely exit the country. Moreover, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Russia has ratified, should be invoked to reduce the suffering of children stuck in the middle of the war. Dr. Verbeek also believes it is time to reassess the necessity of NATO, as it was devised to combat the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. While some say it is needed for the situation in Iraq, it is worth considering if the way we have been doing things is the best way to continue moving forward.

With regards to sanctions, Dr. Verbeek mentioned that punishment is not very effective according to behavioral science. He believes more emphasis should be placed on negotiations, with the UN or western countries present to aid in coming to a compromise. There are currently talks underway in Belarus, and it is crucial that these continue. Thinking creatively and differently than in the past is necessary to find a solution to the crisis. As Dr. Verbeek put it, “it is very important for people to talk. As long as the guns are going, and people are not talking, peace will be far away.”

Other Key Points

When asked what Putin’s overarching goal may be, Dr. Corbetta mentioned that it would be difficult to say with certainty. His intention may be to restore Russia to its status in the past when the Soviet Union still existed. He also may not want Russia to take a back seat in the increasingly important US-China relationship. Colson added that Putin’s may be more financially motivated, aiming to take control of resources in the north and simultaneously undermining and dividing the Western powers. An example of such a resource is oil, which Putin may be able to leverage to exert influence over countries dependent on oil. In terms of the implications for international relations, Dr. Verbeek highlights the importance of not only addressing the current loss of lives but also paving the path for global cooperation in the future, a necessary prerequisite to addressing  existential crises such as global warming.

When asked about the United Nations Security Council’s role in diffusing the conflict, Dr. Reuter answered by first stating that the UN General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s actions was a positive sign. However, the influence of the Security Council is limited by Russia’s veto power. The Security Council, having been established after WWII, may not accurately represent the distribution of power in today’s world. Dr. Verbeek believes that it is time to reconceptualize the way in which the UN operates. In addition to this, Dr. Liber brought up the point that the outcome of the Ukraine crisis will have implications for nuclear disarmament as well. After being pressured by the US and other world powers, Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal towards the end of the twentieth century and sought a guarantee for its national sovereignty in return. In light of the invasion of Ukraine, other countries may hesitate to proceed with nuclear disarmament out of fear for their national security.

Is there reason for hope? The answer from the panelists is a resounding yes. Dr. Reuter believes that the dissenting voices in Russia that are creating pressure from within is indeed a case for hope. In addition to that, the possibility for a corridor to supply humanitarian aid is a positive development. There are numerous organizations that are providing humanitarian relief to Ukrainians, and a detailed list can be found in an IHR Blog post written by Dr.Reuter. Dr. Corbetta sees the cohesiveness of the western countries as a reason for hope, particularly if this can be translated to other global issues. Moreover, the invasion of Ukraine is not rolling out as smoothly as Putin would have liked, which may dampen further efforts. This conflict has also made people realize that environmental issues overlap with security concerns – becoming less dependent on fossil fuels will reduce the influence that Russia has over western countries in case such a conflict arises in the future. Dr. Verbeek also finds It reassuring that many UN members stand in agreement that Russia’s actions are wrong. He believes the UN can be reformed to more fairly distribute power and create safeguards to prevent such a crisis, and all its disastrous consequences, from occurring again. For more thoughts from Dr. Verbeek on the conclusion of this war and a more peaceful future, visit his IHR blog post.

 

Racism in Refugee Crisis

by Laura Nell Walker

Drawing of Black woman sitting on steps with her head in her lap
Source: Yahoo Images

Since Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, much has changed. The ruble plummeted in value, the historically neutral Switzerland joined other nations in sanctioning Putin, and airspace around the world is now banned to Russian flights.  However, as the refugee crisis reaches 2 million people fleeing war torn Ukraine, one pre-invasion precedent remains the same: racial inequality. Multiple allegations of racist incidents occurring at Ukraine’s border were reported with more surfacing in news outlets everyday.   

Ukraine is home to around 76,000 foreign students according to the BBC, the majority traveling from India and multiple countries in Africa.  This is the result of attractive educational policies and an anti-imperialist stance cultivated since the soviet era.  Characteristics like affordable living (relative to other European countries), high quality education, and easy visa access have established Ukraine as a gateway to high paying jobs in Europe.  In the lead up to Putin’s invasion, many students petitioned their universities to move online.  Not only were their pleas dismissed, but they were told fines would incur if they missed class.

