Fighter jet folly, Biden’s “just peace” for Ukraine, think tanks and nukes and more
CANADA FINALIZES F-35 FIGHTER JET FOLLY
On 9 January 2023, Defence Minister Anita Anand announced that Canada had finalized an agreement with the US government and Lockheed Martin with Pratt & Whitney for the acquisition of 88 F-35 fighter jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pursuant to a $19 billion contract, saying in part:
In today’s complex global environment, Canada requires a military that is flexible, agile and capable of responding to a variety of unforeseen situations….
We are thrilled to announce today that Canada has selected the F-35 as the fighter aircraft that will fill this important role.
This announcement follows the government’s March 2022 decision to begin negotiations with Lockheed Martin to purchase the F-35 to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 fighter jets.
At that time, in a blog segment entitled F-35 Procurement a Catastrophic Error, we catalogued yet again the litany of reasons why Canada’s decision to purchase a fleet of F-35s — the most advanced stealth fighter aircraft today — is sheer folly. Those reasons include:
- Exorbitant cost for capabilities that Canada simply does not need
- Less costly alternatives better suited to Canada’s Arctic requirements
- Unproven technologies and outstanding technical deficiencies requiring constant redesign, operational testing, and equipment replacement
- Projected lifetime sustainment costs that are so expensive the US Air Force has cut back on its orders of these fighter jets.
On the affordability issue, we quoted a segment of a powerful open letter to the Government of Canada from retired Air Force Colonel Paul Maillet as follows:
It is very clear that we cannot afford the F35. This is the most expensive US weapons project in their military history, and will consume our defence budget in its mid life years.
The F35 requires a very complex and unaffordable military battle management infrastructure reaching into space, to realize its capabilities, and we will be wholly dependent on US military infrastructure for this. We will be just another squadron or two of the US Air Force and as such dependent on its foreign policy and military predispositions to conflict responses.
The life cycle costs will be astronomical, easily exceeding $40 billion; and outstanding technical deficiencies will plague the aircraft, and defence budget, for decades.
Quite aside from excessive cost, the F-35 is not the plane we need
Paul Maillet went on to outline why the F-35 is not the plane that Canada needs, writing:
Canadian defence requirements for an aircraft capable of policing Canadian airspace and national sovereignty can be easily met by a far less expensive and less complex aircraft….
The F35 has massively excessive capabilities to our needs.
This aircraft has only one purpose and that is to kill or destroy infrastructure. It is, or will be, a nuclear weapon capable, air-to-air and air-to-ground attack aircraft optimized to war fighting.
This contributes solely to war.
For an excerpt from the new open letter sent by Paul Maillet, on the occasion of the procurement finalization announcement, referencing the Ukraine conflict which was said to have “sped up” Canada’s decision-making on the F-35, click HERE.
We include one comment from the new letter:
I will state for the record that we will very, very much regret the day we made this decision. We are buying a fighter, the type of which, even the Ukraine war will rarely commit to the close battlefield due to the growing overwhelming sophistication of air defenses.
For a good summary of the long, torturous history of this disastrous procurement, see Government to announce F-35 deal Monday – Trudeau had said stealth fighter didn’t work and wasn’t needed (David Pugliese, ottawacitizen.com, 8 January 2022).
We unreservedly reiterate our condemnation of this procurement decision. It will not make Canada or Ukraine any safer. Its likely dire effect over the medium term on Canada’s defence spending capacity will impair our ability to make prudent, sustainable, defence choices in future, as well as limit our spending options for urgent human security needs.
Russia Matters, in its latest analytical report, references a Washington Post commentary by David Ignatius on the different language used by presidents Biden and Zelensky in articulating how the war ends.
In his historic speech to Congress on 21 December 2022, as Ignatius points out, Zelensky uses the word “victory” 11 times, including:
Russia could stop its aggression, really, if it wanted to, but you [the US] can speed up our victory.
Indeed, the title of his speech, as it appears on the official website of the Ukrainian President, begins:
We stand, we fight and we will win.
In the ensuing White House Press Conference, the text of which is available here, President Biden states:
And, President … Zelenskyy, you have made it clear he [Putin] is open to pursuing a — well, let me put it this way: He’s not open, but you’re open to pursuing peace. You’re open to pursuing a just peace.
