Tuesday, February 14, 2023

New essay by Habermas on the Russian invasion of Ukraine

A new essay by Jürgen Habermas on the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 15-02-2023): 

"Ein Plädoyer für Verhandlungen" [paywall] 

"A Plea for Negotiations" [paywall]


"Et innlegg for forhandlinger", Morgenposten, online 24-02-2023 [paywall]

"Plaidoyer pour des négociations en Ukraine", Le Monde, 22-02-2023 [paywall]

"Plaidoyer pour des négociations sur l'Ukraine", Le Temps, 21-02-2023 [paywall]

"Por qué este es el momento de negociar la paz", El País, 19-02-2023 [paywall]

"Europa tra guerra e pace", la Repubblica, 19-02-2023 [paywall]

"Et forsvar for forhandlinger", Information, 16-02-2023 [paywall]


"The West has good reasons for supplying weapons to Ukraine: But this entails shared responsibility for the further course of the war. 

(….) thoughtful voices are making themselves heard not only to defend the Chancellor’s stance but also to plead for public reflection on the difficult path to negotiations. If I add my voice to these, then it is precisely because the statement: “Ukraine must not lose the war!” is correct. My concern is with the preventive character of timely negotiations, negotiations that prevent a prolonged war from claiming even more lives and causing even more destruction, and from presenting us in the end with a hopeless choice: either to intervene actively in the war or to leave Ukraine to its fate in order not to trigger the first world war between nuclear-armed powers. 

The war is dragging on, the scale of the destruction is increasing and the casualties are mounting. (….) 

Sleepwalking on the edge of the abyss is becoming a real danger especially because the Western alliance is not only strengthening Ukraine’s hand, but is tirelessly reiterating that it will support the Ukrainian government for “as long as necessary” and that the Ukrainian government alone can decide the timing and goal of possible negotiations. This protestation is meant to discourage opponents, but it is inconsistent and obscures differences that are obvious. Above all, it can lead us to deceive ourselves about the need to take our own initiatives for negotiations.

On the one hand, it is a truism that only a party involved in the war can determine its war objective and, if necessary, the timing of negotiations. On the other hand, how long Ukraine can hold out at all also depends on Western support. (....)

The fact that the West itself cannot avoid making, and taking responsibility for, important decisions is also evident from the situation it fears most – namely, the aforementioned scenario in which Russian military superiority would confront it with the alternative of either caving in or becoming a party to the war. (....)

But the broad camp of emphatic supporters of Ukraine is also currently divided over the right moment for peace negotiations. One side identifies with the Ukrainian government’s demand for military support, increasing without limit, to defeat Russia and thus restore the country’s territorial integrity, including Crimea. The other side wants to push for attempts to bring about a cease-fire and negotiations that would at least avert a possible defeat by restoring the status quo ante of February 23, 2022. The pros and cons of these positions reflect historical experiences.

It is not a coincidence that this smouldering conflict is now pressing for clarification. The front has been frozen for months. (....)

It is in the light of this development that I understood the formulation that Ukraine “must not lose the war”. For I interpret the moment of restraint as a warning that the West, which is enabling Ukraine to continue the fight against a criminal aggressor, must neither forget the number of victims, nor the risk to which the possible victims are exposed, nor the extent of the actual and potential destruction that is accepted with a heavy heart for the sake of the legitimate objective. Even the most altruistic supporter is not relieved of the responsibility to weigh up this proportionality. (….)

These are not promising conditions, but neither are they hopeless.

For apart from the human lives that war claims with each passing day, there is an increasing cost in material resources that cannot be replaced to an arbitrary extent. And the clock is ticking for the Biden administration, too. This thought alone should prompt us to press for energetic attempts to start negotiations and search for a compromise solution that would not give the Russian side any territorial gain beyond the status quo before the beginning of the war and yet would allow it to save face. 

Apart from the fact that Western heads of government such as Scholz and Macron maintain telephone contact with Putin, the U.S. government, which is apparently divided on this question, cannot maintain the formal role of an uninvolved party. A tenable negotiated outcome cannot be embedded in the context of far-reaching agreements without the involvement of the United States. Both warring parties are interested in this. This applies to security guarantees that the West must provide for Ukraine. But it also applies to the principle that the overthrow of an authoritarian regime is credible and stable only to the extent that it is driven by its own population, and hence enjoys internal support. 

In general, the war has focused attention on an acute need for regulation in the entire Central and Eastern European region, which extends beyond the objects of contention of the warring parties. Eastern Europe expert and former director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, Hans-Henning Schröder, has pointed (in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of  January 24, 2023) to the agreements on disarmament and economic framework conditions without which there cannot be a stable agreement between the immediate parties. Putin could take credit for the very willingness of the United States to engage in such negotiations of geopolitical scope.

Precisely because the conflict affects a broader network of interests, it cannot be ruled out from the outset that a compromise that saves face for both sides could also be found for the present diametrically opposed demands."

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