Photo by DEZALB
Some 31,000 NATO and U.S. troops have just concluded ten days of military exercises on Russia’s western border—they called the operation Anakonda after a snake that kills by crushing its prey. Ongoing deployment of 4,000 additional NATO troops has been announced.
I think about these exercises as I travel to join a delegation of citizens in Moscow. Since 1983, the organizer, Sharon Tennison, has worked to develop ordinary citizens’ capacities to avert international crises. Now, amid a rising crisis in relations between the United States and Russia, she has brought this delegation to Moscow for a two-week visit.
In her book, The Power of Impossible Ideas, Tennison describes President Reagan’s assurances to Secretary General Gorbachev that if he would support bringing down the Wall, NATO would not move “a finger’s width” closer to Russia than East Germany’s border. Gorbachev signed on. Tennison wrote,
“Little could he or the world have guessed that this promise would soon be broken during the next administration—and that the redeveloping distrust between the countries would threaten to become a second Cold War, due to NATO’s expansion up to Russia’s borders.”
It’s important for people in the United States to learn from ordinary Russians about how they view troop build-up —President Vladimir Putin has summoned a new Russian National Guard that could include 400,000 troops—the new bases on their borders, the military exercises, and arsenals of nuclear weapons on high alert.
Rather than foster cartoonized versions of foreign policy, Tennison wants the media to help people recognize complexity in Russian society and to be aware of people’s desire to live in peace in both countries.
Americans committed to peacemaking might help ordinary Russians see the complexity of U.S. society and better understand how U.S. military spending adversely affects civil society at home.
If someone in Russia asked me what I was doing before coming to their country, I'd explain that the previous week I participated in a 150-mile walk to protest a supermax prison in my home state of Illinois, which could eventually subject 1,900 people to tortuous years of solitary confinement.
I would tell them that before joining the walk, I lived for several weeks in late May and early June among young peace acivists in Kabul who long to live without war. Fifteen years into the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the United States has only created conditions for more war.
NATO and U.S. officials claim that their military exercises in countries around the world will enhance international security, but those of us with the delegation here in Russia know the fantasy of world domination endangers people throughout the world. We shudder over the possibility of war between nuclear armed powers.
Dmitri Babich, an active journalist for over twenty-five years who focuses on Russian politics, told our group that he believes the fundamental problem is the U.S. insistence on being “institutional supremacists,” the idea that the United States can retain and expand the boundaries of “sole superpower” domination. United States policy should stop poking and provoking Russia and China along their frontiers, he says, and instead seek negotiated peaceful coexistence.
With active cooperation among the great powers and large reductions in wasteful competitive military spending, countries could work together to address the threats from climate change, water shortages, regional underdevelopment, and economic pressures caused by population growth.
Ordinary people everywhere should do all that we can to demand that international disputes be resolved by non-military means. Sharon Tennison’s work to develop citizen-to-citizen diplomacy, since 1983, suggests that people could work together to tackle such problems.
Informing the public about these efforts in the United States and in Russia is crucial.
My friend Brad Lyttle, a lead organizer of the San Francisco to Moscow Walk of 1960-1961, recently wrote to President Obama that there is no reason why the United States and Russia should continue to jeopardize the very existence of the human species with their huge nuclear arsenals.
“Work with President Putin to reduce and eliminate these,” wrote Brad. “Emphasize a trustful and positive approach. Don't assume that the future needs always to be as bad as much of the past.”
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org)co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence www.vcnv.org