Abolishing Geopolitics and Building a World Without State Violence


Sep, 2022
Thank you to Nela Porobić for reviewing this article.

As Russia’s illegal and brutal war in Ukraine continues to rage, there is some sense of shift in international politics. Some see it as the bloody opening to a “multipolar” world order, in which several “great powers” are staking out spheres of influence and centres of power, to be distributed among the few instead of just the one. Others appear to see it as the logical “end” of the US empire, finally languishing after decades of illegal coups, invasions, and occupations marked by terror and torture. But underneath these dominant framings of geopolitics and empire, which rely upon entrenched binaries of good and bad, right and wrong, strong and weak, there is also another undercurrent, a seething frustration of those who have been deliberately silenced and marginalised—of those who say enough.

The question is, what can the governments of marginalised states—and ordinary people living around this volatile world—do to end the violence and upend the “world order” that generates it? What structures of state violence need to be overturned, and how can that be achieved? Do states offer a realistic path to peace, or do we need to think beyond the current nation-state formation to abolish violence and build the communities of care necessary for our collective survival?

From among the flames

Across various UN forums this year, the governments of countries facing rising sea levels, failing crops, unending fires and floods, poverty and famine, displacement and destruction from relentless centuries of colonial and capitalist exploitation and extraction, have been calling out the “great powers” for their world-destroying behaviour. “The jungle burns, gentlemen, while you make war and play with it,” the President of Colombia proclaimed at this year’s UN General Assembly high-level debate in September. “World power has become irrational.”

Photo_ Andrew Kuznetsov_ CC BY 2.0

Similarly, the President of Honduras said the “arbitrary world order, in which there are third and fourth category countries,” is unacceptable, especially “while those that are believed to be civilized do not tire of making invasions, wars, financial speculations, and crucifying us with their inflation over and over again time.” The Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines noted that the “global centres of imperialism” have each proclaimed the necessity of constructing a “New World Order,” each with its own peculiar agenda. “But from the global periphery, which encompasses most of humanity, I ask the relevant and haunting questions: What’s New? Which World? And Who Gives the Orders? The future of humanity depends on satisfactory answers to these queries.”

But the answers to these questions thus far remain unanswered. An alternative has not yet crystallised, certainly not at the state level. This highlights, perhaps, the crux of the problem facing the survival of humankind at this moment in history: that states do not have the answers for survival of humanity because states, as currently organised, are about the survival of those in power. While societies suffer, states—the people that run states, the politicians and the profiteers, the machines and mechanisms of state violence and oppression—control their populations while fighting with or creating alliances with each other, disregarding for what any of it means for their citizens or residents, let alone populations elsewhere in the world.

“Geopolitical thinking devalues the lives and aspirations and voice of the people who don’t live in ‘great powers’,” writes lawyer and activist Andrew Lichterman (2022, pp. 11–12). “Their lands and cities and futures are conceived as something to be bartered or fought over, valued only for their resources or cheap labor pools or as subaltern militaries or as ‘buffer zones’ […]”
The climate crisis is a key example, which many governments do recognise. Fiji’s Prime Minister argued that humanity is waging a war against itself, along with ecosystems and the ocean. “This war isn’t fought with bullets and bombs, but apathy, denial, and a lack of courage to do what we all know what must be done.” In this context, the global economy “is now a house on fire,” noted the President of Malawi. “Yet we continue to use evacuation methods that rush some nations out to safety while leaving the rest of us behind to fend for ourselves in the burning building.”

These lamentations from the halls of the United Nations should mark a line in the sand for us all. While delivered by governments, they echo the discontent of the majority of the world’s population and eloquently eviscerate the moral bankruptcy of great power politics. The geopolitical framing of power undermines attempts to build a truly global and equitable world order. This applies to any of the governments competing in the Thunderdome of death and destruction, but given the current context of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the resurrection—or zombification—of the Russian Federation as The Big Bad in the Western imagination, a focus on the Russian-US nation-state contention is useful.

