The Vilnius Dilemma

The Vilnius Dilemma

I am grateful for additional thoughts by Eliza Quek

It is impossible to avoid taking sides in the Russia-Ukraine war. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not in dispute but some people think that Ukraine’s separation from the USSR and her plea to join NATO constituted a provocation worthy of military action. The – now wearisome – war, with its massive loss of life, profligate destruction of property and withdrawal of essential food for millions of people, must be brought to an end. The world is in a recession as a result of it. Risks of ferocious accidents or over-aggressive armaments grow daily. Loss of support for continued fighting – however strongly each side believes its case – is growing among those not directly involved in the carnage but who are supplying the means for it to continue.

The issue is critical. Either we have a solid bloc of nations committed to the defence of each other or we don’t. In a perfect world we wouldn’t countenance such a situation. Building opposing military bases inevitably precipitates tensions. You don’t deal with a bullying child by arming the bullied. We are some way from a perfect world but we are still aiming for it. We have twenty years to educate a child but rather less time to bring the world’s citizens to sense. 

The NATO meeting in Vilnius is an opportunity for one side to declare a reasonable position and for the other side to respond reasonably, but there is no sign of that yet. The world is desperate to finish the war and deal with its climate, AI, energy and health problems.

Governments, conscious of their first duty to protect their citizens, are at a loss as to what to do and resort to opinion polls to steer the leadership they should be giving. A respected magazine, Foreign Affairs, publishes two articles side by side – one in favour of Ukraine joining NATO, the other against. Most of the electorates of the countries involved in the supply of arms have little objective information but plenty of prejudice and much fake news on which to base their views.

What must be the goal today?

The provision of cluster bombs is an unacceptable escalation. They are humanity-based weaponry, not military combat essentials. Once the war is accepted as an all-in, all-out power struggle there will be no way to finish it except by total victory for one side. Stoked emotions are pushed to nuclear point by even greater civilian involvement. Loss of face is already asserting its pressure for more and greater fighting. Rapid de-escalation is the primary need now.

Who is to broker the reduction in hostilities? Only a big power can do this. President Xi is already reported to have ‘advised’ Putin not to go nuclear. That is the act of a broker. And for all that China, some time ago, declared its undying loyalty to Russia, it has kept a reasonable balance as far as we can see in its attitude to militarisation and escalation. China’s aspiration for leadership can be advanced by its role in ending the Russia-Ukraine war.

Is this President Xi’s moment? I think so. A positive move from China’s President can hardly be rejected or snubbed by even the most hawkish of East-West antagonists. A balance mechanism will need to be put in place to avoid a drift back to aggression. Singapore has a growing reputation for its success in mediation on many fronts. Its aim to be a peaceful state is generously demonstrated by its willingness to see both points of view.

A powerful initiative to end the war and a professional mediation to maintain the peace?

They would bring a sense of purpose back to humans and a reality of belonging back to millions cut off from a progressive society.

We are all now truly the world’s children. 

Let us model that for the generations to follow.

Good morning

John BIttleston 

Do you agree? Or do you have a better plan? We’d love to hear it.

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12 July 2023