Ukraine, arms, militarism and climate crisis

Lees hier Nederlandse vertaling. The peace movement is divided over arms supplies to Ukraine. This hinders joint protests against the growing militarisation of Europe and against increasing military carbon oxide emissions. It is high time to get out of this impasse, because the climate crisis does not wait for world peace and the militarisation of the European Union is full swing.

The Russian invasion in Ukraine in 2022 confused and divided the European peace movement. Used as we were to protesting our own government for some nasty military intervention or other, we were not prepared for the nasty imperialist attack of the Russian army. The disagreements run from those in favour and opposition against all arms deliveries and military support for Ukraine. Emotions are still running high, even within organisations.

There are roughly three positions:

1- No weapons and military support at all. Because one should never contribute to violence. Or because one should not deliver arms to a country at war, as it only prolongs the violence, leads to escalation and stands in the way of alternative solutions such as negotiations. Military victory becomes the goal rather than ending the war.

Usually military support starts small (like only ‘defensive weapons’ although nobody knows exactly what that means) but quickly turns into the transfer of more and heavier weapons and the limits continue to be stretched. When Germany after weeks of discussion finally decided to supply tanks to Ukraine, the discussion about combat aircraft started immediately.

Switzerland is one of the few European countries that (until now) sticks to the principled position not to supply arms to a country at war. This to the frustration of the Swiss arms industry and with enormous pressure from outside to change this policy.

The downside of rejecting arms supplies and military aid to Ukraine is obvious: Without Western weapons, Ukraine will be overrun and the brutal Kremlin government will come to power.

2 – The position of most European governments is to supply weapons so that Ukraine can defend itself, but not heavy weapons which might escalate the war. It indeed keeps the Russians from victory. But this is a tight rope, because as long as the war continues there is the risk that a miss, like the Ukraine missile that landed in Poland and killed two people, or a misunderstanding, or a reckless action, leads to a train of events that grow into a full scale war. And the arms suppliers will be party in that war. So even a policy aiming for the prevention of escalation bears that danger inherently in itself.

The downside of limited arms supplies to Ukraine is less discussed but is grave. The result is that while Ukraine will not lose the war, it cannot win either. The violence might go on forever. The present frontline has hardly moved since November while both sides suffer heavy losses. In this endless drama fewer Ukrainians are willing to participate, more are looking for a ways to escape being drafted.

3- A third option is what most Ukrainians and Russian opposition members want: To send all kinds of heavy weapons as soon as possible to defeat Putin’s army quickly and be done with the war. Fear for escalation may not hamper Western actions in this view. Escalation however is dangerous. Not that Russia has the conventional military capacity to seriously threaten NATO (it hasn’t*), but because of nuclear weapons. The chances of them being deployed might be small, but the damage would be beyond imagination. Such a risk cannot be taken. Although many seem to have forgotten this. Many also seem to have forgotten that not only Russia, also NATO has not ruled out a ‘first strike’. Although western rhetoric is that “Ukraine decides how to fight and when it is time to negotiate”, Western states do not give the Ukrainian generals all the arms they ask for. It is considered too dangerous. Eastern European countries like Poland and Slovakia are more inclined to send heavier weapons.

All positions have serious disadvantages. There is no ‘good’ position in the debate on arms supplies to Ukraine. Once war has broken out there is no neat way to stop the violence. Taking position is even more difficult because nobody can see into the future. Maybe the Russians will give up when Ukraine persists its fighting. Perhaps the Russians run out of arms and supplies. Maybe not. Maybe the frontline continues frozen and a truce has to be made along the lines of before February 24, 2022. That would be extremely tragic, many lives lost for what? Maybe the much-talked spring offensive will finally happen when the the time of frost and the time of mud are over.

We don’t know. We are in a stalemate without a solution. Even on the demand for a cease fire and pressure for diplomatic solutions we are divided.


What we do know is that there is a pressing need for a peace movement that stands up against the wave of militarisation and raising budgets in European countries with long term effects. Although this is presented as a response to the Putin-led war in Ukraine this militarisation has begun long before February 2022 but is accelerated in the face of little public protest and a general war mood. By mid-May 2022, EU member states had announced a total of close to €200 billion in increased military spending for the coming years. This is higher than the entire spending in 2020. Shares of arms factory Rheinmetall have risen with 150%, Airbus defence revenues increased with 25%. Money is redirected from social and environmental investments to military investments. There is pressure on the European Investment Bank and other European facilities to earmark the military industry as a sustainable industry for investment.

While the military and arms industry pretend to protect not specific economic interests but freedom and democracy, the world is facing the acute and extreme threat of escalating climate and biodiversity crisis. And militarisation is contributing to that. The total military carbon footprint (including supply chain) is approximately 5.5% of global emissions, which is more that the emissions of civil aviation and shipping together. Although the EU has set up a Climate Change and Defence Roadmap, only four EU states have defined reduction targets for their military. The increased arms production and militarisation will inevitably lead to increased military emissions. The €200 billion increase in European military spending stands in sharp contrast to the $17.7bn shortfall for the promised annual $100bn to support the most vulnerable countries against climate damage.

Act together

We are in the middle of a irreversible global disaster which we urgently have to fight together and our governments are arming up as if armed forces can protect us from this threat. The peace movement should bury its irresolvable internal disputes and stand together for the future of the planet. The climate crisis does not wait for world peace.

* In 2022, the combined military expenditure of NATO members was more than 17 times that of Russia and roughly four times that of China. And Russia depends on foreign hightech to bring its production to art-of-the-day standards.

Wendela de Vries March 2023

Steun Stop Wapenhandel