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Editorial: Happy new year? Not unless we halt the march to war

THE earliest sources make the festive season a time of peace: “Peace on Earth and goodwill to all” are words Luke the Evangelist ascribes to the angel addressing shepherds on the night of Jesus’s birth.

The peace message dominates a more modern seasonal staple too, with John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over) enjoining us that war can be a thing of the past. The wish that the new year be “a good one, without any fear” is often explained as a reference to the real fear that the cold war would erupt into a conflict that would end life as we know it.

That’s worth remembering as we enter 2022 with fears of war in Europe once again on the rise. Western powers have accused Russia of massing thousands of troops near Ukraine. Moscow may be planning an invasion, the United States says. 

Moscow denies it: warning in turn that Ukraine may be considering an offensive to reconquer the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, areas that split off following the fascist-backed “Maidan” coup of 2014.

Is war likely? US President Joe Biden, who has announced an end to the “forever wars” begun by George W Bush and accepted defeat in Afghanistan, has said that the US is not prepared to fight Russia over Ukraine, but would instead respond to any attack with sanctions.

This is not because Biden is a man of peace but because his administration is primarily concerned with the new cold war on China.

Even so, the US is not prepared to give an inch on its military domination of this continent (though it promised Nato would not move “one inch eastward” in return for the withdrawal of Soviet troops in the 1980s). 

Western media portray Russia as the aggressor — but Nato “forward bases” led by US, British and German soldiers are stationed on its borders.

Russian manoeuvres are always depicted as a threat, when US-led military exercises on Russia’s borders are treated as purely defensive — even when they include simulated nuclear launches, as they did in November.

The narrative is maintained by careful avoidance of the facts: “We don’t know what Putin wants, in part because he doesn’t know himself,” intoned Mark Galeotti in this week’s Daily Telegraph.

Actually since Russia presented the United States with a list of proposals on December 17, we do know what it wants — though a host of Atlanticist think tanks and broadsheet pundits compete to assure us that the proposals are “not serious.”

We should go back to basics. Like John Pilger, who asked a US admiral how he would feel if Chinese warships were patrolling the US coast, we need a spirit of reciprocity: to understand that for Russia Nato exercises in Lithuania look as threatening as Russian exercises would in Belgium or Mexico.

We should ask ourselves why particular demands — that both Moscow and Washington agree not to host nuclear weapons in other countries, for example — are “not serious” and whether such a mutual de-escalation would not benefit the peoples of both countries and those in between.

John Lennon’s seasonal favourite was at least released in a world that understood the danger it was in and the importance of compromise: from 1969 the US and Soviets began the Strategic Arms Limitation (Salt) talks that slowed the nuclear arms race and led in turn to the Strategic Arms Reduction (Start) treaties that saw nuclear arsenals begin to shrink, a trend Britain’s government is now reversing.

Today’s politicians understand neither: egging each other on at Westminster to ever more reckless provocations, sending warships to harass China and posing in tanks on Russia’s borders.

The new cold war has heated up over the course of 2021. In 2022 we need a peace movement that brings a breath of sanity back into these questions — all while keeping our eyes on the prize of a peaceful world.

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