Now, as students evacuate, they are met with obstacles at the border, harassment, and little help from their home countries.  After making the harrowing trip from their universities to the miles long traffic jam at the border, international students are told that Ukrainian citizens have priority.  Some reports state that for every 200 to 300 Ukrainians, only 5 to 10 people of other nationalities are let through. Yetunde Asika, a Nigeria-based international human rights attorney, told CNN “…the story of a [Nigerian] medical student who had walked about 11 hours overnight to the border and was then told she couldn’t cross until the Ukrainians had been evacuated first.”  Similarly, Jessica Orakpo, another Nigerian student, describes in a video how she was forced to walk nearly  20 hours within the span of two days in her desperate attempt to reach Poland.   Other reports include segregated lines, Black women and children blocked from trains, and a group of black students forced to make yet another journey to the border of Hungary after giving up hope on admission to Poland.

In some cases, representatives from the student’s home nation wait in neighboring countries to assist, but many international refugees assert that the more immediate need is advocates on the Ukrainian side of the border.  Nigerians interviewed by a CNN reporter blamed the Nigerian government more than the Ukrainians, saying “It [government support] would have been so helpful in Ukraine, we were looking for someone to speak on our behalf there.”  Some African students took matters into their own hands, creating a network of support and funding for other Africans and people of color trying to flee the country.  Korrine Sky, Tokunbo Koiki and Patricia Daley created an organization called Black Women for Black Lives.  Daley told NBC that “There was a gap in the access Black people and brown people were getting. There was no one offering their homes to Black people, no one offering to pick up the Black individuals”.  As a result, the three started a group chat to share information and facilitate mutual support among other Black and brown refugees.  They also created an online document outlining paths of least resistance out of the country, including warnings to avoid checkpoints where racial harassment took place, accommodations friendly to people of color, and drivers available to assist with transport.  The three women estimate they’ve helped around 500 people cross the border and that number increases everyday.  They’re bravery points to an unfortunate reality that people of color, especially Black women, are left to fill the gap in support as a result of governmental failings. 

Photo of protest that reads Indians and Africans Face Racism in Ukraine
Source: Yahoo Images

While Black and Brown refugees still lack immediate assistance from officials on the ground, global support and outrage is increasing.  Multiple African government officials have condemned the treatment of their citizens and an International Coalition appealed the U.N. on March 2.  The coalition of activists and human rights attorneys petitioned for the international community to hold Ukrainian and Polish officials accountable for what they see as actions on par with war crimes.  Their two primary demands are an end to racially motivated harassment at the border and equal admission into neighboring countries for non-Ukrainians.  During a press conference associated with the coalition, attorney Jasmine Rand said, “They face one war waged by Russia, and they face a second war waged by racism because of the color of their skin. We are here today because Black Lives Matter in times of war, and in times of peace,”  

 Simultaneously, global outrage responding to racist comments by multiple news reporters sparked a discussion of the assumptions and stereotypes associated with the word “refugee.”  One of the most provocative and widely shared was stated by CBS correspondent, Charlie D’Agata:  “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades.  This is a relatively civilized, relatively European…city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”   A refugee crisis deserves immediate action whether it takes place in the Middle East or Europe.  Popular comedian Trevor Noah spoke out on Instagram in response to the controversy saying, “I think rather than this being a moment to turn on each other, the Ukraine refugee crisis should be a reminder that ‘refugee’ is not a synonym for ‘Brown person.’  Anyone could be a refugee.  It’s a thing that happened to you.  It’s not who you are.”  As the world unites to confront this tragedy, it highlights the hypocrisy historically implemented in humanitarian crises, serving as a prompt that all refugees deserve the same level of support and concern from the international community.      

How to Help

Support Black People Fleeing Ukraine!