A history of violence

Both Russia and the United States are settler colonial states, forging their countries by expanding their “frontiers” through repression of those living on the land they sought to acquire and control. In this context, the state and colonialism are interchangeable, immutably tied together. One of the state’s roles is as a “precondition to and enforcer of Indigenous genocide,” making the state “a primary source of violence,” as author and activist Harsha Walia explains (Barnard Center, 2022, 17:18, 19:42). This proclivity to violence has led successive governments of both countries to deal with domestic inequality, poverty, “non-normative” identity, and resistance through policing and punishment.

The violence of these states is not constrained by the borders they established on the backs of Indigenous people. Russia and the United States also both engage in imperialist actions abroad, interfering, through military and economic action, in countries they deem to be within their “spheres of influence”. Both use militarism, aggression, and forced economic ties to guide their conduct in international relations.

The governments of both countries critique each other for the same type of behaviour. Russia’s leaders criticise US imperialism, yet its government has intervened militarily and politically in Afghanistan, Georgia, Moldova, Abkhazia, Tajikistan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kazakhstan, Chechnya, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Syria. Russia’s war against Ukraine is the latest in a long line, motivated by the current Russian government’s belief that the independence of Ukraine is unacceptable and its explicit argument, notes activist Achin Vanaik (2022), that Ukraine, “in part or preferably whole, it should cease to exist and be part of a Greater Russia and subordinate to the dictates from Moscow.”

Meanwhile, the US political elite criticise Russia as an autocracy, yet facilitate the overthrow of democratically elected governments if they threaten US interests, build military bases and engage in wars and military operations in hundreds of countries around the world, and spend billions of dollars a year on militarism while so many of its citizens live without health care, housing, or food security. Over the last two decades, the US government has waged more than a dozen “secret wars” in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (Ebright, 2022), in addition to the massive violence it has unleashed its known wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

The hypocrisy of both the Russian and US governments reflects Edward Said (1978)’s observation that

Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s own eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.

Both the Russian and US states have built up their militaries, military alliances, and nuclear arsenals to challenge the other. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)’s expansion eastward is about constraining Russia, just like Russia’s invasion of countries to the west are about constraining NATO. Ukraine, in this context of “geopolitics,” is seen as a pawn being used by both “sides”. But this approach to international politics victimises and marginalises Ukrainians themselves, just as it did so with Iraqis, Afghanis, Syrians, and countless others subjected to imperialist and neocolonial wars of aggression and occupations—and those who are treated as “villains” like Palestinians and Vietnamese.

“Geopolitical thinking devalues the lives and aspirations and voice of the people who don’t live in ‘great powers’,” writes lawyer and activist Andrew Lichterman (2022, pp. 11–12). “Their lands and cities and futures are conceived as something to be bartered or fought over, valued only for their resources or cheap labor pools or as subaltern militaries or as ‘buffer zones’ against attack by some other great power.”

Radioactive violence and the “power” of The Bomb

It is within the context of geopolitics and great power competition that nuclear weapons have been created and justified. The narrative of nuclearised power and prestige have guided certain countries to acquire them, to espouse their irreplaceability of tools of “deterrence” and self-preservation, of staving off “existential threats” of invasion and overthrow. But nuclear weapons themselves are an existential threat—not just to states, but to us all. Nuclear weapons are not abstract “tools” that maintain global peace and security. They are weapons of mass destruction. They create instability, enable horrific violence, and risk life on the planet.

The leaders of Russia and the United States, along with France, United Kingdom, and China, together recently agreed that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, echoing a statement from Gorbachev and Reagan in 1985. Yet each of these governments has been investing billions in the “modernisation” and expansion of their nuclear arsenals, preparing not for nuclear disarmament but for nuclear war.
A nuclear explosion releases vast amounts of energy in the form of blast, heat and radiation. It takes around 10 seconds for the fireball from a nuclear explosion to reach its maximum size. An enormous shockwave reaches speeds of many hundreds of kilometres an hour. The blast kills people close to ground zero, and causes lung injuries, ear damage, and internal bleeding further away. People sustain injuries from collapsing buildings and flying objects. Thermal radiation is so intense that almost everything close to ground zero is vaporized. The extreme heat causes severe burns and ignites fires over a large area, which coalesce into a giant firestorm.

Physicians and first responders would be unable to work in devastated, radioactively contaminated areas. Even a single nuclear detonation in a modern city would strain existing disaster relief resources to the breaking point; a nuclear war would overwhelm any relief system that could be built in advance.

