Ukraine has been wracked by shocking destruction and deadly violence since Russia invaded the country in February. Estimates of the death toll range from a confirmed minimum of 27,577 people, including 6,374 civilians, to over 150,000. The slaughter can only get more horrific as long as all sides, including the United States and its NATO allies, remain committed to war.
In the first weeks of the war, the United States and NATO countries sent weapons to Ukraine to try to prevent Russia from quickly defeating Ukraine’s armed forces and conducting a U.S.-style “regime change” in Kyiv. But since that goal was achieved, the only goals that President Zelenskyy and his Western allies have publicly proclaimed are to recover all of pre-2014 Ukraine and decisively defeat and weaken Russia. These are aspirational goals at best, which require sacrificing hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of Ukrainian lives, regardless of the outcome. Even worse, if they should come close to succeeding, they are likely to trigger a nuclear war, making this the all-time epitome of a “no-win predicament.”
At the end of May, President Biden responded to probing questions about the contradictions in his Ukraine policy from the New York Times Editorial Board, replying that the United States was sending weapons so that Ukraine “can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.” But when Biden wrote that, Ukraine had no position at any negotiating table, thanks mainly to the conditions that Biden and NATO leaders attached to their support. In April, after Ukraine negotiated a15-point peace plan for a ceasefire, a Russian withdrawal and a peaceful future as a neutral country, the United States and United Kingdom refused to provide Ukraine with the security guarantees that were a critical part of the agreement.
In May, Russian forces advanced through Donbas, forcing Zelenskyy to admit, by June 2nd, that Russia now controlled 20% of Ukraine’s pre-2014 territory, leaving Ukraine in a weaker, not a stronger position.
Even Henry Kissinger, whose own war crimes are well documented, has spoken out on the senselessness of current U.S. policy. Kissinger told the Wall Street Journal in August, “We are at the edge of war with Russia and China on issues which we partly created, without any concept of how this is going to end or what it’s supposed to lead to.” In the U.S. Congress, after every single Democrat voted for a virtual blank check for arming Ukraine in May, with no provision for peacemaking, Progressive Caucus leader Pramila Jayapal and 29 other progressive Democratic Representatives recently signed a letter to President Biden, urging him to “make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia, explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine, and, in coordination with our Ukrainian partners, seek a rapid end to the conflict and reiterate this goal as America’s chief priority.”
Unfortunately, the backlash within their own party was so blistering that within 24 hours they withdrew the letter. Siding with calls for peace and diplomacy from all over the world is still not an idea whose time has come in the halls of power in Washington DC.
This is an extremely dangerous moment in history. Americans are waking up to the reality that this war threatens us with the existential danger of nuclear war, a danger most Americans thought we had survived once and for all at the end of the First Cold War. Even if we manage to avoid nuclear war, the impact of a long, bloody war will destroy Ukraine and kill millions of Ukrainians, cause humanitarian catastrophes across the Global South, and trigger a long-lasting global economic crisis. That will relegate all humanity’s urgent priorities, from tackling the climate crisis to hunger, poverty and disease, to the back-burner for the foreseeable future.
There is an alternative. We can and must resolve this conflict through peaceful diplomacy and negotiation, to end the killing and destruction and let the people of Ukraine live in peace.
Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies are the authors of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict, available from OR Books in November 2022.