Letter to our Colleagues about the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
March 17, 2022
Like many mediators and other conflict professionals we share the desire to weigh in on the invasion of Ukraine and its devastating consequences for the Ukrainian people. At the same time, we are acutely aware of the limitations of what we can do to have an impact on what is happening. Nonetheless, act we must.
As citizens of our respective countries and of the world, it is important that we add our voices to those condemning the invasion and urging our governments to take reasonable action to pressure the Russian leadership to end this war. And as conflict professionals, we have a responsibility to use our skills to promote conversations about the difficult political, economic, and moral issues raised by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the response of the rest of the world to it.
In doing so, however, it is important that we promote a richer understanding of what it means to try to stop this violence and enter into meaningful negotiations. Our natural urge to take action, to offer declarations of support, and to give voice to our commitment to constructive conflict resolution can lead to overly simplistic and performative statements. We are especially concerned that any calls for negotiations made without consideration of conditions that are necessary to lead to just and equitable outcomes are potentially dangerous. These types of statements, while well intentioned, do not offer the constructive input into the public discourse that we could be making. They may even unintentionally support the intolerable status quo we want to change.
There is valuable input that we could offer — for example an understanding of conflict dynamics, of negotiation, of communication, and of the interaction between offering an olive branch and finding effective ways of deterring hostile acts. We can clarify that we are not looking at a conflict that involves two countries who do not get along but at an invasion of a smaller and weaker country by a powerful neighbor who used to rule them. While most of the work we do may be as third parties, it is embedded in a set of principles about equity, empowerment, and autonomy that is critical to what makes it effective. So let’s not let a commitment to being even handed prevent us from taking a moral stand.
Mediation and negotiation have been and will continue to be used to secure temporary cease-fires, safe corridors, and numerous other necessary activities to lessen the devastating effects on the civilian population. Hopefully, at some point, these efforts will lead to a just end to these hostilities. But we should be very careful about calling for the cessation of hostilities at a time when an invaded country has little leverage with which to negotiate lest we find ourselves inadvertently calling for “Peace at any price.” Of course, we want hostilities to end, and the sooner a cease fire the better. But a meaningful peace agreement would need to include the withdrawal of Russian forces, restoration of Ukrainian autonomy, security guarantees and plans to rebuild the country. This can happen if the nations of the world take a strong and powerful stand against the Russian actions, and each of us respond with the support we are able to give to these efforts.
We suggest several key principles that we feel should be reflected in the public statements our community makes about this invasion. These principles can guide us in crafting more credible and effective contributions to the public conversation.
Actions we can take:
It is important to commit ourselves to the realistic actions we can take with the full awareness of the limits of our ability to make a discernible difference in the course this conflict takes. We believe our most important contribution is as participants in the widespread expression of solidarity with the Ukrainians, condemnation of the invasion, and support for actions to hold the Russian authorities accountable. We also should offer tangible support where possible to the people who are struggling against the invasion in the Ukraine and Russia and the refugees from the zone of conflict. Some possible actions we can take:
Suzanne Terry’s latest book (editor) is More Justice More Peace: When Peace Makers are Advocates. Jackie Font-Guzmán and Bernie Mayer are co-authors of The Neutrality Trap: Disrupting and Connecting for Social Change.
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