Pathways to peace in Ukraine, cluster munitions & BMD updates; RI summer recess begins


The Russia-Ukraine War Report Card, July 12, 2023

Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force

July 12 update: No major territorial changes… Net territorial change in the past month: Ukraine +37 square miles.

Track II diplomacy underway

The Belfer Centre reports:

A group of former senior U.S. national security officials have held secret talks with Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov and other prominent Russians to discuss laying the groundwork for potential negotiations to end the war in Ukraine, according to NBC.

The meeting with Lavrov took place in April in New York and was attended by such prominent U.S. foreign policy experts as Richard Haass, Charles Kupchan and Thomas Graham, NBC reported, citing half a dozen people briefed on the discussions.

Also according to the NBC report:

On the agenda were some of the thorniest issues in the war in Ukraine, like the fate of Russian-held territory that Ukraine may never be able to liberate and the search for an elusive diplomatic off-ramp that could be tolerable to both sides.

Among the goals, they said, is to keep channels of communication with Russia open when possible and to feel out where there might be room for future negotiation, compromise and diplomacy over ending the war.

The discussions have taken place with the knowledge of the Biden administration but not at its direction.

The NBC article also states:

Signs are mounting that the U.S. and its allies are eager for Moscow and Kyiv to move toward peace talks in the fall after Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive is completed.

We now know that this was the backdrop for a lengthy article in Foreign Affairs by Richard Haass, Charles Kupchan  and Russia expert Thomas Graham, which we canvassed in an earlier blog post.

Track II negotiators are not authorized to decide anything. They aren’t negotiating. They are exploring ideas and gathering intel.

For more on this important and most welcome development, see the article by Trita Parsi entitled Good news: Former US officials reportedly open talks with Moscow (, 6 July 2023). Among other things, the article provides a very useful explanation of the role of so-called Track Two diplomacy to

explore possible pathways to real negotiations and a lasting solution.

NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, 11-12 July 2023

As has been widely discussed and publicized, Ukraine received a package of decisions at Vilnius that included:

an agreement to remove certain requirements that Ukraine meet NATO standards in the form of the ‘Membership Action Plan’; the establishment of a NATO-Ukraine Council; more military and financial aid; a reaffirmation of support for Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO; and security guarantees from G7 countries.

What Ukraine did not — and could not — receive, despite very public pressure from President Zelensky and the support of some alliance members, was an invitation to join and/or a fixed timetable for admission. Instead what Ukraine got was a formulation of words that promises exactly nothing:

We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met.

After an entirely human and much-publicized outburst at the ‘absurdity’ of this outcome, President Zelensky bowed to reality and put the best face he could on it. As the Guardian put it:

Zelensky said that while it was “understandable that Ukraine cannot join Nato when at war”, it would have been ideal if there had been an invitation for Kyiv to join the alliance at some point in the future.

He said an invitation would have been a signal that Nato was serious about membership.

The blunt but rarely uttered truth: why Ukraine cannot become a member of NATO

Just prior to the Vilnius Summit, Anatol Lieven wrote an article entitled The case for Ukraine’s NATO membership is the zombie that won’t die (, 11 July 2023), where he predicted that

The likely outcome of the Vilnius summit will be once again to dangle a never ending timetable for Kyiv’s admittance into the alliance.

While Lieven was right that no invitation to join was forthcoming, NATO managed to do so by avoiding both an invitation and a timeline. His article outlines the long history of NATO duplicity regarding Ukrainian membership in the Alliance and the horrific damage that false promise has wrought and continues to wreak.

Lieven begins by pointing out that, even worse than this continued duplicity would be an actual invitation to join — something that Canadian Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne might be wise to reflect on — writing:

The worst outcome would be immediate NATO membership for Ukraine, committing NATO to fight for Ukraine in its borders of 2013 and therefore drawing NATO into a direct war with Russia, with the high probability of this turning into a nuclear war.

He then goes on to make the obvious, yet wilfully ignored point by so many:

Since the Biden administration and all major NATO governments have stated repeatedly that they have no intention of deliberately going to war with Russia now or in future, and since majorities of most NATO publics also reject this course, it is hard to see why NATO membership now or in future is even on the table.

Next, he poses another obvious question — again unanswered by the prevailing narrative:

What after all does NATO membership mean, if not a commitment to fight to defend other members?

NATO hypocrisy on Ukraine’s admission starts in 2008

The key point that Anatol Lieven makes is the continuity of hypocrisy in NATO policy since 2008, when the George W. Bush administration demanded an immediate NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine and Georgia, despite repeated warnings by diplomats and experts (including then US Ambassador to Moscow and now CIA Director William Burns) that this was very likely to lead to conflict with Russia.

France and Germany took these warnings seriously and opposed NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. However, under intense US pressure, rather than vetoing membership,

They agreed to a compromise whereby Ukraine and Georgia were promised membership at some undefined point in future but without any time frame or clear path to membership.

