“Women are needed now more than ever to help build unity with all those calling for peace in the Ukraine, in Russia and across the world.”
By Sophie Bolt, Vice Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)
From Sylvia Pankhurst, to Greenham and beyond, women have a proud history leading the struggle for peace. As we mark International Women’s Day, that struggle has never been more urgent.
The catastrophe unfolding in the Ukraine is having a devastating impact on women and children. According to the Pramila Patten, the UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, ‘Unless the conflict ceases, thousands of additional families will be forcibly displaced…increasing the risk of sexual violence and exploitation’.
So it is an absolute priority for the international community to secure a ceasefire and negotiate a political settlement to remove the troops. Women have a crucial role to play in pressuring our political leaders to make this happen. Silencing anti-war MPs and Young Labour members only strengthens the voices calling to escalate this war. Voices within NATO and the Tory Party, as well as the Ukrainian President himself, are demanding NATO enforce a ‘no fly’ zone. But far from protecting the people in the Ukraine from Russian bombs, it would put them at even greater risk, caught in the middle of an all-out war between Russia and US-led NATO, which could go nuclear.
Former Nato Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, General Philip Breedlove describes how such a no fly zone would work. “[I]f you put a no-fly zone in the eastern part of Ukraine … and we’re going to fly coalition or NATO aircraft into that no-fly zone, then we have to take out all the weapons that can fire into our no-fly zone and cause harm to our aircraft. So that means bombing enemy radars and missile systems on the other side of the border [i.e. Russia].That is tantamount to war.” Horrifyingly, he is advocating NATO does just this!
In 1991 when Britain and the US enforced a no-fly zone in Iraq, supposedly to protect the ethnic Kurds and Shiite Muslims, that escalated into the full scale US-led illegal invasion in 2003. We all know the horrific consequences of that. This is why all voices – especially women’s – must be heard if we are to find the ‘exit route’.
Understanding why NATO is part of the problem is key. Far from the beacon of peace and stability, argued by Starmer, NATO is a coercive, nuclear-armed alliance. It’s expansion – to now 30 member states across Eastern Europe – is dangerous and destabilising.
Nina Potarska, from the Ukrainian section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, speaking at a rally before the Russian invasion, said ‘It is very difficult to talk about peace and demilitarisation, when you are facing attack from any side. Ukraine has always been a buffer between Russia and NATO. All our history and our conflict is related to this situation. It is like a battleground for a big game, but ordinary people don’t want to be a part of this big game.’
NATO states are expected to spend at least 2% of their national income on defence. Remember Trump berating NATO states to double it? This US pressure influences government spending priorities, driving austerity policies that have forced women in Britain to shoulder 85% of public sector cuts, with thousands now going hungry to feed their children.
NATO states also host 150 US nuclear bombs. Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have all tried, unsuccessfully, to remove these weapons. Just last year in the German elections the SPD and Greens called for their removal. The US flew in a high level diplomat and the demand was dropped.
But the strong opposition from populations in these countries will not go away, because they know stationing US nuclear weapons puts them on the front line of any military conflict between the US and Russia.
This is why the strategy adopted by Britain and the US to push NATO membership for Ukraine has been such a disaster, and why it has contributed to the devasting conflict we’re seeing in the Ukraine now.
For over a decade the US and Britain have aggressively promoted Ukrainian NATO membership, despite the leadership at that time opposing it. In 2014, the President was ousted, unleashing huge unrest and deadly violence. The Russian-speaking population in the East of Ukraine – representing about 30% of the population – voted to become autonomous, effectively splitting the country.
NATO’S response was to send in 15,000 troops to carry out hugely provocative joint military exercises. It was left to France and Germany to negotiate a fragile ceasefire through the Minsk Agreements. But the ceasefire did not hold. Since that time, over 13,000 people have been killed. It is difficult to see how NATO’s actions protected the people of Ukraine.
In February, two days before Russia invaded, Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, suggested it could be ‘flexible’ over NATO membership to avoid a military conflict with Russia. He was rebuked, with Boris Johnson arguing for the ‘sovereign rights of the Ukrainian people to aspire to NATO membership’. The ambassador withdrew the proposal. ‘The tragedy is Prystaiko’s offer may have averted war, as this was Russia’s key security demand during talks with the US.’
NATO’s dangerous escalation risks us all. We all know the reality of its ‘defensive’ alliance – just look at Afghanistan. Who exactly has been defended by that 20-year occupation which has killed over 387,000 Afghan people and returned the Taliban to power? Certainly not the women of Afghanistan.
Johnson may play down Russia’s threat of nuclear attack but, as CND’s General Secretary, Kate Hudson, explains, unique factors show the risk of nuclear war has never been greater. If Russia launches a nuclear strike, the nuclear-armed military alliance of NATO could retaliate. Or it could pre-empt an attack and launch one first. Nuclear bombs are far more powerful than those the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Now, just one nuclear bomb could kill a million people, and despite Sadiq’s assurances, he cannot protect Londoners from the humanitarian and environmental catastrophe nuclear war and its radioactive fall-out would bring.
The reality is we are all on the front line in this war. Women are needed now more than ever to help build unity with all those calling for peace in the Ukraine, in Russia and across the world.