Peace with Justice: Lessons from the Anthropocene and for Ukraine

Aug 24, 2022
Portrait of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Imagining the arrival of peace with justice in Ukraine needs two caveats. In any peace negotiations, Ukrainian citizens’ judgements about the future should be a priority.

A second caveat appears to contradict the first. A lasting peace settlement in Ukraine would have to consider a global pact to address common enemies: the armies of nation states, threats of nuclear war and the violent consequences of climate change.

Striving for a just peace for Ukraine could craft lessons for the leaders of all nations. The national is the international. You can’t have one without the other.

Specific objectives in rebuilding and rehabilitation in Ukraine occur in this Age of the Anthropocene, a period of history marked by systematic degradation of the environment and its diverse ecosystems. Perspectives on peace in Ukraine would highlight prominent features of the Anthropocene, the pervasiveness of violence in human experience and the degree to which a nuclear war would parallel eco-catastrophe.

Peace with justice requires inclusive, humanitarian ways of thinking which reject Anthropocene like perspectives on economy, on militarism, on the notion that survival needs violence.

If a replenished Ukrainian economy and society depends on the precepts of global capitalism, the conditions which already threaten human existence will continue. Those precepts apply to the organisation of economies, to the conduct of personal lives and to international relations: take over or be taken over, dominate or risk being defeated, arm yourselves for victory but avoid thinking about the consequences.

Acknowledging these perspectives may seem a waste of time, a way of postponing immediate practical tasks, as in the need to re-build Ukrainian homes and hospitals, schools and factories, to remove munitions, make streets and fields safe. The return and rehabilitation of millions of displaced people will be the demanding overlay of every practical task.

Dealing with grief and loss highlights common ground. Grieving and recovery will need to be addressed by Russians and Ukrainians.

Peacemaking also benefits from a theoretical perspective which asks what is to be story of a country and its neighbours, where do they want to be in ten, or twenty-years-time. The peace with justice goal says, after ceasefires we build hospitality and inclusiveness, we promote equality of opportunity, that lifeblood which nurtures security through respect for universal human rights.

Faced with Russian dismissal of human rights and with US, UK hypocrisies concerning the rules of international law, it may seem far-fetched to speak of ideals. But without them, governments prevail by force of arms and by racist fuelled violence whether in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Israel, Yemen, Hong Kong or Belarus.

Lessons from rehabilitation and rebuilding in Ukraine can show how to outlaw extremes of nationalism, authoritarian controls, greedy capitalism and the consequent destruction of people and environments. No more macho breast beating. Life enhancing language is important. Lessons from Ukraine could apply globally.

Not unlike the rebuilding of Australian homes destroyed by floods and fires, every-day tasks will deal with urgencies, with life and death challenges. Such problem solving will appear pragmatic and reactive, but would benefit from longer term perspectives.

Applied to peace with justice goals, two documents, albeit separated by over two hundred years, provide crucial lessons. Both Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay on Perpetual Peace and the authors of the 2019 Green New Deal deplore the Anthropocene and display peace building formulas.

On the grounds that peace between countries needed formal alliances, Kant perceived federal organisations such as the European Union as a structure for resolving conflicts. He claimed that such unions would not plot wars, would not annex another state and could abolish standing armies. He foreshadowed lessons from Costa Rica: to be a state does not depend on having a military.

Ahead of his time, Kant emphasised the role of a free press and of academic freedom to hold politicians to account. Humanitarian themes in his treatise grew from an enthusiasm for cosmopolitanism, which presupposed a universal hospitality. Australia take note. Such hospitality would ensure that states would never be hostile to individuals arriving from other states.

The Green New Deal links policies to address the climate crisis with proposals to end poverty, inequality and racial discrimination. Applied to builders of a new Ukraine, the New Deal authors envisage needs for habitable space and secure homes. They oppose the influence of markets which produce, in their terms, ‘fabricated wants’. Their deal uses language for the future.

To save lives, to prevent further destruction requires an immediate Russia Ukraine ceasefire. A simultaneous peace process would teach several lessons, that national security is not a matter of one country’s power prevailing over another, that if climate change is a common enemy, why fight?

The Anthropocene years can be replaced by nations coming together in response to a common threat to existence. The ashes of Ukraine could generate formulas for living, through commitments to universal hospitality and by initiatives to foster perpetual peace.

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