Monday 16 October 2023


 Chris Nineham's 30-page essay was published this autumn as a Stop the War pamphlet. Chris is a British political activist, author, and founder member and current vice chair of the Stop the War Coalition. Here is a bullet-pointed summary of his Introduction: Selling War, the Six Steps he presents as the way forward to peace, and his Conclusion.

Chris Nineham's Stop the War pamphlet - Autumn 2023

Introduction: Selling War

  • 'Truth is the first casualty of war' is a commonplace saying that captures the reality of war. If the wider population were to understand the sheer horror of war it would be much harder to keep them on board. Lloyd George, the British PM, said this to the editor of the Guardian newspaper at the height of the carnage of World War One: 'If people knew the truth, the war would stop tomorrow'.
  • It is now widely accepted that the recent Western wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya were motivated by a desire to prop up Western influence in oil-rich and strategically important regions. But at the time, Western governments and media were saying that these wars were all about saving people from fanatics and dangerous dictators. Our troops were spreading democracy, human rights, and countering terrorism.
  • At present, the Western war effort in Ukraine is being presented as a fight for freedom, democracy and peace; the Russians are claiming that their actions are designed to thwart neo-Nazis who have seized power in Ukraine. Most of the global south is avoiding taking sides - but here in the West any criticism of the military involvement in the Ukrainian war is met with denunciation. There is a suffocating establishment consensus - government, opposition, and media - in favour of a simplistic view that this is a war of good against evil. There is very little attention to the wider historical analysis that offers an explanation which features Russian fear of NATO aggression and promises broken by the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

Step 1: Make it About Human Rights 

  • There is a long and dishonourable history of going to war in the name of the rights of nations or peoples: Belgium in 1914, the South Vietnamese in the 1960s, Kuwait in 1991, Kosovo in 1999.
  • In the case of Ukraine, Biden, Johnson and Sunak have all claimed that they have the interests of Ukrainians at heart. It is true that the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was an act of aggression that has been rightly condemned by the antiwar movement - but the militaristic response from the West has only deepened the sufferings of Ukrainians.
  • In March this year Biden acknowledged that this was a war being fought for regime change - Putin 'cannot remain in power'. 
  • Washington and Whitehall have blocked peace efforts. President Zelensky in the Spring of 2022 publicly announced that the war will end in negotiations. A month later, Johnson was in Ukraine to declare that Putin was a war criminal and no negotiations were possible. An African peace plan for Ukraine was rejected by the West. Yet talk of a total victory by either side is deranged. 

Step 2: Prove the Enemy is Pure Evil

  • Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Putin the evil madman has become a media staple - the latest in a long line of 'new Hitlers'. It is true that he is a ruthless and authoritarian leader who is desperate to regain some influence and territory in Eastern Europe - but Germany under Hitler had the second biggest economy on the planet and the largest army whereas Russia now is a declining regional power, with an economy ranked 11th in the world. In 2021, Russia spent around $66 billion on its military; Nato's European members spent more than four times as much and the United States military spend was eleven times higher. 
  • As the United States became ever more aggressive in the late-20th century and now in the 21st century, Russia was expected to acquiesce to a new world order created and dominated by the USA. 

Putin identified as a return of Adolf Hitler 

Step 3: Make it a 'War For Freedom'

  • 'Freedom' is back, front and centre as the Western war aim in Ukraine, and, according to Biden, freedom is winning out. Is this true? To start with, NATO contains countries that are not freedom-loving liberal democracies. Hungary under Orban is no longer a 'full democracy'. Turkey is a deeply coercive state that jails regime critics including journalists. Moreover, NATOs recent interventions in Serbia, Afghanistan and Libya have done nothing to spread freedom. 
  • Talk about freedom is used as a cover for the pursuit of Western foreign policy interests, the most important of which is weakening Russia and drawing more and more of Eastern Europe into the US orbit. 
  • Zelensky is using the war to crack down on the left and smash independent Ukrainian unions. One month into the war, 11 parties, including the largest parliamentary opposition party, were closed down by state decree and their assets seized. In August last year, union rights for workers in small and medium-sized companies were removed - around 70 per cent of workers in Ukraine have been stripped of labour protections.  

Step 4: Bury the Background

  • For supporters of the western war effort in Ukraine any attempt by critics to put the war into a historical context is seen as virtually treasonable. The Russian action was 'unprovoked'. This is the view of the British media and almost all politicians. Yet it is not true. Anyone with any knowledge knows that the Russian invasion kickstarted a new and dangerous phase of a war that was already being fought out on Ukrainian soil. Ukraine was riven by civil war after the Maidan protests of 2013/14 forcibly removed the government of Yanukovych who had tilted towards closer relations with Russia. The US was closely involved in installing a new government; the civil war intensified in the Donbass region in the east with Russian-supporting separatists fighting pro-government forces. 
  • All this happened against the background of a historic shift eastwards by NATO that began soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. At the Bucharest NATO Summit in 2008, a promise was made that both Ukraine and Georgia would have the chance to join NATO. Thirteen eastern European countries have joined in the last three decades. Yet, the American Secretary of State had promised Gorbachev three times in one meeting in 1990 that NATO would not move eastwards.  
  • George Kennan, who orchestrated the American Cold War containment policies, has called the expansion of NATO a 'tragic mistake', adding, 'it is the beginning of a new Cold War. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies'. 
  • If we are to understand modern geopolitics, we cannot take what our leaders say at face value. We have to insist on our right to maintain an independent, critical attitude to both the causes and the consequences of the wars they want us to fight. 

Putin's actions are in part a response to NATO's expansion

Step 5: Demonise Dissenters

  • The Labour Party, the main party of opposition under its leader, Starmer, has demanded that eleven Labour MPs withdraw their names from Stop the War's anti-war statement. For the first time in the party's history there are now no Labour MPs prepared to publicly criticize Tory war policies.  
  • Debate is being muzzled. A series of venues from Quaker meeting houses to trade union HQs and churches have been contacted and urged to pull peace meetings. 

Step 6: Explain that Peace Means War

  • Peace and security are the declared central aims of the West's operations in Ukraine. But behind this rhetoric, the truth is that the USA aims to defend its interests as a supposed unchallenged superpower against economic competitors - but the growing power of China and India and the presence of Russia as a nuclear power makes this impossible. 
  • What has the West's response to the invasion of Ukraine done for peace? The great powers have publicly threatened to use nuclear weapons for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It has accelerated the expansion of NATO with Finland joining and Sweden set to join. Germany is modernizing its armed forces at great expense. Peace has not been brought closer. 


  • We who oppose the war say that the quicker we get to negotiations, the more lives will be saved and the less damage will be done. For this we are pilloried and denounced, no doubt right up until the time negotiations begin. 
  • It is clear the government is using the war to try to marginalize protest, to stir up nationalism, and to clear the way for what could be an even more terrifying confrontation with China. The stakes could hardly be higher. 
The Marazion Meeting House library copy has been gifted by its new librarian, me.

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