In his remarks, President Zelensky responds:
A just peace? I don’t know. I don’t know what “just peace” is. It’s a very philosophical description. If there is a just war — I don’t know.
And President Zelensky concludes his remarks to the press as follows:
And, of course, to be together with us jointly, because we really fight for our common victory against this tyranny. That is real life. And we will win. And I really want [to] win together.
Ignatius comments on the lack of mention by President Biden of the word “victory”:
Biden didn’t use the word a single time. Instead, he promised support for Ukraine’s “unbreakable determination … to choose their own path” and pledged: “We will stay with you for as long as it takes.”
This war almost surely won’t end with the total elimination of Russian war power, which helps explain why Biden actively resists the rhetoric of “total victory.”
Now that President Biden is advocating a “just peace” over the chimera of “total victory”, it is time to establish a high-level dialogue channel to facilitate diplomatic peacemaking efforts.
CNANW Report on Ukraine Conflict
A special virtual meeting of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW) was held on 29 November 2022, featuring panel presentations by three former Canadian Disarmament Ambassadors, the Honourable Doug Roche, Peggy Mason, and Marius Grinius, followed by lively discussion among the network members.
Entitled Reducing the Nuclear Weapons Risks in the Ukraine Conflict, the webinar report underscores the essential role of diplomacy in ending the conflict — and the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons use — and, to that end, canvasses a range of “difficulties and opportunities”.
On the role of nuclear weapons, Marius Grinius tellingly observes:
there was a reluctance of militaries to accept that nuclear weapons are passé in terms of their utility. Politicians seem unable to grasp this too.
RI President Peggy Mason cites Russia-Ukraine scholar Richard Sakwa on the essential background to the conflict:
Above all, it is now clear that no effective system of European security and political order was established in the post-Cold War era. It is not helpful to look for people to blame for this lamentable state of affairs, but instead we should look to the structural causes….
These lie in the asymmetrical end of the Cold War and the failure to create an inclusive and equitable system of European security…
The Report asks:
Can Putin be trusted to negotiate in good faith, and what will be the future status of Crimea and the Donbas?
A Canadian diplomatic role?
The report acknowledges:
some debate about the usefulness of Canada in the Ukraine context because this country is not seen as neutral and is loudly backing one side.
It states bluntly:
Canada is currently showing no interest in a negotiations track. Deputy Prime Minister Freeland has referred to a necessary “vanquished Russia”.
Nonetheless, the report asserts:
There is surely an opportunity for Canada to call for reduced salience of nuclear weapons in NATO policy, and to press within the alliance for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
The report also examines the role that Canada could play in support of a high-level, ongoing dialogue forum, actively engaged with the conflict parties and continuously supporting options for a negotiated settlement:
middle powers like Canada could credibly support a just outcome to the war and encourage an early end to the devastation by devoting some material and political capital in support of a Ukraine peace platform — to promote early attention to the negotiations that will in the end be absolutely essential for ending the current crisis and building a basis for future stability.
A role for civil society in support of a Ukraine peace platform is also discussed.
The Report concludes:
We find ourselves now walking into a winter stalemate rather than peace negotiations. Both Ukrainians and Russians are the ones suffering (as are many others affected by the economic and supply impacts of the war). This means that something other than total victory will be required for the peace.
This conclusion — based as it is on a webinar held in late November 2022 — references a “winter stalemate” but, in light of the recent apparent Russian gains in Soledar, Ukraine, we recall this prescient comment on impediments to negotiations, found earlier in the report:
President Zelensky also has a hard sell, now, given some recent momentum for Ukraine in the war.
These gains can, of course, fade or be reversed over time.
We end our discussion of this report with these wise words from veteran peace activist, former Ambassador, MP, and Senator Doug Roche, OC:
But crisis is also an opportunity to reassess. This could ideally lead us closer towards a common security understanding of conflict and conflict resolution. However, there can be no permanent peace without the abolition of nuclear weapons, rejection of militarism and an espousal of non-violence.
For the full report, click HERE.
Conflicts of Interest and Nuclear Weapons
In the CNANW report just discussed, Marius Grinius lamented the inability of militaries and their governments to see the writing on the wall – the lack of utility of nuclear weapons in any meaningful military sense. New research findings help explain why.