Anatol Lieven outlines the consequences of this folly:

This informed Russia that NATO would arm and train Ukraine and Georgia, and that at some point in the future Russia would be expelled from its naval base at Sevastopol as well as from the Georgia separatist territories, but that in the intervening years or decades NATO would not in fact defend Ukraine and Georgia.

Lieven elaborates on the impact on both Russia and Ukraine:

It antagonized and frightened Russia and emboldened radical nationalists in Ukraine without offering Ukraine any protection.

Lieven also comments on the anti-democratic impact of NATO’s policy:

the attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO also defied the will of a large majority of the Ukrainian population, which in every opinion poll on the subject before 2014 opposed Ukraine seeking to join NATO, precisely on the grounds that this would turn Russia into an enemy.

NATO’s position on membership impedes a just, sustainable peace

Having canvassed the sordid history of Ukraine’s membership bid, Lieven turns to why NATO’s position is so harmful , outlining two key reasons:

First, the repeated, “ironclad” commitment to future NATO membership makes it far more difficult for the West or Ukraine to pursue one path to a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine War, namely a Ukrainian treaty of neutrality with strong security guarantees — something … President Zelensky himself proposed as part of a peace settlement in March 2022.

Lieven elaborates:

By giving Russia the appearance of success on one of its key demands, this could play a crucial role in enabling a Russian government to make concessions on other issues as part of a settlement.

To summarize this argument:

NATO’s commitment to Ukraine for future membership is an empty promise that stands in the way of a meaningful peace settlement for Ukraine.

NATO, Ukraine and European security

Lieven outlines the second reason why NATO’s neither-fish-nor-fowl membership policy on Ukraine is so damaging:

It should be obvious … that there can be no truly stable and successful long-term security architecture in Europe that includes security for Ukraine and does not also include Russia in some form and take account of Russia’s security concerns.

Otherwise, the West will be committed to an endless strategy of arming and financing Ukraine against Russia, while praying that the United States remains fully committed to this and is not drawn away by more important domestic and international threats.

For the full article, click HERE.

For a further examination of how NATO serves  fundamentally American, not European interests, see the New York Times guest essay NATO Isn’t What It Says It Is (Grey Anderson and Thomas Meaney, 11 July 2023) available HERE without a paywall.

The core of the Anderson and Meaney argument is:

NATO, from its origins, was never primarily concerned with aggregating military power.… Rather, it set out to bind Western Europe to a far vaster project of a U.S.-led world order, in which American protection served as a lever to obtain concessions on other issues, like trade and monetary policy.

In that mission, it has proved remarkably successful.


The NATO Summit Communique states in part:

Consistent with our obligations under Article 3 of the Washington Treaty, we make an enduring commitment to invest at least 2% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually on defence.

Canada, like the majority of NATO’s 31 members, has signed on to this commitment but has thus far successfully resisted pressures to provide a timeline for actually meeting it.

The following headline from the National Post (a Canadian newspaper which also gleefully featured a Wall Street Journal editorial castigating Canada for its “pathetic 1.38% of GDP on defense” ) gives a hint as to what is actually going on:

Why Canada keeps missing its NATO  spending target – and why Conservatives aren’t promising to meet it

As the NP points out, Conservatives have attacked the Liberals for letting NATO down, while at the same time declining to commit to any timeline of their own for reaching the 2% target. That is because Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is only too aware of the report issued last year by the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) which calculated that

the federal government would have needed to spend an additional $18.2 billion on the military to reach NATO’s targets just last year, over and above the $36.3 billion it did spend — and increase budgeted spending by an additional $75 billion by 2027.

Echoing what has been pointing out for some time, Philippe Lagassé, an associate professor who studies defence policy and procurement at Carleton University, stated:

The department is having difficulty spending its budget on new equipment and infrastructure and other things of that nature as it is….

So increasing the budget to two per cent, let’s say over the next three, three to five years, would be a big injection of funds that the defence establishment and the system would have difficulty absorbing…

Canada seeking expansion of NATO definition of alliance defence spending

In the meantime, Canada has been “quietly and consistently” lobbying major NATO allies to expand the definition of what it can include under the military alliance defence spending benchmark to encompass

what the country spends on space, cyber and artificial intelligence (AI) research.

Canada, Ukraine and cluster munitions update

Last week we discussed the strong negative reaction among many NATO allies, including Canada, to the Biden administration’s decision to include cluster bombs in the $800-million package of new military aid to Ukraine.  Since then, the New York Times Editorial Board has weighed in with a strong statement entitled The Flawed Moral Logic of Sending Cluster Munitions to Ukraine (10 July 2023) which reads in part:

In the face of the widespread global condemnation of cluster munitions and the danger they pose to civilians long after the fighting is over, this is not a weapon that a nation with the power and influence of the United States should be spreading.

The editorial concludes:

The rain of bomblets may give Ukraine a military advantage in the short term, but it would not be decisive, and it would not outweigh the damage in suffering to civilians in Ukraine, now and likely for generations to come.

