Statement on the War in Ukraine

Re-posted from Campaign Against the Arms Trade: https://caat.org.uk/news/statement-on-the-war-in-ukraine/

CAAT condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an act of imperialist aggression. Russia’s brutal onslaught on Ukraine’s civilian population almost certainly involves war crimes. We extend our solidarity to the people of Ukraine, to everyone who is working for peace in Ukraine and Russia, and challenging this devastating war. 

The EU has imposed an arms embargo on Russia since 2014, one which the UK continues to observe. The UK has now revoked all dual use export licences to Russia, and is no longer issuing new licences, which CAAT welcomes. CAAT supports non-military efforts to support Ukraine, such as cutting off the flow of corrupt Russian money through UK finance and real estate. For decades the City of London has provided a safe haven for corrupt money, from Russia and elsewhere, signalling that silence on serious human rights abuses can effectively be bought. The powerful measures taken in response to the invasion shows that action is possible. 

However, we reject the calls for increased militarisation of Europe in response. Militarism has created this crisis and further militarism is not the solution. European NATO members already spend almost five times as much as Russia on their militaries, and Russian military power has been shown to fall far short of what many believed. When this horrendous war hopefully ends, we need to create a new European security system based on cooperation, not heavily armed opposing blocks. 

CAAT’s rejection of militarism stems from an understanding that not only does war have a devastating cost in terms of loss of life, but once war has begun the road to peace is long and difficult. Peace is not instigated or sustained by arms exports or military action. We recognise Ukraine’s right to self-defence as affirmed by international law, and we understand the impetus to export arms, including defensive weaponry, to Ukraine. However the risks associated with supplying weapons to a conflict where no arms controls are in place must be borne in mind. In particular, the risk of diversion of arms to unauthorised users, whether due to corruption, capture in battle, or lack of oversight, should be taken seriously. Ukraine was known as a significant source of diversion of arms to the illicit market before the war, and in the fluid situation of armed conflict, with civilians being armed as well as regular military personnel, these risks may be amplified. Many weapons have a long shelf-life, years or decades beyond the immediate conflict, and the experience of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya among others clearly underline the unintended consequences that can attend arms transfers in a situation of conflict. The potential future victims of any arms transferred should be considered, alongside their immediate impact. 

We urge the UK government to ensure that the protection of civilians is prioritised in their response to this crisis, and we call for the visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the war, and for all refugees fleeing conflict, to be lifted. The concerted efforts to provide safety and shelter for refugees, and the outpouring of empathy from the public shows the government’s ‘hostile environment’ towards refugees is not reflective of the people they represent. 

Global arms dealers have seen a huge jump in their share prices since the war in Ukraine began, as European countries prepare to massively rearm, doubling down on the very militarism that has created so much death and suffering in Ukraine, and elsewhere. It is unconscionable that the horrific suffering of the Ukrainian people is a source of profit for European arms companies. 

We think it is all the more important, with the justified focus on Ukraine and the horrific violence being inflicted on it by Russia, that the similar horrors being visited on Yemen by Saudi Arabia, in this case with active UK support, are not forgotten.

In the course of our campaigning we have highlighted many examples of UK arms exports being used in war crimes, including by the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen. Failure to hold to account those responsible for these grave violations – or at worst actively excusing them – breeds a climate of impunity in which it is likely that further war crimes take place, including in different conflict zones. The selective application of International Humanitarian Law and the laws of arms conflict is one of the most damning features of the international global order. It fundamentally undermines the rule of law, and results in a loss of faith in the international system and reinforces the reality that the protection entitled to us by international law is often in practice a privilege enjoyed by the West and not the Global Majority. 

We commend action by the International Criminal Court to investigate potential war crimes committed by Russian forces and other parties in Ukraine. We believe that a similar focus and urgency should be applied to ensure accountability for war crimes committed in all conflicts, wherever they take place. 

ENDS

Originally published: https://caat.org.uk/news/statement-on-the-war-in-ukraine/

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