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Editorial: Europe should look to Okinawa – security lies in peace and disarmament, not military blocs

SWEDEN has followed Finland in confirming its plans to join Nato.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson says that membership “is the best thing for Sweden’s security,” echoing the arguments made a day earlier by Finland’s leaders: that Russia’s attack on Ukraine means neutrality is no longer the surest guarantee of their peoples’ safety.

As European governments huddle closer to the United States on the basis that Russia is a threat, the opposite logic was at play on the opposite side of the world, as Okinawa — southernmost of Japan’s major islands — marked 50 years since the end of direct US rule.

Protesters demanded the withdrawal of the remaining 26,000 US troops based there, while the island’s Governor Denny Tamaki savaged the Tokyo government for helping the Pentagon relocate a military base within Okinawa despite overwhelming public opposition.

US troops in Japan do not protect the locals, Okinawans insist — they place them in the line of fire, turning the island, which is much closer to Taiwan than to Tokyo, into an obvious target in a US-China confrontation that has nothing to do with Japan.

Washington’s spiel says otherwise. 

The new cold war is a battle of the “free world” against rising authoritarian powers, a line pushed at President Joe Biden’s “democracy summit” last December. 

In this view, the attitude of Okinawans is short-sighted and selfish. In a rehashed version of the old cold war “domino theory,” unless we overawe our enemies with force, countries will fall under their yoke one by one. This is certainly the pitch from a British government that terms Ukraine the “front line of democracy.”

It’s a persuasive narrative, at least when pumped out on every TV channel 24-7. 

But it’s misleading and dangerous. Presenting Ukraine as a “democracy” resisting Russian authoritarianism is wrongheaded: it has a deeply authoritarian government. 

Sweeping bans on opposition groups and media outlets were being imposed before the war began. That’s no justification for Russia’s attack — it was the regime-change liberals, those who said “something must be done” about the likes of Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gadaffi, who regard bad government as an excuse for foreign invasions, not the anti-war left. 

But an artificial depiction of the war as about fundamentally different kinds of society masks the parallels between an increasingly authoritarian, militarist Russia in which dissent is suppressed and very similar political trends across the West, including in Britain. 

And it hides the real causes of a conflict that has been predicted by analysts with impeccable pro-US credentials — right up to Henry Kissinger — for years, one in which the steady encroachment of Nato forces on Russia’s borders would at some point provoke an explosive response.

Seen in that light, Finland and Sweden’s decision will not make Europe safer. Already, Russia moots stationing nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad and warns that the Arctic will be transformed into a militarised zone. 

Aside from the heightened risk of general war, any hope of environmental co-operation in this vital and threatened habitat disappears. 

In Okinawa, locals point out that the planned US base at Henoko could spell extinction for the Okinawa dugong, a rare sea mammal.

What might appear a trivial aside given the stakes in global great power conflict illustrates an important point. 

The drumbeat of the new cold war drowns out other considerations; the need to arm against the enemy overrides protecting the environment, or funding public services, or tackling poverty.

The labour movement should be in no doubt of the consequences. 

You cannot back the new cold war and expect action on climate change. Or the cost-of-living crisis. Or vaccinating the Third World to prevent new Covid variants. For that we need peace. 

The Stop the War Coalition’s immediate response to this war remains the right one: Stop the war in Ukraine. Russian troops out. No Nato expansion.

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