Why a just peace in Ukraine will require more than defeating Putin

just peace

As long as there has been a war in Ukraine people have called for peace.

Some propose peace simply defined as a halt to the fighting.

They cite the suffering: More than 300,000 Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded, thousands of civilians have been killed, and more than nine million Ukrainians have been displaced and have become refugees.

Sirens, shortages, and missiles continuously frighten Ukrainian civilians; trauma and grief pervade. And no end is in sight.

Running through Pope Francis’ more than 100 statements about the war is the leitmotif that war itself is the problem—absurd, a tragedy, a defeat for humanity.

More coolly, political realists say that Ukraine does not stand a reasonable chance of rolling back the Russian invasion and that trying to do so risks nuclear war.

And in the United States, some politicians call for scaling back a commitment to Ukraine that is expensive and, they say, not in our national interest. All of these voices put forth minimal peace, prioritising an end to the fighting.

The implication is that Ukraine should be coaxed or forced into negotiating.

An end to the war is not true peace, though if it means an end to Ukraine.

Sts Augustine and Thomas Aquinas held that the purpose of a just war is a just peace.

Pope Paul VI echoed this point on the Day of Peace in 1972 with a statement titled “If You Want Peace, Work for Justice.”

A just peace would reverse Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and its bids to control Ukrainian territory since 2014—frontal assaults on the most basic tenet of international law, the integrity of sovereign states.

Motivating this aggression is Mr Putin’s version of peace, a “Pax Russica” that denies Ukraine’s existence as a nation.

But recognising this manifestly unjust peace, Pope Francis has increasingly amended his previous neutrality and condemned Russia’s aggression.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive and its allies’ supplying of arms to it, then, are justified.

In a Christian ethic, though, a just peace involves more than defeating aggression.

The just war ethic that dominates Christian thought on war and peace took shape during the Middle Ages when the church adopted a concept of justice from Roman law: the constant will to render another his due.

This concept came to dominate modern international law, which means the rights of nations and people to be independent. Russia’s exit is thus “due” to Ukraine.

The notion of justice as rendering due, though, has occluded the original justice of the Bible, which means comprehensive right relationship, expressed by the Hebrew term sedeq and the Greek term dikaiosune.

This justice is compatible with rights and law but is wider, also including virtues such as gift-giving and performing mercy.

It culminates in God’s reconciliation of the world to himself in the cross and resurrection, which the Apostle Paul describes as God’s justice.

A season of war may not seem to be a time to speak of reconciliation and peacebuilding.

These words exude a symmetry of fault, suggesting that both sides must recognise their own wrongs and embrace each other.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians are fighting and dying to secure the freedom of their assaulted nation.

Reconciliation, though, is not relativism, nor is peacebuilding moral passivity.

Aspiring to restore the right relationship, just reconciliation recognises the balance of injustices in the war. Continue reading

  • Daniel Philpott is a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Reconciliation (2012) and has been involved in reconciliation as an activist in Kashmir and in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, as well as in efforts to address the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.
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