The use of less than one percent of the nuclear weapons in the world could disrupt the global climate and threaten as many as two billion people with starvation in a nuclear famine in the long-term. The climate crisis will be exponentially exacerbated. The thousands of nuclear weapons possessed by the United States and Russia could bring about a nuclear winter, destroying the essential ecosystems on which all life depends.

Nuclear weapons produce ionizing radiation, which kills or sickens those exposed, contaminates the environment, and has long-term health consequences, including cancer and genetic damage. Their widespread use in atmospheric testing has caused grave long-term consequences. Physicians project that some 2.4 million people worldwide will eventually die from cancers due to atmospheric nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1980.

Despite all this, the idea that nuclear weapons are essential to “keep the peace” or deter the aggression of other states persists as the dominant theory in international relations and security studies. The theory is that nuclear weapons are so heinous that they are “sufficient, by themselves, to confirm the futility of armed conflict” (Renic, 2022, p. 4). Nuclear deterrence dogmatists posit that nuclear weapons are the reason why the world has not yet descended into World War III—despite the fact that the threatened use of nuclear weapons, as well as countless misunderstandings and near-accidents—have brought world leaders to the brink of nuclear Armageddon several times.

Nuclear deterrence theory is espoused by nuclear-armed state political leaders, nuclear weapon manufacturers, and academics profiting from the continued maintenance and modernisation of nuclear weapons. The possession of nuclear weapons, and proliferation of deterrence theory, necessitates the preparation and willingness to use nuclear weapons. This means policies and practices that envision and maintain the capacity for using nuclear weapons. It means implicitly threatening use of nuclear weapons, at all times. This threat of their use, most recently made most explicit by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials in the Russian political scene, puts us all in even more peril.

At the outset of Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Putin declared that other countries “will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history” if they intervened. A few days later, he ordered Russian nuclear forces to be put on a heightened alert status. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev later outlined possible scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that maintaining “readiness of strategic nuclear forces” remains a priority. A Russian government spokesperson then said that Russia would only consider the use of nuclear weapons if there was an “existential threat” to Russia.

More recently, when announcing a partial mobilisation of Russian military forces on 21 September 2022, Putin made new and more explicit threats to use nuclear weapons “in the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people.” Given Russia’s illegal annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions, this could mean that any attempt by Ukraine to take back these regions could constitute an attack on Russia’s “territorial integrity”.

So far, the other nuclear-armed states have not explicitly said they would respond to a use of nuclear weapons by the Russian state with nuclear weapons. However, the US government has said it would “respond decisively” to any Russian use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine and that it has privately conveyed to the Russian government the “catastrophic consequences” it would face. In addition, the Secretary-General of NATO has said that any use of nuclear weapons by Russia would have “severe consequences”.

This gamesmanship runs the serious risk of mass destruction. Between them, Russia and the United States possess more than 11,850 nuclear weapons. NATO members France and the United Kingdom have a few hundred each. The US military also stations about 100 nuclear weapons in NATO members Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Türkiye. These weapons are not remnants of a past Cold War, they are actively deployed right now, ready to be used. The stockpile numbers, alarming as they are, don’t convey the sheer horror each weapon packs within it. As described above, every single bomb is designed to melt flesh, burn cities, decimate plants and animals, and unleash radioactive poison that lasts for generations. Even the use of one of these weapons would be disastrous. A nuclear exchange would be catastrophic.

Foto_ Rebecca Dongallo_ CC BY 2.0
The leaders of Russia and the United States, along with France, United Kingdom, and China, together recently agreed that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, echoing a statement from Gorbachev and Reagan in 1985. Yet each of these governments has been investing billions in the “modernisation” and expansion of their nuclear arsenals, preparing not for nuclear disarmament but for nuclear war. Each maintains doctrines and policies for the use of nuclear weapons. This is an incredibly dangerous landscape, but one that benefits the military-industrial complex.

