There are no words to properly describe the news coming out of Ukraine, as the Putin regime continues its unprovoked invasion of this peaceful country. How can we avoid war in a new ism? Is it even possible?
Mel Young: Everyone is appalled by the war which is raging in Ukraine right now. People are horrified by the images they see on their screens. In some ways, these are no different to the images we have seen in recent wars in Syria and Afghanistan. There are no positives in wars and everyone wants the war and associated suffering in Ukraine to stop. Both sides are miles apart in their demands. My concern is that no institution is taking any initiative for peace. The United Nations has condemned the violence but they are not taking any peace initiative to stop the war. Remember that in every single war since time began, it is always the innocent people who suffer. We can always support the victims of war through humanitarian actions but that only papers over the real issue; the longer the war goes on, the greater the suffering. Currently, it seems as if we are waiting for a winner to emerge at whatever cost in the hope that peace will follow. Might it be better to start a peace initiative sooner rather than later?
Alex Matthews: Yes of course – peace should be the absolute priority. I belong to a Western generation that has been lucky enough to never experience war first-hand, so we take peace for granted; this act of violence and aggression by Russia towards Ukraine, pretty much on our doorstep, has shocked us to the core. I guess the knee-jerk reaction to that shock is to be aggressive towards the aggressor, hence the sanctions – and they’re important – but, as you say, there don’t seem to be many people trying to work towards a peaceful solution. That is largely, of course, because Putin does not appear to be someone who can be reasoned with, but does that mean the only option is war, whether it’s ‘real’ war or a type of proxy, economic war? How can we work towards peace in these circumstances?
MY: That is a hugely difficult question. If there were an easy answer then we would all be doing it. I guess the answer lies in this question: how do you deal with the playground bully? We do have answers to this on a micro scale – I think the answer to the bigger question has to be about scaling up these answers. Practices such as mediation are crucial in order to put the guns down so that each side can discuss what are very challenging issues, particularly when the leaders are polar opposites. Also, where are the women in this? There are no women. I saw a video the other day of the first attempt at peace discussions between both sides. They sat at opposite sides of a long table with about 10 on each side. All of them were men over a certain age. Guess what, the talks failed. You have to ask what would have happened if the delegations had been all women. I think the outcome might have been different. I don’t want to be flippant about this but in these situations, women will often emerge as the real leaders.
AM: I think that’s a really good point Mel. Without wanting to be ‘anti-men’, I do think that, if more women had positions of power, particularly in Russia in this case, there would be less of an inclination to wage war. I think it’s also telling that almost all the key players in Russia, Ukraine and the West are men – Putin, Zelensky, Biden, Johnson, Scholz, Macron… The only prominent woman I can think of is Ursula von der Leyen. I wonder what approach we would be taking if, for example, Finland’s Sanna Marin, Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen, Estonia’s Kaja Kallas and Lithuania’s Ingrida Šimonytė were leading negotiations? These are all European leaders, many with Russian borders – they have skin in the game. We have discussed before about the need for more diverse leadership at all levels – and this is a real case in point.
MY: Yes, and this comes back to the discussions that we have had in the past in blogs and podcasts about political systems in the world. So, are the current political systems fit for purpose in the modern world. I think the answer has to be no. The bigger question, therefore, is what does an equitable political system look like which has diversity at its heart. It doesn’t work right now obviously, what system will work is the question we need to focus on in any constructive discussion about a new ism in the future.