Photo of refugee camp. Reads Our Humanity is Not Transactional.
Source: GoFundMe

 

How to Help Refugees and Displaced People in Ukraine

Ukrainian refugee girl
Ukrainian children are fleeing Russian aggression. Photo taken in Przemyśl, Poland 27/02/2022 Source: Mirek Pruchnicki, Creative Commons

As a follow up to our panel discussion (recording will be posted shortly), we want to make the list of organizations available that support people fleeing from the violence in Ukraine. Beyond donating to the organizations listed below, you can also contact your representatives in Congress and share accurate information. Please see the resources at the end of my earlier blog postinformation and organizations put together by Ukrainian journalists, and this resource guide put together by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for people traveling in the conflict zone.

Here is the list of humanitarian organizations:

For Medical Support

General humanitarian help

  • Mercy Corps: humanitarian assistance
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross  or the Ukrainian Red Cross Society:  support food-producing initiatives and infrastructure repair (including water-pumping stations), as well as rebuilding damaged homes, and providing aid to hospitals, schools, mental health facilities and community centers
  • International Rescue Committee: Refugee aid, including food, hygiene and medical supplies, and other emergency resources for refugees, and there isn’t a way to earmark funds specifically for Ukraine on its website
  • World Central Kitchen: delivers warm meals to refugees and displaced people at various Ukraine border crossings
  • Global Empowerment Mission: emergency aid and travel assistance, operates a temporary travel and aid center in Medyka, Poland on the Ukrainian border.
  • Vostock SOS: Ukrainian-based humanitarian aid organization partnering with a German-Swiss nonprofit Libereco to help evacuate Ukrainian refugees out of the country

Children and other vulnerable groups

  • Voices of Children: Ukrainian organization providing psychological and psychosocial support to children
  • Save the Children: provides education, food etc. to children since 2014, provides protective services for unaccompanied minors who flee the country or are internally displaced
  • UNICEF: health, nutrition, HIV prevention, education, safe drinking water, sanitation and protection for children and families. You can earmark your donation specifically to its efforts in Ukraine on the donation page.
  • CARE: supports women and children in the fight against global poverty, Ukraine Crisis Fund

MAKE SURE TO SPECIFY THAT YOUR GIFT GO TOWARD RELIEF IN UKRAINE. Otherwise, money might go towards general causes, including operational budget. DON’T donate to the first crowd funding initiative you see, always vet the organizations carefully.

Please email us at ihr@uab.edu if you have additional vetted resources that could be added to this list or if you notice a broken link. We will update it over the coming days and weeks.  Thank you!

 

How to End the War in Ukraine and Build Lasting Peace

by Dr. Peter Verbeek

World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus, we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.                  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., December 1964

On May 14, 1940, the Nazis aerial-bombed Rotterdam to smithereens. Utrecht, the city where I was born, was next up for annihilation if the Dutch were to continue to resist the Nazi invasion. Following the destruction of Rotterdam, the Dutch army gave up its resistance, and for the next five years the Netherlands suffered under Nazi occupation. Many thousands of Dutch Jewish citizens were transported to Nazi extermination camps where they died horrible deaths. I was born after the war and learned about the horrors of the Nazi occupation from my parents and other close family members, bit by excruciating bit. Many of the most terrifying facts I had to learn through sources other than my family members as my family either spared me or just could not bring themselves to relive them by recounting them to me.

My family’s story is but one that is relevant to the current invasion of Ukraine. Today, February 26, 2022, while writing this piece, I noted this entry on Twitter by @Val_Voschchevska that tells another poignant story:

My aunt: it is impossible to imagine that my mother, who lost her parents and became orphaned at 7, fought against Hitler with the Russian people, had to hide in a haystack from Nazi German soldiers, today, at the age of 85, is hiding in the basement in Kyviv from Russian soldiers.”

My family owe their survival and freedom to the blessed souls, American, British, and Canadian, who stormed the beaches of Normandy while their fellows were gunned down all around them by Nazi soldiers and who continued to fight their way on the Western Front through France and Belgium to liberate the Low Lands from Hitler’s henchmen. From the East, it was the Russian soldiers who died and fought to rid the world of Hitler’s fascist scourge. Now, early 2022, Russia and the United States of America, formerly aligned against fascism, and now each harboring contemporary fascist elements at home, are at war. Yes, let’s call a spade a spade; the country of which I became a citizen out of conviction, and not by birth, is, de facto, at war with Russia. Levying harsh sanctions on Russia is an act of economic and social violence in response to Russia’s deadly violence in Ukraine. Violence begot violence. No amount of semantic wrangling about the meaning of “war” is going to challenge this fact.