There are other corporate interests behind the growing tensions among nuclear-armed states and the current war in Ukraine, including in relation to weapons production and sale, pipelines and “energy security,” and access to “natural resources,” with profits to be made at the expense of human lives as well as the protection of the planet. In the midst of a climate emergency, in which capitalist extraction and exploitation has decimated biodiversity, ecosystems, and land, water, and air, the governments of NATO members and Russia continue to use fossil fuels and refuse to embrace a degrowth economy that would drawdown the use of energy, especially in the global north, and prioritise the creation of systems of care and equality for people and planet.

These alleged great powers have together, deliberately, built a militarised, capitalist world order that exclusively serves the interests of the war profiteers and the political and economic elite. This is a world order that sees war as a legitimate means to an end. It celebrates militarised masculinities, empowering the culture of militarism and violence as brave and noble pursuits, while rendering invisible the gendered and racialised harms of militarism. It is a world order that uses a technostrategic language to sanitise the image of war, and even the potential use of nuclear weapons.

Mainstream media and political pundits speak of “tactical” nuclear weapons or “second strike capabilities” as abstract concepts that won’t melt the skin of people’s bodies or turn people into shadows. They write about “small” nuclear weapons, “lesser nuclear arms” that are “less destructive by nature,” “much less destructive,” and have “variable explosive yields that could be dialed up or down depending on the military situation.” Even while acknowledging that one of these weapons, if detonated in Midtown Manhattan, would kill or injure half a million people, the New York Times suggested that the use of these weapons is “perhaps less frightening and more thinkable.” It says the billions of dollars that the Obama administration spent on nuclear weapons went towards “improving” US tactical nuclear weapons and turning them into “smart bombs” that “gave war planners the freedom to lower the weapons’ variable explosive force,” would have a “high degree of precision,” and would lower “the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties” (Broad, 2022).

The possession of and threat to use nuclear weapons is also profoundly gendered, with rhetoric of the nuclear-armed states consistently focused on the size of their arsenals, the vitality of their bombs, their worry of impotence if disarmed.

The theory that the threat of nuclear retaliation is “the most effective check against ruinous great power war” is not possibly moral, argues academic Neil Renic (2022, p. 12):

In the event of an actual nuclear first-strike, the moral duty of the target state is to renounce a reciprocal descent into barbarism and wear the blow. At a minimum, the retaliatory response cannot be one that condemns tens or hundreds of millions of additional innocents to death. There are some acts that can never be countenanced, no matter how vile the adversary or how severe the provocation.

Yet, nuclear weapons continue to dominate great power strategy. And the current attempts to normalise their potential use is part of the larger, historical project of normalising war.

Explosive violence and weapons testing

In his book The Doomsday Machine, whistleblower and former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg explains that nuclear weapon policies grew out of the justifications for bombing cities and civilians during World War II. The willingness, and even desire, to incinerate civilians and destroy civilian infrastructure as part of the war resulted in the practices of firebombing and blanketing wide areas with explosive violence. This approach characterised the latter part of the war, with major civilian centres being deliberately targeted by allied forces long before the US detonated nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This history provides a disturbing story of how practices previously held abhorrent become normalised during conflict. How what was once held as anathema to “civilised behaviour” becomes entrenched in doctrine and strategy. The bombing of towns and cities, which was stigmatised and ostensibly outlawed through international humanitarian law after World War II, has become standard practice yet again, with the relentless destruction of hospitals, homes, schools, and other critical civilian infrastructure in Viet Nam, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, among many others, and now in Ukraine.

As the Russian government’s war in Ukraine is showing once again, the effects of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas are indiscriminate, with a staggering proportion of death and injuries inflicted on civilians. The explosive blast and fragmentation kill and injure people in the area where they detonate, and damage objects, buildings, and infrastructure. Victims and survivors of explosive weapons can face long-term challenges of disability, psychological harm, and social and economic exclusion. Destruction of infrastructure vital to the civilian population, including water and sanitation, housing, schools, and hospitals, deprives civilians of access to basic necessities and results in a pattern of wider, long-term suffering.

