Good Friday Agreement reminds us war can end when peacemaking begins

There are many extreme dangers associated with the war in Ukraine, some too obvious to refer to, but the danger of groupthink around the war is one that is perhaps not sufficiently in some people’s awareness. Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of people make irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform or the belief that dissent is impossible. The dominant narrative around the war in Ukraine is that it must be fought to the bitter end and no other option must even be contemplated. But, as with the war in Northern Ireland, new thinking is often necessary and like John Hume, someone needs to propose alternatives in order to avoid an even greater disaster.

The brutal and unjustified Russian invasion of Ukraine has now entered its second year and is growing more vicious and destructive with each passing day. It is increasingly clear that it is a war in which there are no winners (except the weapons industry) and in which hundreds of thousands of lives are being lost and destroyed. In addition, over sixteen million people have been displaced or forced to flee as refugees — and there seems to be no end in sight.

There can never be any doubt about the horror of war, demonstrated time and time again through two world wars, the Vietnam War and those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Palestine, to name but a few. But the war in Ukraine adds a singular threat that was not present in previous wars and around which there exists a disturbing level of complacency.

This was most recently articulated by Rafael Grosse, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s Nuclear watchdog. He issued an urgent warning after another interruption to the power supply of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant: ‘This cannot go on,’ he told the board of governors of the IAEA. He went on to say that he is ‘astonished by the complacency’ regarding this peril and warned the IAEA to guard against it.

The war in Ukraine is also a confrontation between two regional and geopolitical power blocs, Russia and NATO, with thousands of nuclear weapons in their arsenals. This presents a very real danger that what is already a horrific war involving highly destructive ‘conventional’ arms will escalate into an increasingly uncontrollable war involving nuclear weapons, which are no respecter of borders or seas.

But there is also a shocking and disturbing level of complacency in the body politic in general, and among the political elite in particular concerning the potentially catastrophic consequences of this war.

Importance of peace talks

As it rages on, the people of Ukraine are being devastated by relentless brutality. There is also a very real danger that our entire planet will be wasted if we fail to stop the slaughter and the use of ever more brutal and indiscriminate weaponry in a country which hosts four nuclear power stations.

Rafael Grosse warns: “Each day we are rolling a dice. And if we allow this to continue … then one day our luck will run out”. To underscore this point, the Doomsday Clock, created by scientists to symbolise the urgent dangers to human civilisation, and our proximity to “midnight” — in other words, our destruction — is now 90 seconds to midnight, the closest it’s ever been. It is increasingly clear, we must stop rolling this dice. It is time to begin to talk peace.

Those intent on war will call this pointless. However, there are many possibilities for arriving at a ceasefire and settlement — but if we fail to even seek them we will certainly never find them. The Iraq war started in March 2003 and continued for 8 years, though, of course, its awful consequences continue to be felt today. Are we now in the midst of a war in Europe that could last for 2, 3 or perhaps 8 years? This cannot go on.

Apart from the death and destruction suffered by the people of Ukraine, and the threat of a nuclear catastrophe, the planet itself cannot sustain environmental damage from the weapons used in war. It is no surprise to hear that greenhouse gas emissions increased last year, given that the weapons industry is the single biggest institutional source of such emissions. Even before the outbreak of this latest war, we were told that we had less than a decade left to avoid catastrophic climate change. What has the toxic cocktail of weapons used in this war done to hasten the rush towards catastrophe?

Eventually, this war will end through dialogue and negotiation. So, why wait for more death and more destruction? As the bombing and bloodshed continue, it is time now for leaders like John Hume and Alec Reid to emerge and be heard. They will face what may seem like impossible obstacles, but it is time for talking to begin to bring this horrendous war to an end.

The lesson of the Good Friday Agreement is that talking succeeds where war fails. Perhaps we can have the equivalent of a Good Friday Agreement in 2023 to end the slaughter and to end the suffering of those caught up in this vicious conflict.

TUE, 18 APR, 2023 – 20:00



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