Opinion

War in Ukraine: Drifting toward a tipping point

Routes to de-escalation must be found urgently

Brandon Hamber
2 min readMar 2, 2022

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“Map of Ukraine political simple city Kiew” by Sven Teschke is marked with CC BY-SA 3.0.

I’ve refrained from commenting on Ukraine on Facebook until now. There are enough brilliant experts on and in the region, not to mention lots of mainly male armchair generals and experts (and few male and female politicians in Northern Ireland) getting very excited on social media about tanks and guns they will never have to hold. So who needs more commentary, huh? So, I have a quick thought on conflict in general, which I have spent a fair bit of my life studying, teaching, and practically engaging with.

The current moment shows all the hallmarks of conflict escalation drifting toward a tipping point. I know it is not rocket science, but all conflicts have them (often multiple times) and it is vital as there comes a moment in conflicts where it becomes impossible in the short term to roll back. People think they know when this point is (because it is not rocket science!), but many protracted wars have shown most fail to spot it or an unanticipated event happens and things tip, creating an even worse catastrophe than the present.

We see classic escalation features: increasing attacks on civilians (by the Russians); constant reference to historical contexts and narratives; arms build-up by multiple players; hardening rhetoric; polarization spouted by the public, not just politicians; the public (outside the country) talking “bravely” of war and why it is needed; the silencing of anyone who utters the word peace or compromise, belittling such approaches (often using the language of masculinity); multiple alliances that are material and historical; rapid shifts in alliances (not just in the region but elsewhere, for you conflict nerds Russia changing position recently on Yemen, for example); everyone over-estimating their war capabilities and miscalculating those of their enemy on all sides; and emotions being praised before reason in the media and by us all.

I do not know where this will go, but routes to de-escalation must be found urgently. I wish I had a magic bullet for this but don’t. However, it is crucial to think about routes to de-escalation as much as we are thinking about other issues like defence. This is hard when seeing the breaching of international law and human rights violations by Russia; it’s emotive. However, this is where we are right now…drifting fast…just an observation.

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Brandon Hamber

Hume O'Neill Professor of Peace at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. Medium is my popular writing space. Academic publications at brandonhamber.com