Despite the daily death and destruction caused by the ongoing war, think tanks and politicians, media, and war gamers act as if countries are chess pieces and people are numbers on a page. Instead of seeing these people as individuals, whose lives have value and meaning, who are part of families and communities, the number crunchers calculate “acceptable loss” and risks of “collateral damage,” and look the other way as the bodies pile up. Also unaccounted for is the disruption to daily life—the interruption of education, of food production, of supply chains; the destruction of hospitals, homes, markets, water and sanitation facilitations, and all of the other critical infrastructure that people rely on to survive. These numbers don’t take into account the psychological terror of living in conflict, of hearing bombs dropped or drones hovering overhead or sirens warning of imminent strikes, of being afraid to leave your house, of watching loved ones die. These figures also don’t take into account the environmental impacts of war, the toxic or explosive remnants of weapons, the damage to land and water and animals.

These humanitarian and environmental impacts should be at the forefront of all policy making decisions. Yet they are completely ignored by those talking in board rooms in capital cities far from where the harm will be felt, deciding what choices to make for the sake of “geopolitical strategy” or “balance of power”. Instead, as even The New York Times noted, Ukraine is being used as a testing ground for new high-tech weapons. Western political officials and military commanders predict that these tests “could shape warfare for generations to come” (Jakes, 2022).

These “tests” reveal part of the driving force behind the war in Ukraine and the failure of all sides to pursue, let alone achieve, a negotiated end to the conflict. The cavalier attitude of weapon manufacturers, military strategists, and Western political leaders toward Ukrainian lives is not just implied, it is overt. “We’re learning in Ukraine how to fight, and we’re learning how to use our NATO equipment,” said Lithuania’s President in an interview. She reportedly paused, then added: “It is shameful for me because Ukrainians are paying with their lives for these exercises for us” (Jakes, 2022).

The perversity of patriarchy

This mindset—that civilians and soldiers are expendable, that wars provide the best testing ground for new weapons, that scores can be settled by bombing homes and hospitals, or that power can be asserted by threatening to wipe out the entire planet—is deeply patriarchal. It is based on an understanding of dominance and violence as the best ways to control and coerce others into bending to your will.

Patriarchy is reflected in every aspect of the war in Ukraine, from the conscription of men and the celebration of the warrior, to the horrific sexual- and gender-based violence being inflicted upon women, LGBTQ+ people, and children, and even to the targeting of civilians and civilian objects. The bombardment of civilian centres is a “deeply gendered strategy with no ‘military advantage’ other than to demonstrate the failure on the part of the Ukrainian state to protect and thereby to emasculate its leadership,” argue feminist international legal experts Louise Arimatsu and Christine Chinkin (2022).

The possession of and threat to use nuclear weapons is also profoundly gendered, with rhetoric of the nuclear-armed states consistently focused on the size of their arsenals, the vitality of their bombs, their worry of impotence if disarmed, and their dismissal of “emotions” of those concerned with the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. The patriarchy employs technostrategic language to talk about nuclear bombs, as described above, and sanitised language to talk about war—“surgical strikes,” “collateral damage,” “smart bombs”.

This patriarchal approach, which discounts and refuses to engage in discussions about the physical, legal, moral, and emotional consequences of weapons and war, has for decades effectively precluded the development of “credible” alternative narratives promoting peace and non-violence.

These non-nuclear-armed actors, together with non-state organizers and international humanitarian groups, conceived of a role for themselves in this history, of helping to “untie the knot” by working to change the legal, political, economic, and social landscape in which nuclear weapons exist.
Instead, the nuclear-armed states and their supporters have tied themselves in knots, proclaiming that it is impossible to eliminate nuclear weapons in the current international security environment while creating that environment themselves by engaging in wars and arms races. Their own doctrines promote nuclear weapons as the be-all, end-all for security, thus incentivizing others to acquire these weapons to protect against invasion and occupation, in turn exacerbating the fraught international security environment that allegedly precludes nuclear disarmament. Thus, the patriarchal politics of power and violence have generated a catch-22 of apocalyptic proportions.

Untying the knots of war

In a letter to US President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Soviet Premier eloquently described the “knot of war” that their two countries had created, and warned of the risk that they might pull the knot so tight “that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it.” Sixty years later, that knot has been pulled tighter than ever.

