Calculating the risks for Ukraine, Israel spyware update, reducing space threats and more
For a frank and hard-hitting analysis of the best way forward for Kyiv, see Peace by exhaustion in Ukraine (Shlomo Ben Ami, inquirer.net, 19 January 2023; originally published in the paywalled Project Syndicate, HERE).
Ben Ami writes:
those who resist imperfect peace—remaining committed instead to a “just peace” achieved, presumably, through the outright defeat of their opponents—often end up worse off.
His argument follows:
As the year began, Zelenskyy noted that Russia’s “bet may be on exhaustion” of Ukraine’s people, air defense, and energy sector. He is probably right.
What he seems not to recognize is that the support of the US and its Nato allies can keep his forces going for only so long. As admirably as the Ukrainians are fighting, they are closer to exhaustion than their Russian opponents.
And he adds a further devastating point:
Perhaps more important, the war is being conducted overwhelmingly on Ukrainian soil. So, while relentless drone and missile attacks have demolished Ukraine’s infrastructure (resulting in direct losses of about $130 billion as of last September) and inflicted untold misery on its civilians (leaving some 40,000 dead and 15-30 million displaced), Russians have continued to live their lives largely unaffected.
Ben Ami reminds us that Gen. Mark A. Milley, chair of the US Joint Chiefs, late last year
urged Ukraine to take advantage of moments of Russian weakness to negotiate a solution, as pushing Russia out of Ukraine completely would be “a very difficult task.”
Despite the then backlash against these comments, Ben Ami argues that “Milley’s advice is worth heeding.” He concludes:
Ukraine’s war endurance is likely to run out first. If Ukraine’s leaders refuse to negotiate until after they cross that threshold, they will end up far worse off than if they attempt to negotiate while they still have chips to bargain….
Peace by exhaustion is better than no peace at all.
The lack of clarity over the intended endgame is further exemplified by Ben Ami’s interpretation of “just peace” to mean “outright defeat” of Russia. In other words, unlike David Ignatius, whose view we discussed last week, Ben Ami sees no difference in the Biden and Zelensky positions.
For different reasons, Paul Rogers also argues for a negotiated end to the war in his latest Open Democracy commentary, Putin seems to be cornered but is total victory the best aim for Ukraine? (14 January 2023).
The article sub-head reads:
The US may think we’re in the end game in Ukraine, but a negotiated exit from war may be better for all.
In Professor Rogers’ view, the US has been dictating the overall pace of the war through the types of military assistance it has been providing. He writes:
The provision of the HIMARS weapon system back in August, for example, made a major difference, but if the US had also provided the much longer-range ATACMS Ukraine could have gone much further in pushing the Russian forces back towards the border.
Now, however, US policy on the war may be changing, an indication being the decision to provide Ukraine with the Patriot advanced anti-aircraft and anti-missile system.
In Rogers’ view, Washington may now believe that
any threat of escalation by Putin would be a bluff….The [nuclear] threat itself would be an admission of abject failure, damaging Russia’s position in the world so much that it would be better to sue for peace, starting with a ceasefire which would be widely welcomed.
The Professor emeritus reminds us, however, of the extremely poor Western track record of predicting the course of major conflicts, arguing that the US prognosis
may be wrong and a serious misreading of Putin’s world view.
Rogers therefore counsels:
The more that wise minds can argue the case for a negotiated end to the war short of full victory for either side the better.
The consequences of a misguided American-led war-fighting strategy will impact all NATO members, as well as European and indeed global security. But by far the greatest risk continues to be borne by Ukraine itself. That fact alone should temper American ambitions.
For more on the long-term security implications of the American strategy, see “No, Weakening Russia is Not “Costing Peanuts” for the U.S. (Trita Parsi, newrepublic.com, 20 January 2023; available without subscription).
Here is Parsi’s concluding argument:
Perhaps most importantly, prolonged war will make it increasingly hard for Europe to find a path back to long-term peace and stability. The longer the fighting goes on, the more difficult it will be to create any new European security architecture where Ukraine is safe and Russia isn’t a threat.
Europe may find itself in a state of constant, low-intensity war that cements enmity beyond generations. This, in turn, risks creating a new normal where peace no longer can be imagined, let alone achieved.
These costs don’t show up on the current balance sheets. But it is these costs—rather than the dollar amounts of the military aid—that we will be wrestling with in the years to come.
Nuclear arms control and the Ukraine conflict
For a sobering discussion of how the Ukraine war and lessons from the battlefield will complicate urgently needed US–Russian nuclear arms control discussions, see How the war in Ukraine hinders US-Russian nuclear arms control (Steven Pifer, thebulletin.org, 17 January 2023).
