War reparations are a minefield

A Ukrainian soldier walks in front of a destroyed building of the International Airport of Kherson in the village of Chornobaivka, outskirts of Kherson, on November 20, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • The war mongers keep pushing the idea that Ukraine can defeat Russia on the battlefield and that negotiations are a sign of weakness, and that is absurd.

The UN passed a resolution calling Russia to pay reparations – the war damage that it has inflicted in Ukraine. I am not an expert in international politics but I think the ‘big boys’ should look at this issue holistically -- The stakes are high. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in a worse situation than just Ukraine war. Russia isn’t a Uganda invading DRC, and the future of Russia is so uncertain after Putin. A worse Russian leader may rise out of the situation after the Ukraine war.

Hitler came to power due to the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. It was a treaty that ended WW1 and was a set of rules/terms Germany had to follow to disallow it from becoming powerful again and potentially starting another World War.

The treaty was punishment, clear and simple: The first 26 Articles of the Treaty set out the Covenant of the League of Nations; the rest of the 440 Articles detailed Germany’s punishment. Some of these terms included an army size of only 100,000 soldiers; the general staff was eliminated; the manufacture of armoured cars, tanks, submarines, airplanes, and poison gas was forbidden; and only a small number of specified factories could make weapons or munitions. e.t,c. It was basically a way to keep Germany in line by putting up limits that their military strength would be like.

The “war guilt clause”, that demanded German financial restitution of 132 billion gold marks (approximately $300 billion today), led to devaluation of the German mark, which introduced hyperinflation. This destroyed the German economy, people became jobless, hungry, and suffered. This was followed by a series of defaults as intended. As part of the intended humiliation and suffering, 1923 was the first where France and Belgium occupied the Ruhr.

The Lausanne Switzerland Conference in June and July 1932 was the last attempt to address the German Reparations issue before Hitler took power. Again, the Reparations were not to be absolved, the intended humiliation and suffering went on, so the Lausanne Conference agreement was to ‘’suspend” German reparation payments, not forgive.

However, in December 1932 the US Congress rejected the agreements reached at Lausanne. By this time the Lausanne Conference proceedings were irrelevant, in the July 1932, the NSDAP won 230 governmental seats, and on January 30 1933 President Paul von Hindenburg named Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.

Hitler’s political popularity was heightened when he cancelled all Treaty of Versailles payments in 1933. He committed to not paying reparations and overturning the entire treaty. Germany made no payments under Hitler. His refusal to pay reparations was well accepted in a nation that saw the reparations as a form of humiliation. Hitler for all the evils, kept his campaign promise not to pay the intended humiliation and suffering Reparations.

Apart from the Versailles Treaty, the Great Depression also enabled Hitler to come to power in Germany and the Nazis to become the dominant party. Because of the depression, millions lost their jobs, farms, etc. Millions were hungry and desperate.

The point is that the UN should learn lessons from post-world war Germany, and handle the Russian -Ukraine conflict very carefully. Like they say, ‘’If you beat your dog, he will bite you”.

In reality, reparations are absolutely counterproductive in some cases. Instead of helping heal the divide created by history or wars, it keeps the wound fresh and stirs up new feelings of resentment on all sides. People should be more worried about ending the war in Ukraine, rather than a bag of money that will stir more envy and hatred among people who had no control of the war.

I am a pacifist and war is always the result of leaders failing to resolve things like grown-ups. Diplomacy is still an option and I think European leaders should use it. The war mongers keep pushing the idea that Ukraine can defeat Russia on the battlefield and that negotiations are a sign of weakness, and that is absurd. This war could continue for years,and in the meantime, Ukraine is rapidly being turned into rubble, and all economies around the world have been affected.

Putin, for all his faults, has said he doesn’t want to annex Ukraine and he couldn’t anyway! He has no territorial ambition other than to stop Ukraine becoming a NATO member, and taking control of Crimea for oil and gas control. For the record, I don’t defend the invasion, but I did expect it. And so did NATO. I think too many people are trying to turn this into a binary argument - you’re either siding with Russia, or you’re a mega capitalist in love with the USA; that’s a fallacy. 

Abbey Kibirige  Semuwemba,  [email protected]

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