Recognising the failure of the leaders of nuclear-armed states to “untie the knot”—that they cannot or will not take the necessary steps to eliminate or even reduce the risks generated by their nuclear arsenals—the vast majority of countries have revolted. They joined forces with activists in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) to revitalise a narrative about nuclear weapons in which the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of the use of these weapons is front and centre. Governments primarily of the global south together with ICAN developed a new international agreement banning nuclear weapons.

On 7 July 2017, 122 governments voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). After receiving the necessary fifty national ratifications, it entered into force on 22 January 2021. This development presents a very significant challenge to nuclear weapons and to the nuclear war machines of the allegedly most “powerful” countries in the world.

The TPNW shows what the world can do in the face of grave injustice and incredible risk. The countries and the activists leading the way in this initiative understood the urgency of dismantling the system of massive nuclear violence that their neighbours and allies have built up. These non-nuclear-armed actors, together with non-state organizers and international humanitarian groups, conceived of a role for themselves in this history, of helping to “untie the knot” by working to change the legal, political, economic, and social landscape in which nuclear weapons exist.

It remains to be seen how those most responsible for tying the knot will respond. So far the leaders of the nuclear-armed states have categorically rejected the TPNW. But through active initiatives to stigmatize and defund nuclear weapons, they may be compelled over time to change their approach. The prohibition of nuclear weapons opens an opportunity for leaders of nuclear-armed and nuclear-supportive states to step back from the brink, loosen the knot, and engage in the process of disarmament and demilitarisation.

But the knot is not just nuclear. Nuclear weapons are just the tip of vast systems of militarised violence that have been built through more than a century of war. It all must be undone.

This must include ending the practice of using cities as battlefields. It is a violation of international humanitarian law, yet multiple perpetrators continue to bomb and shell civilians. The Irish government recently led a diplomatic process for a political declaration that commits its signatory states to restrict or refrain from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Ending the bombing of towns and cities would alleviate much of the immediate and long-term human suffering in armed conflict.

This effort to end explosive violence is part of a larger project of humanitarian disarmament, which has included the prohibitions of landmines, cluster munitions, and nuclear weapons, and reflects ongoing work to prevent the development and deployment of autonomous weapons and to control the international arms trade, among others. Collectively, these efforts help lay the groundwork for dialing back weapons production and war profiteering. The reduction of military budgets, the redirection of funds to meeting social and planetary needs, and a turn in international relations from war to diplomacy, solidarity, and care is imperative for our survival.

Foto_ Bruce Berrien_ CC BY 2.0
Imagining and building a new world order

As countless governments not counted among the “major powers” have said at the UN General Assembly emergency special session on Ukraine held throughout 2022, the protection and preservation of international law—including the UN Charter—is crucial to this end. “What the international community must fear most is power with impunity,” said Costa Rica’s UN Ambassador at the October meeting of the emergency session:

But we must not only fear it—we must valiantly overcome it. Impunity to not comply with international law. Impunity to rely on military might. Impunity to send thousands of civilians into a war that does not serve them, that has nothing to do with them, that turns its own people into pawns in a cruel and self-defeating charade. Costa Rica stands in solidarity with Ukraine and with the Russian people who do not benefit from this neo-imperial transgression but are sent to die in its trenches anyway (Chan, 2022).

This call to end impunity is important for the broader disruption and dismantlement of great power politics. Governments, no matter the size of their economies or militaries, must no longer determine right through might. On this path to undoing the vast inequalities among states, disarmament, denuclearisation, and demilitarisation are key.

All governments should join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and work urgently for the elimination of all nuclear weapons. The process of nuclear weapon abolition could provide a foundational path to broader changes in the world order. All governments should also join the other various disarmament treaties and declarations that purposefully constrain the state’s ability to wield violence and to profit from war. This would help establish a new cooperative paradigm in international relations and free up resources to help address the climate crisis and meet human and planetary needs.

But those working for a “new world order” should also look beyond states, and not get caught up in promoting alternative modes of international relations that continue to harm people and the planet.

Some governments—including Russia—offer the idea of a “multipolar” world order as an alternative to great power politics. But this concept, argues Lichterman (2022, pp. 14–15), “projects a world divided among a few de facto empires with recognized spheres of influence encompassing countries outside their borders, hermetically sovereign and free to rule and dominate in their domains free of any internationally recognized norms other than their expansive view of ‘sovereignty’ itself, unconstrained by ‘Western’ norms and values.”