Just one example of the impact of the Ukraine war exemplifies the challenges inherent in any future negotiation. Pifer writes:
The Russia-Ukraine war will make it harder to gain agreement to limit non-strategic [tactical] nuclear weapons. Russian conventional armed forces in Ukraine have dramatically underperformed Moscow’s expectations….
This almost certainly will lead the Kremlin and the Russian military to place greater importance on non-strategic nuclear weapons as a hedge against failure at the conventional level, particularly as they assess Russian conventional force capabilities in comparison to those of NATO and China.
Other deleterious effects of the delayed talks include the inability, through on-site inspections, to verify compliance with the nuclear warhead constraints in the New START treaty and the decreasing amount of time to negotiate a follow-on treaty after New START’s expiration in February 2026.
Then there is the impact of the Ukraine war on the very ability of Russia and the US to negotiate in good faith. Pifer writes:
That mistrust [between Moscow and Washington] has only deepened over the past year, and the underperformance of Russian conventional forces in Ukraine, including by their precision-guided, conventional strike systems, will make stability discussions and any resulting negotiations even more difficult and time-consuming.
The question of values
In our 18 November 2022 blog post following the election in Israel of a coalition of far-right extremists, we quoted Canada Talks Israel Palestine blogger Peter Larson, who wrote:
Prime Minister Trudeau rarely misses an occasion to talk about how Canada and Israel have “shared values”.
But the most recent Israeli election, in which more than 80% of Israelis voted for parties espousing Jewish supremacy, including extreme racist parties, challenges that assertion.
Israeli spyware and mass surveillance — again
We have also written in the past about the disturbing role of Israeli companies — some with alarming Canadian connections — in the sale of surveillance technology to authoritarian governments worldwide which was then used to target activists, politicians, and journalists.
In particular, we noted that the flagship product of Israeli technology firm NSO Group
is Pegasus, spying software — or spyware — that targets iPhones and Android devices. Once a phone is infected, a Pegasus operator can secretly extract chats, photos, emails and location data, or activate microphones and cameras without a user knowing.
We further wrote of a deadly Canadian connection:
Canadians should recall that this same spyware was used by the Saudi regime to infect the cell phone of Canadian permanent resident and Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz. He in turn had been in regular communication with journalist and friend Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated by the Saudi regime in October 2018.
New Haaretz investigations
Now, in its NatSec+ newsletter, available HERE, Haaretz Arms Industry and Technology reporter Oded Yaron reveals that, despite its dismal human rights record, there have been
extensive Israeli cyber-arms sales to Bangladesh…. The equipment, used to intercept Bangladeshi citizens’ mobile and internet traffic, was sold to the Interior Ministry, internal security agency and armed forces via Cyprus.
The article continues with another Yaron revelation:
Israeli firm Cognyte sold advanced mass surveillance tools to Myanmar, despite an Israeli decision to halt defense exports to the country following the military junta’s genocidal crackdown on the Rohingya minority.
The newsletter concludes with reporting on the Personal Data Protection Authority in Greece levying a fine against an Israeli-owned spyware company, Intellexa, for having
failed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the use of spyware against Greek journalists and politicians.
These recent revelations would seem to indicate that the temporary Israeli freeze on export licenses for spyware exports — following the Pegasus investigation uproar — has been lifted.
It is important to note that these Israeli companies are not acting outside Israeli law but are exporting this malware in accordance with export permits granted by the government of Israeli, notwithstanding the danger such malware represents in the hands of authoritarian governments, or their role in undermining democracies.
Global moratorium leading to permanent ban urgently needed
Our July 2021 blog post referenced the then efforts at the UN for a moratorium on the sale and transfer of this type of technology until abuses can be fixed.
Since then, the human rights organization Amnesty International filed a petition with the United Nations on October 27, 2022, signed by 100,000 people, calling on the international body
to stop the “sale, transfer, and use of surveillance technology” in order to end the rampant illegal surveillance of political activists, journalists, lawyers and politicians in many countries.
The petition calls for an immediate, but temporary halt on these technologies, pending the establishment of:
a proper human rights regulatory framework … that protects human rights defenders and civil society from the misuse of these tools.
We call upon the Government of Canada to support efforts at the United Nations for a global moratorium on spyware exports as a first step toward an effective regulatory framework governing the sale, transfer, and use of surveillance technology. We also urge Canada, in appropriate bilateral discussions, to convey to Israel our concerns regarding its practices in relation to spyware exports.
