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By Huntley Medley, Jamaica Gleaner —

The University of the West Indies, UWI, has waded into the global debate about the causes and implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has even alluded to a possible point of resolution and suggested at least one consequence that should flow from the Eastern European regional conflict, which has mushroomed into a global debacle, forcing a new massive scale of migration, upending world trade, disrupting some financial flows and causing ongoing and worsening economic consequences for countries around the world, including vulnerable Caribbean nations.

Vice-Chancellor of The UWI Sir Hilary Beckles has placed squarely on the table the notion that Russia should pay reparations, not just to Ukraine, but to all countries affected by its resort to militarism to satisfy what has been deemed Russian imperialist impulses, its bid to determine the nature of Ukrainian sovereignty and to appease its historical preoccupation with beating back western military influence in eastern Europe.

“There are those who believe that the issue of reparations should apply. At the end of the first world war, Germany, the aggressor defeated, was called upon the pay reparations of US$21 billion to all of the countries that were affected by their militarism. That principle remained after the second world war. Countries are now coming to realise that the dislocation for their economies, the destruction of their living standards as a consequence of militarism, that the notion of reparatory justice should play a critical role in the comprehension of how the world should embrace these forms of activities,” Sir Hilary said as he opened a recent staging of the vice-chancellor’s forum dubbed ‘Of Ukraine and Oil’ at the university’s regional headquarters at Mona in Kingston.

Beckles did not elaborate on any possible mechanism to pursue reparatory justice from the Russian aggression that now has the world on lookout for the next recession, and he placed his reparations comments in the context of the role of institutions of higher education to provoke analysis and debate, as well as to promote the principle of global equity.

“It is the role of fine universities to promote the best interest of humanity. In the context of universities in developing countries, there is even a deeper remit, as a nation-building project focuses on the concept of the sovereignty of nations and the equity of nations within the world community of nations. There remains a challenge within fine universities to accept the principle of militarism as a primary form of public management. We support in general the notion that diplomacy is not simply intellectualism. That diplomacy is not a lower valued proposition,” the UWI vice-chancellor explained.

He declared that the catastrophe unfolding with death and destruction in Ukraine, price hikes and further supply disruptions worldwide, has emerged as a result of the what he termed three persistent principles of the imperial world.

“One: The principle that no nation should support concepts of governance that differ from a neighbouring militarised state. This we know, and have seen all over the world, that if you are living within the security reach of powerful militarised nations, that by circumstance, you cannot promote a philosophy of governance that differs from that militarised neighbour. Second: That the guarantee of sovereignty is contingent upon compliance with this first principle. Third: The concept of regime change has emerged as an understated but powerful principle arising from the application of principle one and principle two,” Beckles, a professor of economic and social history, explained.

Beckles remarked that the 21st century was hopeful that there would have been an abandonment of these principles and that the freedom of countries and people to choose the nature of their sovereignty would not have remained a dream. Instead, he stated, the world is being made to suffer economic loss because of the persistence of outdated political notions.

Significant setback for Caribbean

“So, the world will now be called upon to engage, embrace and absorb the significance of an energy crisis and the significance of food security for these nations. This constitutes a significant setback for nation-building in the Caribbean since we are vulnerable to the volatility of energy supply and prices, and we are vulnerable to the volatility in the supply and prices of food,” he said.

Meanwhile, another leading member of the UWI community is blaming what he termed Russian imperialist impulses, coupled with its national security fears, for that country’s invasion and continuing bombing of Ukraine. Dr Richard Bernal, a Caribbean trade policy expert and professor at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies, noted that Russia’s western expansion intentions date back to the 17th century and were fulfilled temporarily by the existence of the Soviet Union that included many now sovereign nations, including Ukraine to the west of Russia.

He stressed what he said was a complex, multidimensional history between Russia and Ukraine, noting that their histories and people are connected in cultural, linguistic, geographic, ethnic, economic, political and national security terms. In relation to the economic factors, he suggested, Russia’s desire to control Ukraine would be influenced by its westerly neighbour being a large country that is rich in food production, oil and other resources.

“The national security aspect is at the fore at this time because Russia, throughout its history has always worried that it would be encircled by hostile western European countries who regard them as an uncivilised and backward non-European people. Ukraine is, unfortunately, at the very confluence of where west and east meet, and Russia is preoccupied with the concern that if Ukraine was to be allowed to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, that NATO would be on the very border of Russia, and to the Russians this is something very concerning. It may not be easily understood in the western world and the rest of the world, but for Russia, this a palpable threat to their national security,” according to Bernal.

Bernal, a former diplomat as Jamaica’s ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States, suggested that, as is now emerging as a possible point of resolution in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, the Russian attack could possibly have been averted with a clearly expressed Ukrainian intention and decision to remain a neutral country outside NATO.

Source: Jamaica Gleaner
Featured image: UWI Vice Chancellor – Sir Hilary Beckles meets the Press Oct 2015. (Aneel Karim Photography, UWI, Flickr)