Netherlands: Why I am not signing the 'Stop Arms Trade' appeal

'Stop Arms Trade' asked me to sign the call 'Stop the war by negotiation'. Below I explain why I am not doing so, and why I think this and other calls for 'negotiations' or even a 'ceasefire' should not be supported.

That the war in Ukraine is horrific, should never have been started and it would be a blessing if it ends as soon as possible, any sensible person will agree. But this call makes no contribution to that and presents a very skewed and inaccurate picture of the war.

The first question the call raises is: who is being called to act? "Our government should promote negotiations between all parties involved: the Ukrainians, the Russians, and the United States as a major arms supplier. And perhaps others too, such as the EU, China or India. Overseen by an independent party, such as the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe). And perhaps with the support of the United Nations."

And what should those negotiations be about? "For all these problems, negotiators will have to find a solution. In any case, negotiations should also be about a different European security architecture, to prevent violence between countries in the future."

It could hardly be more vague and more general. Apparently, pretty much everyone in the world has to talk about everything, not only to solve the war in Ukraine, but to "prevent violence between countries in the future.” Apart from Ukraine, there is violence between countries (and within countries) in many other places around the world where there are at least as many deaths, injuries and misery every day as in Ukraine. And it would be wonderful if all these 'problems' could be solved peacefully through negotiations. But unfortunately that is not the case in the real world, and there is unfortunately no reason to believe that such an appeal could in any way contribute to that.

The real intention of the call is therefore a different one. 'Stop Arms Trade' opposes the supply of arms to Ukraine and now puts forward 'negotiations' as an alternative to it. "Solidarity with Ukraine and Ukrainians does not mean sending ever heavier weapons. Solidarity with Ukraine and Ukrainians means looking for a way out of the violence." Negotiating to end the war is the crux of the call.

But the problem is that (non-existent) negotiations are not an alternative to supplying weapons to Ukraine. The alternative to supplying weapons to Ukraine is not supplying weapons. And proponents of that position would do well to face the consequences.

The past year of war speaks volumes about this. It has clearly shown that despite the incredible motivation and courage of its people, Ukraine would not have been able to withstand the Russian war machine without foreign arms support. It has also made clear (in the areas temporarily occupied by Russia) what a Russian occupation means (killings, torture, rapes, kidnappings, etc.). It has made clear that the Russian war is one of mass terror against the civilian population, as Putin demonstrated earlier in Chechnya and later in Syria. And then there is the signal to the world that a military superpower can invade a sovereign country without effective action against it. That does not make the world a safer place either.

Those opposed to arms supplies to Ukraine should make it clear that they are willing to pay that price (which is paid mainly by the Ukrainian people and by ignorant and indoctrinated Russian soldiers), and cannot hide behind platitudes like "there must be negotiations" and "arming does not lead to peace".

The war in Ukraine poses huge problems and dilemmas for the left and the peace movement. How to prevent this war from escalating into an even greater conflict and the deployment of nuclear weapons? How to counterbalance the huge increase in armament, the expansion of NATO, the consequences for the climate crisis, the food crisis, the refugee crisis, etc. etc.? Nobody has ready-made answers to these, but the search for answers starts with a correct and honest analysis. And that is what this appeal lacks.

The appeal puts both warring parties on equal footing. Nowhere does it name who is to blame for this war, or express solidarity or support for Ukraine. Nowhere does it state unequivocally that this is a war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine. The perpetrator (Putin and his war machine) and the victim (Ukraine) are treated as equal parties and called upon to negotiate. And, it is reassuringly said, negotiations need not involve "handing over territory to one side or the other." Why one party or the other? Is Ukraine occupying some Russian territory?

This call does not exist in a vacuum. An earlier opinion piece in the newspaper Parool by Wendela de Vries (of Stop Arms Trade) and Harrie Lindelauff put it less bluntly. "Negotiating does not at all necessarily mean ceding territory conquered by Russia." That piece appeared on 14 December and called on the Dutch government to come out in favour of a Christmas truce. That was during the period when Russian troops had been driven out of Cherson and often had to withdraw in disarray. 'The Russians are in dire need of a breather to regroup' several analysts wrote at the time. And indeed not long after, Putin made his call for a truce during the Russian Orthodox Christmas celebration.

What to do

Does rejecting such calls mean that as leftists and peace-lovers we can then do nothing at all? Of course not. There are all sorts of things we can do. Let me name a few.

  • Unambiguously condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • Express our unconditional support for Ukraine in the fight against it.
  • Stress Ukraine's right to obtain weapons for its defence wherever it can get them.
  • Give concrete political and material support to left-wing Ukrainian organisations fighting both against the Russian invasion and against the Zelensky government's neoliberal policies.
  • Provide concrete political and material support to Russian organisations fighting against Putin and his policies.
  • Joining the European Network for Solidarity with Ukraine and its actions.
  • Campaign for the full cancellation of Ukraine's debts.
  • Campaign against the increase in defence spending, the power and profits of the arms industry and the existence and expansion of NATO (with Sweden and Finland) and complicity with Turkish attacks on the Kurdish movement. And for reductions in the military budgets of all NATO states.
  • Campaigning for the withdrawal of foreign NATO troops and missiles and Russian troops and missiles from all European countries.
  • Campaigning against nuclear weapons and for a nuclear-free zone across Europe.
  • Making it clear that the struggle in Ukraine is not a struggle between the 'free west' and totalitarianism but that the 'west' has illegally intervened militarily on several continents dozens of times in recent decades.
  • Making it clear that the left worthy of the name left always opposes oppression and exploitation anywhere.
  • Welcome Ukrainian refugees and dissidents from the Russian Federation and a humane asylum policy for all refugees.

Translated from Dutch using Deepl by AN