Democracy and the Israeli High Court
For an extraordinary appeal to President Biden, see Will Biden Save Israel From Its Worst Instincts? (Robert Kuttner, American prospect, 20 January 2023. The sub-head reads:
The U.S. has only days to act before Netanyahu destroys the Israeli High Court.
GLOBAL CHALLENGES AND GLOBAL SOLUTIONS UPDATE
Across every dimension, including the economy, the greatest threat to well-being today is political
Last week we featured Jeffrey Sachs on the need to better understand the economic dimensions of the confluence of global change, disruption, and danger we currently face.
This week we highlight an article by American economist and Columbia professor Joseph Stiglitz, The road to fascism (japantimes.co.jp, 30 December 2022), originally published in the paywalled Project Syndicate HERE.
In this article, Joseph Stiglitz highlights the twin “cataclysms” of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, and their devastating “spillover” effects, which we have canvassed at length in previous blog posts.
In his view:
as if these problems weren’t vexing enough, there is ample reason to worry that the response from policymakers will make a bad situation worse.
As others, including Jeffrey Sachs, have contended, Stiglitz believes the US Federal Reserve may raise interest rates “too far and too fast” when the cause of today’s inflation is largely driven by
supply shortages, some of which are already in the process of being resolved.
The negative effects of higher interest rates are manifold in Stiglitz’s view:
- increasing the expense, and therefore the difficulty, of mobilizing investments to help alleviate supply shortages
- increasing the likelihood of a “global slowdown”
- strengthening the US dollar but weakening other currencies and increasing inflation elsewhere with dozens of countries with already weak economies being pushed to the edge of default
- increasing private sector bankruptcies and risks to pension funds
As Stiglitz reminds us:
These economic travails will, of course, fall hardest on the most vulnerable countries, providing even more fertile ground for populist demagogues to sow the seeds of resentment and discontent.
The professor also stresses that there is a “positive agenda” that could have forestalled this downward spiral, including:
- expeditious efforts to increase production and supply, thereby mitigating inflationary pressures
- providing child care in the US to help alleviate labour shortages
- faster reform of European energy markets to prevent a spike in oil prices
- windfall-profit taxes, structured to encourage investment and temper prices, with the proceeds being used for public investment “to protect the vulnerable” and build economic resilience.
With respect to COVID-19 he writes:
We could have adopted the COVID-19 intellectual property waiver, thereby reducing the magnitude of vaccine apartheid and the resentment that it fuels, as well as mitigating the risk of dangerous new mutations.
Stiglitz tells us that “a few select countries have made progress on this agenda,” but, for most,
we are still living with the legacy of the extremist [economic] policies that [Hayek] and Milton Friedman pushed into the mainstream. Those ideas have put us on a truly dangerous course: the road to a 21st-century version of fascism.
UPDATE ON REDUCING SPACE THREATS
On a positive note, we are pleased to report on yet another important initiative by the Canadian-based Outer Space Institute (OSI).
Retired Canadian diplomat and current Simon Fraser University Professor Paul Meyer is heading an OSI working group that has presented to the UN a document entitled “Non-Kinetic Anti-Satellite Weapons (ASATs)”- Submission to the third substantive session of the UN Open-Ended Working Group on “Reducing Space Threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours.”
In a nutshell, the submission — while recognizing that priority must be given to achieving a testing ban on kinetic anti-satellite weapons (ASATs) — also urges members of the UN working group not to overlook the dangers posed by non-kinetic ASATs.
To quote in part from the submission:
These [non-kinetic anti-satellite weapons] cover a range of systems, which possess the capacity to disrupt, degrade or destroy the normal functioning of a space object. These effects can be achieved through the application of several physical phenomena, including directed energy (e.g., lasers and electromagnetic pulses), [and] radio frequency spectrum interference (e.g., jamming and spoofing).
The submission further states:
Arguably, non-kinetic ASATs may be more likely to be employed due to their diversity, availability to a wider range of actors, and potential challenges of attribution.
This combination of factors raises the risks of misunderstandings and a corresponding prospect of escalation especially during crises. Stakeholders therefore need to begin addressing non-kinetic ASATs now, to reduce future risks.
The submission was posted to the UN website just prior to the convening of the third meeting of the UN OEWG and we are advised that interest has already been shown by some members in carrying it forward.
We call on the Government of Canada to champion this excellent Canadian civil society initiative to curb the dangers posed by non-kinetic ASATs to the peaceful uses of outer space.
Photo credit: Wikimedia commons (satellite)
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