Governments, no matter the size of their economies or militaries, must no longer determine right through might. On this path to undoing the vast inequalities among states, disarmament, denuclearisation, and demilitarisation are key.
Such an arrangement will still mean that most states are subjugated to the interests of power of a minority of powerful governments, while the people within these states suffer for it. Instead of a “superpower” like the United States, the world will be ruled by a small number of great powers including Russia and China. While this may seem preferable to some, it does nothing to move us beyond the path to nuclear or climate destruction upon which we are collectively spiralling. “A civilization at its ecological limits cannot survive a global economic and state system dominated by endless competition among nuclear-armed neo-imperial capitalist governments for much longer” (Lichterman, 2022, p. 15). An entirely new way of working is imperative.

Abolishing state violence

The whole frame of geopolitics, which seeks to manage tensions and power struggles among those who rule, while the vast majority of people—as well as plants, animals, land, and water—are controlled, confined, or killed to serve those interests. Thus, instead of working to shift the world from a “super-imperialism” to “multipolar imperialism,” argues Vanaik (2022), we should be working to end all imperialist and capitalist states. “Our strategic allies in this much longer term domestic and global struggle are not governments but progressive and anti-capitalist forces and organisations everywhere.”

The old ways of doing things have proven over and over again that they do no work. We need a new vision of global peace, grounded in the intersectional experiences of people and the needs of the entire planet. Creating and achieving that vision requires changing who is at the table and who is setting the agenda for action, and determining what is possible. Uut with the ruling elites, who are bound to personal interests and gains, and in with everyone who stands to lose from conflict. Land and water protectors, feminists, antinuclear and antiwar activists, prison and police abolitions, those organising against borders and for demilitarisation, equality, and care—these are the voices that must lead the work for peace, not the people who profit from conflict.

Unlearning the necessity of violence is essential to exploring what could be built in its place. This means turning on its head so much of what we are taught about what’s necessary for safety and security in our world. It means learning to reject violence as a solution to all problems, interrogating and challenging systems of power that assert they exist to protect while instead they persecute and oppress.

An abolitionist framing is useful for cultivating such transformation. Instead of investing in weapons and preparing for war, we must be investing instead in care for people and planet. Abolition is a tool to build a world that works for all, instead of just a few. The abolition of war, globally, requires disarmament and arms control, systems for demilitarisation and reduction of military spending. But it also requires building structures for peace, solidarity, cooperation, and nonviolence to flourish. It means replacing weapons with renewable energy, war with diplomacy, capitalism with a redistributive feminist political economy that is centered on equality, social justice, degrowth and ecological sustainability.

Our opposition to war or great power politics cannot be limited to the circumstance of Ukraine. Solidarity in the midst of harm and violence caused by war means acknowledging that this harm and violence is not limited to one place or one situation, but is systemic and structural. War is the manifestation of a global, violent political economy that treats some human life as meaningful and most as not, that treats profits as more important than people or planet.

War, capitalism, racism, colonialism, border imperialism, the carceral system, the climate crisis—these are all intimately connected and have been built by many governments over many years. And so while we oppose the war in Ukraine, true solidarity means opposing war everywhere, and confronting the aspects of our world that lead to, facilitate, and perpetuate war and harm.

We can find hope in those governments that reject militarism, that see the answer lies not in more weapons but in collective and cooperative approaches to the problems that the capitalist, extractivist, militarised world order has created. But we also need to look beyond the nation-state structure for alternative models of care and well-being. In so many cases, states are the primary source of violence in so many people’s lives. What other structures need to be built to provide for what people and the planet really need? What alternatives can we construct within our communities—and within a truly globalised sense of international solidarity and collaboration? What are people already organising for, locally and globally?

Understanding and responding to the “bigger picture” or taking a holistic approach to state violence doesn’t mean we each as individuals need to solve every piece of it. But it does mean we need to recognise and support each other’s efforts and reflect in our own work the analysis and organising of various movements and projects for peace. The sum of our whole is greater than our parts, and going up against the machine of capitalist violence can feel immense—unless we break it down and rebuild something else, together.


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