Entitled No such thing as a free donation? Research funding and conflicts of interest in nuclear weapons policy analysis (International Relations, 2022), authors Kjølv Egeland and Benoît Pelopidas conclude, after a survey of 45 of the world’s top think tanks:
we find, first, that effectively all think tanks in the sample accepted funding from nuclear vested interests and, second, that such ‘stakeholder funding’ has real effects on intellectual freedom.
Given the widely-held view that democracy relies on intellectual independence, this finding calls for a serious debate about conflicts of interest in foreign policy analysis generally and nuclear policy analysis specifically.
Nonviolent resistance, double standards and the Ukraine war
We conclude our update on the Ukraine conflict with a provocative article from a leading expert on nonviolent resistance, Professor Stephen Zunes, entitled Thoughts on Ukraine (peacejusticestudies.org, Fall 2022).
While international law gives Ukraine every right to resist Russian aggression through military force, there are serious questions as to whether the valiant but extremely costly resistance to Russian efforts to annex the country’s eastern provinces is worth the cost.
He then cites the prevailing counter-argument:
Others argue that it is worth sacrificing tens of thousands of lives, destroying cities and livelihoods, and the enormous financial and environmental costs in order to defend the important principle that no country has the right to expand its territory by force or unilaterally change recognized international boundaries.
After noting that Western nations “have hardly been consistent in upholding that principle,” Zunes asks:
Are there nonviolent alternatives to either capitulation to Russian aggression or an ongoing, bitter, deadly stalemated armed conflict?
He writes candidly:
A strong case can be made that a comprehensive nonviolent defense plan based on massive noncooperation could make a Russian occupation untenable, but it is probably not realistic to expect Ukrainians to lay down their arms and hope that the subsequent Russian occupation of their country could be defeated accordingly.
Non-violent resistance within Russia
On the prospects of non-violent resistance within Russia, Zunes writes:
The best hope for a nonviolent resolution would come from within Russia itself, where—despite a very repressive political environment—many hundreds of individual and collective actions have taken place.
In his view, then:
The United States and other Western countries therefore need to pursue policies which would encourage the Russian opposition and undermine the nationalist sentiment which has strengthened Putin’s hand.
However, to do this credibly and meaningfully in Zunes’ view, this would require the Biden administration to:
- renounce its recognition of the illegal Israeli and Moroccan occupations,
- end its policy of blocking UN Security Council action in resolving these conflicts and
- demand that these allies immediately withdraw from all of their occupied territories.
In doing so, it would make clear that Western opposition to Russian aggression is indeed based upon international law, not simply a geopolitical calculation in which the U.S. insists that its allies can engage in illegal activities while Russia cannot.
Similarly, the United States cannot seriously raise concerns about Russia’s lack of democracy, suppression of antiwar opponents, and other human rights abuses as long as the United States continues to provide unconditional arms transfers and other support for dictatorial regimes around the world.
Zunes outlines the further changes to US policy needed to effectively support nonviolent resistance in Russia:
The United States needs to reverse its stated goal to “weaken Russia,” stop the expansion of NATO, and finally get serious about nuclear disarmament. Such changes in policies will diminish Putin’s efforts to maintain popular support through manipulating nationalist fears among the Russian public.
It is not our place to insist the Ukrainians engage in nonviolent resistance while many Western governments—particularly the United States—pursue policies that make it difficult for nonviolent resistance in Russia to successfully challenge Putin.
As with many other conflicts around the world, the best way of supporting nonviolent resistance abroad is to engage in it at home.
Effective support for nonviolent resistance in Russia, in our view, must also mean active Western engagement in facilitating President Biden’s stated goal of a just peace to end the war in Ukraine.
GLOBAL CHALLENGES AND GLOBAL SOLUTIONS
We end this blog post by highlighting an important new monthly series of columns by Jeffrey D. Sachs, entitled From Global Chaos and Danger to Understanding and Cooperation (commondreams.org, 12 January 2023).
Sachs explains the purpose of the series:
The confluence of global change, disruption, and danger is astounding. Solutions lie in understanding, cooperation, and problem solving.
A better understanding of the New World Economy will be the aim of this column in the months ahead.
Photo credit: US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (F-35A)
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