Can we Afford to Reject Conflict in Ukraine?

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Can we Afford to Reject Conflict in Ukraine
by  Bart Binning, Ed. D.

The concept of what became America’s participative democracy began to be discussed over 400 years ago, at a time when the world tended to accept that hereditary feudal lords and the divine right of kings as a requirement of prosperity and security, and the benefit of the prosperity and security was only for the nobility. The ideas of liberty, justice, and opportunity for all was considered foolhardy, and the concept that governments derived their power from the consent of the governed was considered unworkable and contrary to human nature.[1]

While the framing of the story of America was based on those powerful ideas, and those ideas ultimately spread through the world and “transformed our beliefs about human possibility”[2], it is also arguable that our founding fathers did not really believe in the totality of the ideals promoted.  For example:

    • our founders were white male property owners who nearly all owned slaves
    • land was typically held collectively by the tribes with their chiefs as guardians; founders procured fee-simple-title to land from native chiefs who usually had no authority to sell the land

It is arguable that the implementation of Adam Smith’s concepts outlined in his seminal 1776 book “The Wealth of Nations” (among the concepts: that wealth is created through productive labor, and that self-interest motivated people to put their resources to the best use), are actually forms of self-directed conflict management.   In spite of its flaws, the benefits of the American Experience appear to be that, in the long-term, an ingrained process of conflict resolution described, in part, by the Law of Supply and Demand, is the least expensive way of promoting prosperity and stability among groups of people through.  No longer do nations (or princes) need to conquer lands to assure adequate resources to be available to be used in the creation of wealth; one only needs to peacefully barter for those resources, equitably offering the resources to the highest bidder.

Rotary seems to embrace these tenants of the American Experience in what might be called the Rotary Philosophy, which is we refuse to accept that conflict is a way of life [3] [4]  While many Rotarians since their founding in the early 20th century are known as those who promote conflict resolution, conflict resolution it is not something that has been recently invented, and there are may ways to resolve conflicts.  For example, when Captain James Cook discovered Hawaii in 1778, he marveled at the lack of discourse among the people; it was only later that it was discovered that the absolute rulers routinely killed all with whom they had the slightest disagreement.   The Iroquois Confederacy’s League of Peace and Power, founded in 1142 – the world’s oldest form of participatory democracy – was founded on the principal that leadership should be promoted on the concept that honor is not earned by material gain but by service to others.[a]

But what to do when conflict resolution fails?  For example:

In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arrived home from a conference in Munich. He and other leaders had met with Hitler; they had agreed to allow the German army to annex a slice of Czechoslovakia; in exchange, Hitler offered more dialogue, and promised not to fight any further. To the cheering crowd that had gathered to welcome his plane, Chamberlain happily declared that the threat of war had passed: He had obtained “peace with honor … peace for our time.” 
As it turned out, Hitler was not satisfied with that slice of Czechoslovakia. He wanted all of Czechoslovakia—and then all of Poland, all of Belgium, all of the Netherlands, all of France. In light of the blood, death, and tragedy that followed 1938, Chamberlain’s deal came to be described by an ugly word: appeasement. Chamberlain is remembered not for the peace he negotiated, but for the war that followed.[b]

Which brings us to a discussion of the differences between the Russian attempt to confiscate the land and resources of the Ukraine, and the US interventions in the Mideast.  It is arguable that the many of the countries of the Mideast are tribal in nature, with philosophies and systems of government simular to feudal societies of medieval Europe; land was owned by a single monarch and fidelity was owed to the family through to the king.  In history, the nation was the king and did whatever the king wanted. In a hunter-gatherer, tribal society, the King expended his power by conquering adjoining lands, which provided more resources to tax and receive royalties from minerals (and oil) under the land.

Russia is largely a third-world agrarian economy, focusing on farming and the production of raw materials, with an authoritarian government.  The Ukraine, on the other hand, has a agricultural/mining/manufacturing base (transformation of raw materials into finished goods) with nominal representative democracy (although a bit corrupt), like what we find in most of the western democracies.   In addition to being known as the Breadbasket of Europe since the times of the ancient Greeks.  In 2019, Ukraine was the 7th largest world producer of iron ore, the world’s 8th largest producer of manganese, 6th largest producer of titanium.  In 2018 Ukraine was the 7th largest producer worldwide of graphite, the world’s 9th largest producer of uranium, and had 26th largest in natural gas reserves.  Ukraine supplies about 50% of the world’s neon gas and 40% of its krypton, both of which are needed for the production of semiconductors.[c]  When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine produced 17% of the industrial and 21% of the agricultural parts of the Soviet economy.[d]  And, Ukraine, when it was associated with the Soviet Union, was a founding member of the United Nations.[e]

With Russia’s command and control economy, it is no wonder its president decided to use force to try to incorporate Independent Ukraine back into the Russian state.  The question becomes:  Can we afford to reject conflict in this situation?

[1] Korten, David; “Reviewing the American Experiment”.  Living Economics Forum.  Downloaded 11/12/2022,

[2] ibid

[3]Rotary Responds to the War in Ukraine”.  Downloaded 11/12/2022;

[4]4 ways to build peace through Rotary”.  Downloaded 11/12/2022;

[a]How the Iroquois Great Law of Peace Shaped U.S. Democracy”   Downloaded 11/12/2022;

[b] Applebaum, Anne.  “There Are No Chamberlains in This Story”  The Atlantic, February 2022.  Downloaded 11/17/2022

[c] “Economy of Ukraine” Wikipedia.  Downloaded 11/17/2022

[d] “Economy of Ukraine” Encyclopedia Britannica.  Downloaded 11/17/2022

[e]“Ukraine and the United Nations”  Wikipedia.  Downloaded 11/17/2022.

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