Thursday, 16 October 2014

Europe keeps on backing the wrong horses on Ukraine

Whilst our attentions are currently more grasped by the rise of ISIS - or IS, as they seem to prefer - in Iraq, or even more taken in by the exploits of a biting adult on grass fields in Brazil, the former media darling that is the Ukraine conflict has been swept under the covers. Worrying, because even though the EU and Russia keep foolishly insisting that the Ukranian government keeps to a ceasefire with the insurgents in Donetsk, the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic has decided to continue the fighting and are now even refusing to let orphans leave to safer areas, preferring to use innocent children as human shields.

That insistence is probably the most harrowing of The current EU diplomacy. They join Putins plea of saying that the end to the ceasefire is because they "couldnt convince Poroshenko of keeping to peaceful ways". The more realistical assessment, made by Poroshenko, is that it is probably futile and dangerous to keep up a ceasefire with a side who, during the ceasefire, has attacked several civilians and killed 'collaborators', held Ukranian soldiers under fire, tried to shoot down a Tsibili - Kharkov civilian flight with a rocket launcher and have resorted to using orphans as human shields.

Indeed, upholding a ceasefire against these insurgents probably is a failure of the government to uphold the human rights of the innocent civilians in the Donetsk region, out of whom an overwhelming majority do not back the violent rebellion and whose lives are threatened daily by the insurgents.
It is also a truly absurd policy to back. It would be akin to saying to Spain in the 1980s that they were not allowed to combat ETA, or for us to say that Nigeria should not continue the fight against Boko Haram. Worrying, Boko Haram merely captures schoolkids and doesnt intent to put them in front of enemy fire.

Its even more scary to see that the EU has suffered from bouts of amnesia. It wasn't long ago that the EU supported the reading that Russia had direct ties with the Kharkiv rebels. In fact, it wasn't long ago that they threatened Russia with a new round of sanctions if they failed to support a solution to the unjust occupations in the Donetsk region.
Those sanctions wont be followed upon now with the EU citing "insufficient evidence" existing to support the sanctions. When earlier they mistrusted Russia enough to not let them take place at the negotiation table with the rebels, Russia has now claimed its spot. 

The sad reality is that the single argument against resuming the fighting is an immoral one: its the argument that the Ukrainian army lacks the capacity to win the war. But surely the consequence of that argument means that the international community should aid the war effort, rather than let the separatists win? 

It likely is not even the argument that is trumpeted most in the ongoing negotiations, discussions, fora and council meetings that the West has used as substitute for action. It wont be publicly admitted, but the EU wants a ceasefire because Russia quite likes the status quo where a Russian minority can usurp a part of Ukraine. And we prefer to stay in their good books and get their cheap gas or oligarchs investing in London and Paris and Berlin.

The current stance is unpalatable, indecent and immoral. The haggling of the West, whilst they have the capacity to aid a swift(er) end to the insurgence, is therefore directly responsible for deaths on the ground. A better policy to pursue would include stronger political and material support for the Ukrainian government. Military advice can be dispensed and better weapons can be given without the need for boots on the ground.

The EU must further understand that backing Ukraine is in its wider interests. It cannot think that just because an association treaty has been signed that Ukraine is in its pocket. A frustration of Ukraine's political and security ambitions could still drive them away from the EU. For a recent analogy you have to look no further than to Erdogan steering Turkey away from the EU after all the dithering of its membership status. This would mean that the EU could stand to lose a trading ally, but furthermore would heavily undermine the idea of the EU as a diplomatic ally.

When the association treaty was signed, most Western media ignored the speech were Poroshenko heavily criticised a lax EU. The seeds of discontent have already been sown. 
More worrying, if the EU would care about a solution with fewer deaths, not intervening in a battle between an ill-equipped Ukranian army and the zealots in the separatist movements is probably the worst solution to follow.
Doing all this for the sake of remaining Russia's whipping boy will prove eventually disastrous. Ukraine and Belarus can attest to this: the gas crane is only open at the whims of Russia's increaingly imperialist government.

Its time to act.

Striking the right balance: trigger warnings in debating

Trigger warning: this article discusses the application of trigger warnings. As thus, certain subjects commonly associated with trigger warnings such as violence or sex will be mentioned.

This article was written based on past experiences, particularly at the Edinburgh Cup 2014, where I was a member of the adjudication team. This article is written on a personal title, and nothing which I say here should be taken to be the opinion of anyone else associated with the running of that tournament, be it the CA-team, the equity officer, the organisational committee or anyone else.

At the Edinburgh Cup the CA-team wished to set a motion on the legal definition on rape. In particular, the discussion would revolve around affirmative consent legislation (or "yes means yes") that has been making headlines in California and New Zealand, and has as a definition been used to teach sexual consent during the Fresher weeks at Oxford and Cambridge. Owing to the complex and sensitive subject matter it was provisionally set as the semi final motion. During the competition the CA-team and the equity officer felt that a motion discussing rape might create undue pressure on a number of competitiors, judges and audience members, and thus created a couple of procedures to make sure everyone would be comfortable. Firstly, it was decided that the public announcement would be accompanied by a trigger warning. Before that, however, the competitors would be told in privacy by the equity officer that the semi final motion would concern a "legal discussion surrounding rape". They could then write on a piece of paper anonymously if they wanted to debate the motion or not. At Edinburgh a number of debaters wrote that they would rather not debate such a topic, and another semi final was ran (a public trigger warning was therefore not given).

I think this was an important thing to do, and would suggest to future CA-teams and equity officers that they take these matters into consideration and, where possible, implement simular measures. I do think, however, that we need to have a discussion surrounding the scope of these policies, as there might be slippery slopes and chilling effects associated with a full-scale application of trigger warnings in debating. While broadly supporting the aims of trigger warnings and asking for consent of participants to debate sensitive topics, in this article I want to sketch some of these possible pittfalls, in order to provoke a discussion about what the limits of trigger policies ought to be.