The Canadian Pugwash Group on 14 July 2023 released a statement condemning cluster bombs being sent to Ukraine which concludes:

The Canadian Pugwash Group calls upon the Government of Canada and all Parties to the Convention to fulfill their legal obligation to do everything in their power to discourage the use of cluster munitions by all parties, including Russia, Ukraine, and allies — directly or indirectly — in the current conflict.

On cluster munitions there is more that Canada can do

Last week’s post also featured an Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau from former Canadian lead negotiator of the treaty banning these weapons, Earl Turcotte.

He has followed that up with an opinion piece in the Hill Times outlining further urgent action needed by Canada entitled Time to Root out loopholes in Canada’s cluster munitions laws (12 July 2023). The article’s under banner reads:

Now would be the time to finally amend Canada’s domestic law on cluster munitions so it conforms to the standards established in the convention itself.

After congratulating Canada “on speaking out forcefully against the use of cluster munitions” and dismissing as “patently impossible” claims by the US and Ukraine that “they will take measures to ensure that civilians are not harmed,” Turcotte writes:

One can only hope that the 22 NATO Parties to the Convention and like-minded states press the U.S. and Ukraine hard to reconsider using this weapon.

Now is the time for Canada to come into full conformity with the Cluster Munitions Convention

Turcotte then turns his attention to the inconsistencies between Canada’s domestic law on cluster munitions and the standards established by the Convention itself, writing:

In 2011, despite powerful opposition by all other political parties [including the Liberals], the Harper government rammed through legislation that allows Canadian forces to aid and abet in the use of cluster munitions in significant ways.

This includes a provision that

allows a Canadian commander of a multinational force to direct the use of cluster munitions by non-party state armed forces.

Turcotte concludes:

Canada is the only country to introduce such “exceptions” in its law. Please, Mme. Joly, fix this. Then, we can call ourselves “champions” on this life-or-death issue.

With the kind permission of the author, this article is also available HERE IN PDF FORMAT for those without a Hill Times subscription.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to direct the Department of Justice to begin drafting the necessary amendments to remove the so-called “exceptions” for Canadian military personnel in respect of the absolute prohibition in the Convention on aiding and abetting the use of cluster munitions.


US Strategic Ballistic Missile Defence: Why Canada won’t join it (Ernie Regehr,, 11 July 2023).

We are very pleased to end our final blog post before our summer break with this superb articulation of why Canada should not, and likely will not, join US strategic ballistic missile defence, despite two parliamentary committees (one Senate and one House of Commons) recently recommending that Canada “reconsider” its 2005 decision against joining.

In summary, Ernie Regehr’s argument is:

The Pentagon acknowledges the system has no capacity against Russian and Chinese ballistic missiles, and its operational design means it also has no capability against cruise and hypersonic missiles. With continental security concerns shifting to the latter, Canada is unlikely to seek direct involvement in strictly ballistic missile defence.

Arms control and diplomacy the only way forward

But the impotence of missile defences in no way means we are without an effective means of reducing the risks these weapons pose. As Ernie Regehr explains:

Throughout the nuclear age there has never been a reliable defence against nuclear attack. Effectively responding to nuclear threats must necessarily come down to trying to reduce the threat through arms control, easing tensions through diplomacy, and preventing attack through deterrence.

But, given that the threat of mutually assured mass destruction can never be a satisfactory foundation for long-term security, the urgent need is for arms control and disarmament, and for sustained strategic dialogue among adversaries – the only safe, durable solution to the existential nuclear threat.

He concludes:

Arms control and strategic dialogue are not options to be held in reserve and worked on once the threats are gone and the tensions have eased. The threats and tensions need urgent attention, and it is for Canada to be part of and promote an international arms control community that insists that arms control and disarmament measures, as well as strategic stability diplomacy, become the frontline responses to strategic missile threats.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to champion an international arms control community where arms control and disarmament measures, as well as strategic stability diplomacy, become the frontline responses to strategic missile threats.


RI President Peggy Mason comments:

This is our last blog post before our summer break. It has been a brutal year on many fronts as the forces of militarism, intolerance and hyper-capitalism grow fat on the Ukraine war, while conflict and injustice in other parts of the world metastasize in obscurity.

At the same time, the voices of moderation, of reason, of diplomacy continue to offer a better way forward and are slowly but surely gaining ground. We are enormously proud to be part of that struggle. Please help us with a small donation if you can, by clicking on the button at the end of the post.

Our next post will be Friday, 25 August 2023. Enjoy the summer!   

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Zelensky and Stoltenberg, NATO logo). is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute linking Canadians working together for peace. We depend on your donations as we accept no funding from government or industry to protect our independence. Thank you for your support….   


Tags: Anatol Lieven, arms control and diplomacy, Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, Canada and cluster munitions loophole, Canada and NATO, Canadian Pugwash Group (CPG), cluster munitions update, Earl Turcotte, Ernie Regehr and US ballistic missile defence, European security, NATO definition of Alliance defence spending, NATO membership and Ukraine, NATO Vilnius Summit 2023, Track Two Diplomacy, Trita Parsi, Ukraine Update