The Ukraine Crisis is Splitting the Peace Movement
When it’s Needed Most
Brian Garvey / The Peace Advocate
(July 2022) — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created a catastrophe for the people living there and an inflection point for the peace movement. In the past months thousands of people have been killed and millions have fled their homes to escape the violence.
Billions of people all over the world are now living under the greatest threat of conflict between nuclear-armed states in a generation. Woefully, the peace movement in the United States, limited in its influence already, has been unable to unite around a message to oppose calls for more militarization.
Instead of seeking common ground, an inordinate amount of focus has been put on where to place blame for the conflict and on attempts to understand the true situation on the ground in Ukraine. These distractions are taking time and effort away from developing peaceful solutions and are increasing hostility within the peace movement.
At the risk of spending even more time on what’s wrong with the peace movement, it’s worth looking at the breakdown, if only to understand the divisions in an attempt to find unity.
Three major ideological groups have emerged within the peace movement in regard to who is at fault for the war in Ukraine.
“The peace movement must call for
global coexistence, mutual respect, and
cooperation to solve common problems.”
First is the group that places all blame on Russia for the war in Ukraine. This group loudly denounces Putin and the Russian government. It does not clearly oppose the transfer of weapons, or “lethal aid,” from the United States and NATO allies to Ukrainian forces. It does not oppose intelligence sharing that could lead to more deaths on the Russian side. It does not view that level of involvement as making the US a party to this conflict.
In this formulation, Ukrainians have a right not only to defend themselves, but also a right to US/NATO weapons to do so. This group argues that a hesitancy to criticize Russia serves Russian imperialism.
On the other end of the spectrum is a group that refuses to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This group is unwilling to call the 3-pronged attack on the country by over 100,000 troops an invasion.
Instead, the war in Ukraine is described as a “special military operation,” the term used by the Russian government. The invasion is viewed as only the latest development in a war that began over 8 years ago, with a coup orchestrated by the US. From their perspective, this war is NATO’s fault for its reckless expansion, backing Russia into a corner and forcing Russia’s hand. This group argues that criticism of Russia’s actions serves Western imperialism.
The third group is a blend of the first two. It condemns Russia’s invasion as a violation of international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty, while more US weapons and intelligence into the situation, but also believes that placing sole blame on the US denies the agency of other countries to do wrong.
To members of the other two ideological groups, this group is a tool of Russian or Western imperialism. Seen positively, this group seeks to compromise between the other two wings of the peace movement.
While the American peace movement argues internally, the American government is doubling down on militarism; proposing higher defense budgets, transferring large amounts of weapons into Ukraine, and imposing harsher and broader sanctions.
Nuclear postures are becoming more dangerous. Peace-loving people need to unite in opposition to these reckless policies. Unfortunately the peace movement’s already limited influence is diminished by infighting.
All three of these groups make valid points. They have far more in common with each other than they want to admit. They all oppose militarism, US troops to Ukraine, a “no-fly” zone, and the scourge of nuclear weapons. They all support the rights of refugees and increased humanitarian aid. But the struggle between these groups is blunting their impact. The ideological differences between these groups are real, but they are secondary.
Peace talks and negotiations happening now should be encouraged and supported. Escalation must be opposed. Violence by either side should not be excused, but attempts to understand the conflict must not be portrayed as condoning the atrocities seen in this and every war. Let’s stop assuming the worst of one another. Right now this war is being used as an excuse to continue dividing the world into camps, and arming each of those camps to the teeth.
The peace movement must call for global coexistence, mutual respect, and cooperation to solve common problems. It should lead by example. You can read John Blumenstiel and John V. Walsh’s responses to this article at the following links: masspeace.us/Blumenstiel and masspeace.us/Walsh.
Brian Garvey is Assistant Director of Massachusetts Peace Action. He is also an active member of the Raytheon Antiwar Campaign.