As the war in Ukraine enters its second year, 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 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 which 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 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 is 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 in relation to the potentially catastrophic consequences of this war. As it rages on, the people of Ukraine are being devastated; 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 at 90 seconds to midnight the closest it’s ever been.
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 on March 18th 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?
So, let the talking begin in an effort 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 a Good Friday Agreement in 2023 to end the slaughter and to end the suffering of those caught up in this vicious conflict.
 Mecklin, John.(2023) “A time of unprecedented danger: It is 90 seconds to midnight”. (24 January) Available at: https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/