Map of Ukraine with arrows showing path of Russia's attack
Source: Yahoo Images

I will leave it to geopolitical analysts to disentangle fact from fiction regarding how it could have come to this, and what the predicted chances of escalation are in this violent confrontation between two nuclear powers that each have a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying most of life as we know it on this planet, effectively and thoroughly. And I will just clearly state that I call on all people of good will to stand with and speak up for all who are victimized by the violence instigated by Putin and his henchmen, and to join UNICEF’s call for a cessation of all violence, for the sake of all of humanity, and, in particular, for the sake of children, the world’s next generations. (Currently, Russia is arresting children for leaving flowers and messages of peace and hope outside of Ukraine’s embassy.) We need our children. The world needs them to grow up healthy and strong, to flourish, and, when they grow up, to clear the messes that we are leaving them. To do better than we did. Much better. To live in peace and to experience happiness. To respect and propagate Life.

Here I offer a peace perspective on the tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine. It is a perspective based on the nascent behavioral science of peace that arose from traditional Peace and Conflict Studies, which, in turn, trace its origins to the end of World War II (1). It is a perspective rooted in the conviction that diplomacy, dialogue, negotiation and collaboration. In sum, nonviolence coupled with reason and perspective taking, is the only way to end or prevent war and other forms of collective physical violence (negative peace). It is also based on the conviction that the cessation of physical violence needs to be followed by an end to structural violence, including an end to social injustice, discrimination, prejudice, social or moral exclusion, and poverty linked to these conditions, so as to pave the way for a sustained positive peace of reciprocally beneficial and harmonious interactions between people and nature, and among human communities and nations (1).

The peace perspective that I offer here is a comparative perspective. It takes into account our evolutionary history as a species which cannot be seen apart from that of the rest of nature nor from our species-specific cultural histories (1). As an example of this, humans are susceptible to ideological indoctrination. Our early evolutionary history most likely predisposed us for this trait, and it can be culturally modified and enhanced. Ideology is the seed from which ‘us versus them’ thinking can take root and flourish. Such collective exclusionary thinking comes in handy when dictators and potentates want to mobilize citizens and soldiers to support and fight their wars (2).

As a species, we also have an ability to discipline our thought processes into critical evaluation and reflection, and this faculty can also be modified and enhanced by culture. It most likely is part of a more recent set of evolved faculties that provided us with the adaptive advantages that allowed us to be the only complex animal of which the population spread to the four corners of the world. Critical thinking requires the specific allocation of mental energy, but, with effort, we are quite capable of acquiring this cognitive ability, especially when we are privileged by an education that nurtures and scaffolds it (3). War thrives on indoctrination, while peace thrives on critical thought. However, beware, our species ability for critical thinking can also be a factor in war when criminal dictators put it to use for plotting and conducting non-provoked warfare and violent oppression. It is not difficult to identify criminal dictators in our past and present who used critical thinking for their evil ways, nor is it hard to think of people who used this faculty for peace and to benefit our world.

Last, and by no means, least, note that the peace perspective presented here derives from the increasing scientific evidence across species and cultures of behavioral processes that preserve harmony in social relations, for example through the active pursuit, establishment, or deepening of mutual or reciprocal interests, tolerance, helping and sharing, the active avoidance of aggressive confrontations, and the restoration of valuable relationships in the aftermath of aggressive conflict. The peace perspective recognizes the empirical distinction between aggression and violence, where violence, such as war, is escalated aggression that is out of inhibitory control. In nature, as well as in human affairs, aggression and peace are not antithetical but, rather, linked in recurring relationships. Aggression, while as seemingly widespread as peaceful behavior, is commonly kept in check through natural behavioral mechanisms such as ritualization, dominance hierarchies, and avoidance, and the damage to relationships is often repaired post-aggression through processes of consolation and reconciliation (1). However, importantly, and with few exceptions, uninhibited aggression, such as the violence of war, is unique to the human species (1,2). Violence is our uniquely human problem. We need to deal with it courageously and definitively.

