Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, the conflict there has inflicted great harm on the peoples of the Global South. It has sent food prices worldwide soaring. (In 2022, the number of people worldwide facing acute food insecurity reached 345 million.) And amid mounting evidence of the terrible effects of climate change, the divisions sparked by the war have stymied any effective global response… while the campaign by Western leaders to block Russia’s hydrocarbon exports has led to a resurgence of coal mining—and the warfighting itself has generated significant noxious emissions. We all know that the harshest effects of global warning fall on the peoples of the Global South.
So in this sense, the conflict in Ukraine is already “a war with clear global effects.” Does it make any difference to also call it a “world war”?
Over the past eleven months, Ukraine’s people have suffered far too much killing and destruction. Most but by no means all of that devastation has been at the hands of the Russian military. (Residents of the country’s eastern provinces have been hammered hard by the Ukrainian military, over the course of several years now. Their fate has been almost ignored in Western media.)
How do we think about and respond to this suffering? Should we join the serried ranks of the Western punditocracy who endlessly urge that ever more and deadlier weaponry be sent to Ukraine? Or shouldn’t we, instead, be starting to call for a formalized, country-wide ceasefire in Ukraine… That is, an Armistice like the one that for 70 years now has preserved a broad ceasefire on the Korean peninsula and has allowed South Korea not just to survive but also to flourish.
(I realize the Koreas have not been totally peaceful since their Armistice went into force in 1953. North Korea has a belligerent, nuclear-armed leader who often seems very erratic. And South Korea’s president is now also talking about the possibility of going nuclear. But still, the Armistice has served all of Korea’s people—especially those in the South—and the cause of world peace, pretty well for many decades.)
The photo above shows the final signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, in July 1953, in the North Korean village of Panmunjon. I’ll come back to the Koreas later. But for now, let’s circle back to the grinding—and globally very harmful—situation in Ukraine.
It was 1947. All around the world, Indigenous peoples living in regions long colonized and controlled by the empires of distant West-European states were rising up against their colonizers, claiming the national independence that the recently formed United Nations had promised them.
In India, the strength of the sub-continent’s two nationalist movements forced the British colonial rulers to hasten an already-promised decolonization. That handover occurred in mid-August 1947. It brought into being two separate states, India and Pakistan, and was accompanied by terrible massacres and forced migrations. But at least the British, under whose rule several millions had died of starvation as recently as 1943, were finally out.
The years that followed 1947 would see scores of other nations and peoples around the world achieve liberation and national independence. And then, there was Palestine.
1947 would bring a very different fate for that territory’s 1.8 million people, two-thirds of whom were Indigenous Palestinian Arabs and one-third residents of the Jewish colony-building project that the Zionist leaders had pursued there over preceding decades.
Palestine, like India, had been under British control for many years. During the often-brutal “Mandate” rule it exercised over Palestine after WW-1, Britain greatly aided the Zionist colonization plan. But in 1947, the British metropole was still reeling from the devastating effects of the most recent World War, and nearly bankrupt from the high costs of fighting it.
In 1947, when London wanted to get India off its hands, it handed it to the local nationalists. Palestine, it handed to the United Nations.
This piece has been cross-posted from Helena’s vintage personal blog, Just World News.
Over the New Year’s break, North Korea’s military test-fired some short-range (350-400 kilometer) ballistic missiles, while the country’s news agency reported that it was testing a new 600 mm multiple rocket launcher system capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
On Saturday, the often erratic-seeming North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed his commitment, “to respond with nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation.” He said he had ordered more powerful weapons to “absolutely overwhelm the U.S. imperialist aggressive forces and their puppet army.”
But actually, just how erratic is Kim? His recent actions and comments came in the context of South Korea having undertaken unprecedentedly broad joint exercises with the U.S. military, in and around its terrain. And yesterday, the press secretary of South Korean President Yoon Yoon Suk-yeol said that, “In order to respond to the North Korean nuclear weapons, the two countries [South Korea and the United States] are discussing ways to share information on the operation of U.S.-owned nuclear assets, and joint planning and execution of them accordingly.”
At some point, I want to go back and take a gallop through my intellectual history going back to the 1970s. (Interested folks can see some some aspects of that at my Wikipedia page.) But here, I just want to pull together some of the more worthwhile of the pieces I’ve written over the past 18 months. This was a period in which (a) I was figuring out more and better how to regain my own voice as a writer/thinker/analyst after spending 12-plus years working mainly to amplify the voices of others, and (b) I was struck by a fairly evident sign of ageing in the form of a retina problem that started in early November 2021.
So here’s the best of what I produced over the past 18 months:
The world that those of us in the over-65 age cohort are bequeathing to coming generations is one that faces two threats that threaten all of humankind: one from climate change, and one from nuclear weapons.
Understanding how we– the eight billion human souls on earth today– arrived at this situation is crucial, if we want to plan how to avert or minimize these threats.
On climate change, we need to recognize that countries of West-European heritage were responsible for most of the historic carbon emissions whose effects still plague our climate until today. And these countries continue to spew out emissions at a rate that, per capita, is very much higher than that generated by any countries of the Global South (including China.)
On the risks from nuclear weapons, we know that the vast bulk of the world’s nuclear arsenals were developed and built by, and are still held by, states of West-European heritage.
And who has borne the harms from these two scourges? The harms that anthropogenic climate change has already caused have been borne disproportionately by peoples not of West-European heritage. And over coming decades, the forecasted effects of climate change will affect all of humanity, but will continue to inflict the gravest harm on the peoples of the Global South.