NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. President Joe Biden at NATO summit

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. President Joe Biden attend the opening high-level session of the 2023 NATO Summit on July 11, 2023 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

(Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Campaigners Say 'Ceasefire and Peace Talks'—Not NATO Expansion—Should Be Focus of Key Summit

"A bigger NATO and cluster bombs won't keep us safe."

The start of NATO's annual summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on Tuesday has been dominated by talk of maintaining the flow of weapons to Ukraine and potentially expanding the Western military alliance to include the war-ravaged nation as its conflict with invading Russian forces drags on.

But anti-war campaigners argued that approach is a recipe for a prolonged and possibly larger military conflict, one that could ultimately involve nuclear weapons.

Lindsey German, a founding member and convenor of the United Kingdom-based Stop the War Coalition, wrote Monday ahead of the two-day summit that "a ceasefire and peace talks are the only means to end this bloody spiral," warning a primary focus on weaponry and NATO expansion would signal that "Western powers are preparing for an even greater war."

The alternative to serious peace negotiations, German wrote, is that the war "grinds on, with battles such as Bakhmut increasingly resembling those of the First World War. And that further 'red lines' are crossed—more cruise missiles, more cluster bombs. And then what? Tactical nuclear weapons?"

"While Ukraine has every right to defend itself from the invasion and war with Russia, it does not have the right to demand weapons which even the British government has said it will not send," German added, referring to cluster munitions—weapons that the U.S. is preparing to send Ukraine. "It does not have the right to encourage escalation of a war where there will be no winners."

"A ceasefire and peace talks are the only means to end this bloody spiral."

NATO leaders gathered in Lithuania for the 2023 summit are reportedly expected to issue a statement pledging to "extend an invitation" to Ukraine to join the military alliance once "allies agree and conditions are met," offering no specific timeline. U.S. President Joe Biden endorsed the draft communique on Tuesday.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is in attendance at the NATO summit, criticized the available details of the document, saying it "seems there is no readiness neither to invite Ukraine to NATO nor to make it a member of the alliance."

Ukraine's push to join NATO was recently backed by dozens of "foreign policy experts," many of whom work for organizations that receive funding from weapons companies and industry lobbyists.

Eli Clifton of Responsible Statecraft reported that 21 of the 46 signatories to a new open letter supporting Ukraine's NATO bid "are associated with institutions with financial ties to the weapons industry, an industry that presumably stands to benefit from the policy recommendations laid out in a letter that had a particular focus on providing more Western weapons to Ukraine, a fact not shared with readers."

Russia's leadership, for its part, has long made clear that it views any expansion of NATO, a remnant of the Cold War, as a major provocation.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, Finland—which shares a land border with Russia—has formally joined NATO and Sweden has applied to join the alliance.

On Tuesday, Turkey dropped its year-long opposition to Sweden's bid, clearing the way for the Nordic country to join the alliance, which vows to collectively defend any member that comes under attack. Sweden shares a maritime border with Russia.

In an appearance on Democracy Now! Tuesday morning, Kerstin Bergeå of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society called Sweden's push for NATO membership a "historic mistake" that won't "make Sweden more safe."

But it could spark "greater tensions and contribute... more polarization in an already heavily militarized world," Bergeå warned.

"It's just really tough seeing all the world putting so much money into weapons, and also the Swedish weapons industry is making huge profits right now," she added.

During a press conference kicking off the Lithuania summit on Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that the acceptance of Finland and Sweden into the military alliance "sends a very clear message to Russia, to President Putin, that NATO's door remains open, and that it is for NATO allies to decide on enlargement."

"He went to war because he wanted less NATO. He's getting more NATO," Stoltenberg declared. "More NATO military presence in the eastern part of the alliance and two new members."

On the prospect of Ukraine joining the alliance, Stoltenberg was less definitive, saying the draft text set to be released later Tuesday is "all about moving Ukraine closer to NATO membership."

Stoltenberg went on to make clear that, NATO member or not, Ukraine will continue to receive massive shipments of weapons from Western powers.

"We all agree that the most imminent task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation in Europe," said the NATO chief. "So the most important thing we can do is to continue to provide weapons, ammunition, military support to Ukraine, because unless Ukraine prevails as a nation, as a democratic nation in Europe, there is no issue to be discussed about security guarantees or membership in NATO at all."

Absent from Stoltenberg's remarks was any mention of peace talks, which have been nonexistent for more than a year as the war's death toll and humanitarian impacts mount.

"A bigger NATO and cluster bombs won't keep us safe," the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), a campaign co-founded by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, tweeted Tuesday. "It's time for Europe to help lead a New Non-Aligned Movement that seeks a route to lasting peace."

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