How can we bring this peace perspective to bear on the invasion of Ukraine? To start, it brings into the light that diplomacy and negotiation have utterly failed to prevent this war. People in the opposing camps need to hold their leaders accountable for this abject failure. In our own country, the United States, people in government from both major political parties need to stop tittering about partisan issues and beating the drums of war and get on with the pursuit of a negotiated settlement that stops the killing and holds off the prospect of unfathomable global catastrophe. Our leaders need to use whatever nonviolent means it takes to reach this immediate goal as there is no alternative. The majority of the people in Russia, Ukraine, the US, the UK, the rest of Europe, and the rest of the world do not want war. This sentiment against war comes natural to people. It is part of our evolutionary inheritance from which cultures unfold and thrive. Political and national leaders represent the people – they need to act on what the people want and need. If that means, for example, that the President of the United States should fly on Airforce One to Moscow to conduct the negotiations there, then so be it, get on with it. It would be an excellent use of taxpayer’s money.

Photo of protestors holding sign that says "Putin hands off Ukraine"
Source: Yahoo Images

All parties need to freeze sanctions to set the stage for negotiations for peace. The sanctions of the US and its European allies are being described as a form of punishment for Vladimir Putin for ordering his troops to invade Ukraine, but an extensive literature in behavioral science shows unequivocally that punishment does not change behavior while incentives do. The most likely consequence of the US sanctions will be that Russia reciprocates in kind. Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, already proposed today (February 26) that the sanctions offer the Kremlin a pretext to completely review its ties with the West, and he suggested that Russia could opt out of the New START nuclear arms control treaty that limits the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. If Russia opts out of the agreement now, it will remove any checks on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces and raise new threats to global security. Medvedev also raised the prospect of cutting diplomatic ties with Western countries, charging that “there is no particular need in maintaining diplomatic relations” and adding that “we may look at each other in binoculars and gunsights.” 

A peace perspective further emphasizes that the world needs to focus its attention and resources on threats that require us to unite as opposed to divide, including the global existential threats of climate change and biodiversity loss that interact to challenge and exceed the planetary boundaries that make human life and much of the other forms of life that we share this planet with possible. These existential threats are not going away while we are preoccupied with war, but rather, they will be amplified by the ravages of war. We also need to finish what we started in fighting the spread of SARS-CoV2. With much of the world still unvaccinated it can be expected to be only a matter of time until new variants evolve with a potential to add significant more COVID-19 deaths to the current tally of close to 6 million deaths worldwide and close to 1 million in the US. We must urgently trade in our missiles for syringes.

We must care about peace now. We must pursue peace now. The reasons for it are clear. There are no alternatives and no excuses. Peace is attainable. Nature has equipped us with behavioral and cognitive means to pursue and sustain it. Our human cultures have nurtured and built on these natural means in a great variety of effective ways. We must respect and use these culturally varied means and advance peace – now.

I end, in all humility, as I started this essay, with a quote by a champion of peace whose eternal words we should all heed when we pursue peace, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. — Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies,” Strength to Love  

References:

(1) Verbeek, P., & Peters, B.A. (2018). Peace ethology. Behavioral processes and systems of peace. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Publishers.

(2) Verbeek, P. (2013). An ethological perspective on war and peace. In D.P. Fry (Ed.), War, peace, and human nature: The convergence of evolutionary and cultural views. New York: Oxford University Press.

(3) Cole, J.R. (2021). Academic freedom under fire. Science, 374 (6573), 1300.

Russia’s Attack on the Ukraine: Why You Should Care

After weeks and months of rising tension, Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Russian troops moved over the border into Ukraine and the Russian air force started attacking cities and strategic locations like military installations and airports. These attacks have happened all across the country, not only in some of the contested provinces in eastern Ukraine. These areas have experienced violence and fighting since 2014 after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. World leaders have condemned Russian actions, with the U.S. and EU announcing additional sanctions on Russia and security-related, economic, and humanitarian support for Ukraine. NATO and the UN have held emergency sessions.

Map of Ukraine with Russian attacks on 2/24/22.
Source: New York Times, 02/24/2022.

 

While this conflict seems far away for us here in Alabama, these developments are impactful, significant, and not to be underestimated for multiple reasons.

