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Cool down the rhetoric and start the search for diplomatic solutions

The Morning Star reprints the speech given by KEVIN COURTNEY at the Stop the War meeting in London on Wednesday

I’VE been a long-time member of the Stop the War Coalition. On Wednesday night I spoke at a meeting.

This is something like what I said:

First of all, important for me to make one thing very clear.  
  
PERSONAL CAPACITY 

On the publicity for this meeting, it says I’m here in a personal capacity. That matters. I am the joint general secretary of the NEU and I’m the TUC general council’s international spokesperson. I am speaking in neither of those capacities. 

I am speaking in a personal capacity — because at this time of crisis the positions I hold might not be shared widely in organisations I am a member of or a leader of — and I am opposed to policy capture of organisations. 

But as an individual with some experience in the movement, I want to speak out. And I urge others to speak out. 

It is vital that we can hold democratic discussions on these matter of such serious importance for the whole world. 

SECONDLY

I completely condemn Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It is unwarranted and inexcusable on any basis. The Russian troops should withdraw immediately.

The people in Kiev and throughout Ukraine sheltering from Russian bombs and missiles deserve our support. They have the right to resist. Russian troops have the right to disobey orders and we understand some are.

This Russian invasion adds to the horror in our world — it adds to the war in Yemen and the starvation and the denial of rights for women and girls in Afghanistan.

And it raises the stakes to a much higher level — brings us to the brink of an even bigger generalised conflict.

THIRDLY

So, the brave peace protesters in Russia, standing up to Putin deserve all our support.

Six thousand at least have been arrested and many more are protesting. 

The illegal war in Iraq killed at least half a million people and created the circumstances for the growth of the death cult Isis. 

We protested and said: “Not in My Name.”

From those of us in the UK who led the opposition to the illegal war our country carried out in Iraq — we reach out to the peace protesters in Russia. We support you — we love you. 

FOURTHLY  

Right now, in this country, Stop the War itself is under a huge attack — and I believe it is important to resist that attack. 

I was at the launch of the Stop the War movement in Friends Meeting House over 20 years ago — and there are lessons from those last 20 years that I think are incredibly relevant now. 

The war in Afghanistan after 20 years has not built a nation, not led to the replacement of the Taliban. The Iraq war killed at least half a million. 

Military solutions — suggested by American presidents and British prime ministers have a habit of not working out.

FIFTHLY 

I don’t trust Boris Johnson at home, and I don’t trust him abroad. And I worry that solutions our government comes up with can pour more petrol on the fire. I worry about the discussion of plans to expand Nato eastward. 

And you don’t have to be on the left to have those concerns.   

For example, Jeremy Bowen on the BBC last weekend quoted George Kennan a famous US government cold war strategist who said an eastward expansion would be the most fateful error. It would “inflame nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion.”

And I am afraid Kennan was right — and Putin has exploited those tendencies. 

SIXTHLY 

Some people say: “You are right that the eastward expansion of Nato was a mistake — but now isn’t the time to say so.”

But we must talk about it now. Because we need to look for the off ramp — the way out of this crisis. And the fervour of the current approach can lead to a huge overreach.  

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian last week, said: “The route to peace in these crises lies in strength. The strength to keep everything in proportion and to see a way through. The risk is always that curse of history: that when hostilities turn to crisis, war can seem the simplest, most glorious way forward.” 

And since I quoted Kennan, let me also quote Henry Kissinger. Speaking in 2014, he said: “If Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should serve as a bridge between them.” 

We must talk about a way out. And diplomatic solutions can work — for example, the Iran nuclear deal really was reducing tensions until Trump blew it up. 

So, while unambiguously calling for Putin to withdraw all of his troops from Ukraine — it is vital that diplomatic solutions are sought. 

LASTLY 

Diplomacy is better than war.  

But spheres of influence — for the West or for Russia — aren’t what ultimately, we should seek. 

We should seek peoples and countries living in peace — living as brothers and sisters, free of big-power manipulation, whether in Ukraine, Latin America or Cuba. A world where no one has to flee from conflict. And if they are uprooted there is no colour bar at the borders they must cross.  

And ultimately the key thing that gets us there is informed, engaged and mobilised peoples holding their governments, their rulers, to account.

Telling governments across the world that they should not think about using our children’s lives for their big-power games.

John Maclean, a Glasgow socialist and trade union leader, was jailed for three years for opposition to WWI. He coined a phrase “A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at both ends” — and that sense is what drives me.

And that above all is why I’m proud to speak on this platform of Stop the War.

Stop the War mobilised millions of people to tell the government in this country that they opposed the illegal war in Iraq — if only our politicians had listened then, to the democratic majority.  

So, let’s all of us speak out in the ways that are available to us.  

Let’s support the peace protesters in Russia.

Let’s call for an immediate Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory and an immediate ceasefire.

Let’s demand that Ukrainian refugees and from other wars are allowed into the UK.

Let’s say to our UK politicians — cool down the rhetoric and start the search for diplomatic solutions.

And to everyone in this room I say: Let’s engage in respectful discussion and mobilise the people for peace and against war.

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