Beware of political posturing after MH17 tragedy

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'Wars have bloomed for far, far less', article from The GuardianThe horror of the aircraft crash that killed 298 people was not a day old before blame was already being vigorously assigned by all sides. Chest-beating headlines in the English and Russian language presses screamed things like 'Obama says missile from Rebel Held Ukraine' and 'Moscow calls on Aviation Authorities to Investigate the Actions of Ukraine'.

This is deeply unhelpful and disrespectful at a time when calm and prayers for the dead should be the first order of the day, as Andy Hamilton has pointed out. In addition, however, it obscures the fact that, whatever actually happened — a question to which we still have no answer — a terrible tragedy is at risk of being compounded by the hot-heads on all sides calling for more war and escalation.

Lest we forget, this disaster comes in the context of a civil war that has already torn Ukraine apart, one in which both Russia and the United States have already firmly nailed their colours to opposing sides and in which both great powers have acted with rank opportunism.

All sides in this war have genuine grievances which are being nakedly exploited.

The present Ukrainian government's rise to power was fuelled by real dissatisfaction with the endemic corruption of the Yanukovich years. The opposition, on the other hand, notes the clamp down on Russian as an official language and the preference for the government (which includes oligarchs and groups branded by the EU itself as racist, antisemitic and xenophobic) to shoot before talking.

Russia is worried about the creeping expansion of NATO in clear contradiction of US and EU reassurances that this would not happen. The US and EU are themselves concerned by bellicose rhetoric from an increasingly nationalist and authoritarian Russia.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the events of the war, too. While Russia annexed the Crimea in a move of questionable legality, this followed a US backed coup against a democratically elected (if corrupt) government. Both the Ukrainian government and the rebels have committed atrocities.

The United Nations estimates that, as at the end of June, this conflict had claimed over 250 civilian lives and generated over 100,000 refugees. Major towns have been under siege and aerial and civilian areas subject to airstrikes and artillery bombardment (including by 'Grad' (Hail) rocket artillery), and water and electricity supplies cut off as a weapon of war.

In this context, comments like that of Paul Daly in the Guardian that 'Wars have bloomed for far less' in relation to the downing of the Malaysian aircraft look both aggressive and ignorant.

Worse, the media echo chambers on both sides risk ramping up the rhetoric to a point where both sides feel that they have to look tough to appease their respective public opinions. The notorious 'politician's syllogism' (as described in the old Yes, Minister show) runs that 'Something must be done. This is something, therefore it must be done.' When applied to decisions to go to war, the result is guaranteed to open the door to more horror.

It is worth remembering that World War I began a century ago with a series of escalations fuelled by nationalism in which each side thought a quick, decisive and localised victory could be theirs. No-one expected the drawn out, grinding war which resulted, destroying five empires, unleashing the first industrial use of chemical weapons and killing a generation on all sides.

While Russia may not be the power it once was, there are no easy victories to be won here by bellicose rhetoric. Both NATO and Russia are nuclear armed — each possessing weapons of such devastation that they can destroy the world many times over. The consequences of a misstep here are truly too awful to contemplate. The 298 people who died will not be served by the slaughter of millions more.

It is time for governments, media and citizens to take a step back — for reflection, for prayer and for contemplation, and for the sake of the world at large.


 

Justin GlynJustin Glyn SJ is a student of philosophy and theology who holds a PhD in international and administrative law.

 

Topic tags: Justin Glyn, Ukraine, MH17, Russia, Crimea


 

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And while our politicians of all colours wring their hands about this awful calamity, next to nothing is being said about the civilian casualties of Israel's disproportionate and on-going assault on the Palestinians of Gaza.
Ginger Meggs | 21 July 2014


It is time for governments, media and citizens to take a step back — for reflection, for prayer and for contemplation, and for the sake of the world at large. Justin, I could not agree with you more.
Bernstein | 21 July 2014


well put Justin ...
mary | 21 July 2014


No one would or is suggesting that the West goes to war with Russia over this crime. But, in its own way this a very cynical article. It says that Russia`s crimes cannot be called out in case there is an escalation to war, or proxy wars, Russia`s ultimate threat. So appeasement is what is left. Russia and its thugs need to be diplomatically isolated and economically pressured until they stop bullying and causing mayhem. These are bad people.
Eugene | 22 July 2014


Dear Eugene. If there were incontrovertible proof that Russia were responsible, then indeed there would be a case for a suit in an international tribunal (the ICJ would be the obvious forum). At present we have allegations from the Ukrainian Government and their US ally that they have proof of Russian responsibility - but nothing more than that. In addition, if we assume Ukrainian rebel responsibility, does this cut both ways? Are the US to be held to account for the acts of the Israelis or the Syrian rebels who they arm? If the Karen rebels commit an atrocity while Dr Ball is advising them, is it an Australian war crime? All good questions, but I suggest that a blanket reduction of one side in a civil war to "bad people" does not help to answer them.
Justin Glyn SJ | 22 July 2014


Dear Justin, the answer to your question is : YES. But I`m not sure that the situations are morally equivalent, but i accept your point. But that still does not get Russia off the hook for this Ukrainian nastiness, and of course they up to their necks in most of the other trouble spots too. Have you read Kevin`s piece?
Eugene | 22 July 2014


I have always believed in "innocent until proven guilty" and in this case that is more important than ever. Justin's article is well thought through and considered in an unemotional manner as it should be.
Peter Benson | 22 July 2014


Thank you so much Justin Glyn Sj. The frantic and all embracing media coverage and political posturing have somehow obscured the need for all leaders to now pause and help all of us, families and friends and simply caring citizens to do some quiet prayer and reflection. Also too on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict which is a blight on the Western world as we sit on our hands politically and seem to be doing very little.
Jan Taylor | 22 July 2014


In 2005, Mahmood Ahmadinejad,, the Iranian President threatened to "wipe Israel off the face of the map".That what Moslems have tried to do since May 1948 when Israel became an independent State after Israel was recognised by the United Nations as a country in its own right within the Middle East.So, Ginger Meggs,don't you think that Israel has the right to defend itself? from being wipe off the face of the map. .
Ron Cini | 22 July 2014


Lovely to read a voice of reason, how very true.
Phil van Brunschot | 23 July 2014


Yes, of course Israel has that right Ron, but its defence needs to be proportionate to the threat. The Iranian leader may have said that but the Palestinian authority is hardly likely to achieve it. Israel's current response is, by any measure, 'overkill'. (And, by the way, it isn't 'Moslems', any more than it is 'Jews' or 'Christians', that prosecute war, it's states),
Ginger Meggs | 23 July 2014


You make some very good points &I agree with you entirely about governments media & citizens to take a step back for the sake of the world at large
Maria Prestinenzi | 23 July 2014


Good and timely article. Perhaps Abbott should read it as he is clearly using this incident to shore up flaling popularity. In the contect of moderate response from the Dutch and Germans, he comes across as a pugnacious littlle upstart who is playing to the domestic audience and will be ignored by more sophisticated international audiences.
John Collard | 25 July 2014


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