Impact on Geopolitics and the International Order

Most importantly, this is the first time since World War II that we are seeing what will likely shape up to be a full-blown international war in Europe. The Russian aggression against Ukraine puts the international order generated at the end of World War II at risk and shakes the very foundations of international relations. The invasion violates international law and denies principles and tenets established by the United Nations Charter, namely the concept of collective security, the maintenance of international peace through multilateralism and institutions, and the outlawing of the use of force in international relations. The war also threatens to destabilize Europe and undermines the order established after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. This has the potential for severe and long-term consequences for Eastern European countries that were formerly under Soviet influence.

From a geopolitical point of view, the invasion highlights Russia’s expansionary tendencies and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to assert his power and restore regional dominance. Reinstating direct or indirect Russian control over Ukraine – a country that was formerly a part of the Soviet Union and before of the Russian Empire – has long been on Putin’s agenda. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the following eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union to include countries that were formerly within the Soviet sphere of influence (e.g., Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, the Baltic States, and the Czech Republic) have humiliated Russia’s ambitions to be perceived as a major world power and undermined its influence in Eastern Europe. NATO announced in 2008 that it would consider membership of former Soviet Union states Ukraine and Georgia, which Putin considered a direct threat to Russia’s influence. When Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was overthrown in 2014 and a pro-European government was installed, Putin invaded and annexed Crimea and started to support pro-Russian separatist forces in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. Tensions have grown since then, culminating in the Kremlin calling the Ukraine “not a state”, designating it an artificial country, and Putin’s speech justifying the invasion by accusing the Ukrainian government of a genocide against the country’s Russian-speaking population. He has also issued warnings to NATO and the U.S. that interfering would lead to “consequences you have never seen”.

Soldiers in Ukraine
Source: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

This has implications not just for the Ukraine, but also for other former provinces of the Soviet Union like Georgia and Kasakhstan. Further, it might set a precedent for other countries like China, which has long contested the independence of Taiwan and the validity of Taiwan’s statehood, or Serbia, which has disputed Kosovo’s recognition as a state. If the international community and Western power show a weak response, China might feel emboldened to take military action to annex Taiwan.

The Human Rights Perspective

From a human rights point of view, there are two particular points of concern I want to highlight. First, there is the potential of grave human cost. In the first hours of the invasion, 40 Ukrainian soldiers have already been killed and dozens more wounded. While Russia’s defense ministry promised not to attack cities or put civilians at risk, we all know that this is not how war works out or how Russia has fought its past wars (think Chechnya and Syria). Human rights violations, especially against women, children, and other vulnerable groups, tend to be widespread in armed conflict. A number of agencies have already called for a ceasefire to protect people in the Ukraine and to allow for humanitarian action, but so far we have yet to see any progress on this.

Second, there is the larger issue of authoritarian regimes expanding to the detriment of democracy and human rights. The “democratic recession” or the decline of democratic institutions and individual rights even in countries that were traditionally stable liberal democracies with high levels of freedom (including our own…) has been demonstrated by political scientists over the years (the term was coined by Larry Diamond, but see also here and here for other approaches). While scholars are debating the impact of democratic decline, Freedom House scores have consistently declined since 2005, showing democracy and human rights in crisis.

Meeting of the UN Security Council.
Meeting of the Security Council. Source: Nagpur Today.

It seems that the foundations of international peace, democracy, and human rights are at risk. Russia’s open aggression shows that these foundations are crumbling or at least are perceived to be crumbling. Putin is not alone in his interpretation  – other authoritarian leaders in China, Venezuela, and Iran, and even some heads of state of democratic countries like Poland and Hungary, have openly defeated traditional avenues of political interaction, trade, treaty making, and diplomacy in favor of hard power and force.

Where does this leave us? At this point, it is unclear how the war between Russia and the Ukraine will unfold, how long it will last, and what the exact human and economic costs will be. We also don’t know yet how the world will respond beyond strong condemnation and imposing sanctions. What we do know is that there is great volatility and potentially long-lasting consequences from this fall out. This is a dangerous situation that we need to observe carefully. It has major implications for geopolitics and will affect us here at home.

What can you do to support the people in the Ukraine?