Retreat from Kherson
An article in the New York Times, reprinted and available without subscription here, provides this succinct description of the Russian retreat from Kherson:
The Kremlin on Wednesday announced a retreat of Russian forces from the strategically important city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, a concession to military reality eight months after capturing the area, and one of the most significant reversals of President Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
According to the NYT:
Moscow’s apparent decision to pull back allows an orderly withdrawal rather than the kind of sudden collapse and panicked retreat its forces endured in the east in September, leaving behind a treasure trove of weapons and other equipment that the Ukrainians could use.
Subsequent reporting bears out this assessment of an orderly Russian withdrawal.
Potential impact on Crimea
Regarding the potential impact of this withdrawal on Crimea, the NYT notes that:
Retaking the west bank of the Dnieper could allow Ukrainian forces to interrupt the primary source of fresh water for the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, putting them within artillery range of a canal linking the river to the peninsula.
Ukraine had cut the flow of water after Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea in 2014, and the Russians’ offensive earlier this year allowed them to restart it.
The article also reports on the reaction of Russian “pro-war” commentators:
Boris Rozhin, a Russian military analyst, called the retreat Russia’s “most serious military defeat since 1991.”
In a Telegram post, he wrote:
If there won’t be any upcoming successes with major towns captured and no advancement during the winter offensive, the series of military setbacks would accumulate a much greater internal discontent than sanctions.
On the other hand, Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian analyst who studies Putin for her political analysis firm R.Politik, which has an impressive list of subscribers including US embassies and the UK Foreign Office, said in a phone interview:
This just confirms, in my view, how pragmatic Putin is. He’s not as crazy as we thought.
Is Biden urging Ukraine to negotiate?
On the fraught issue of negotiations, the NYT writes:
According to recent reports, the Biden administration has urged Ukraine privately to enter into peace talks with Russia, but has also made it clear this is a Ukrainian decision.
As for the Ukrainian reaction:
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine and his top aides made clear this week that, if anything, their position has hardened — that Russia must first leave Ukraine completely, and that it must pay war reparations — and that, in any case, Moscow isn’t interested in negotiations.
But a closer look at the news reports that the NYT references, for example, a 5 November 2022 Washington Post article, reveals the real motivation for Biden’s actions, according to informed official sources:
The request by American officials is not aimed at pushing Ukraine to the negotiating table…. Rather, … it [is] a calculated attempt to ensure the government in Kyiv maintains the support of other nations facing constituencies wary of fueling a war for many years to come.
While US officials share the Ukrainian assessment that Putin, for now, is not serious about negotiations, it is also their view that
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ban on talks with him has generated concern in parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America, where the war’s disruptive effects on the availability and cost of food and fuel are felt most sharply.
Recent polling also suggests “eroding support among Republicans” for continuing to finance Ukraine’s military at current, record-breaking levels, a potentially significant factor if the GOP retakes control of the US House of Representatives as a result of the just-held mid-term elections.
The fact that the Biden administration feels the need to at least give the impression it is pushing for negotiations is possibly progress of a sort.
Gulf States and Ukraine war
The article summary reads:
The Gulf states are seeing Washington through far different eyes than Washington is seeing them. America is playing from an old playbook, without realising that the game has changed and nowhere is this more clearly highlighted than by Putin’s war against Ukraine.
While the Gulf states initially thought the war was a “European issue” that was “geographically far removed,” in Dr. Krieg’s view
They’re now realising that it’s in their interest to make sure that it doesn’t escalate further. And they’re questioning what the European or the Western or NATO strategy is on Ukraine….
In particular, they’re questioning whether the current Western trajectory could actually lead to some sort of resolution of the problem at hand, or
whether this is just a protracted Forever War, that has the potential, at every corner, to escalate, and then drag in the global international community more than they are already dragged in at the moment.
Arms Control Association: a new arms control framework for the US and Russia
An important issue brief by the Arms Control Association (ACA) entitled Toward a New Nuclear Arms Control Framework Arrangement (Shannon Bugos, Volume 14, Issue 7, 26 October 2022) begins with the perhaps unsurprising, but nonetheless worrisome, statement that
Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the United States indefinitely suspended the U.S.-Russian Strategic Stability Dialogue, a longstanding forum in which the two sides planned to lay the groundwork for more formal bilateral talks on a successor to the only current but soon-expiring nuclear arms control agreement between them: the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).
The report underscores that
If the treaty should expire in 2026 with no replacement, it would mark the first time since 1972 that the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals are entirely unconstrained.
Add to that the fact that
Russia’s catastrophic war in Ukraine has vastly exacerbated uncertainty on what, if any, arms control arrangement may follow New START.
Against this dire backdrop, the stated aim of this comprehensive new briefing is to evaluate the potential approaches to a new nuclear arms control framework by:
- Assessing the value and status of the New START agreement;
- Identifying the current generation of security concerns;
- Redefining arms control in the current age; and
- Outlining potential next steps in US–Russian arms control, including the engagement of other nuclear-armed countries.
Senior ACA Policy Analyst Shannon Bugos concludes:
History demonstrates that the benefits of bilateral arms control agreements involving the possessors of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals have consistently outweighed the costs.
Now is the time to absorb lessons learned from previous arms control efforts and apply them to the negotiation of a new, effective, and more comprehensive arms control arrangement between the United States and Russia that addresses today’s current strategic and geopolitical environment, and before the existing nuclear arms control regime under New START ends.
We urge the Government of Canada to encourage a resumption of the US–Russian Strategic Stability Dialogue to address outstanding New START issues and to lay the groundwork for a new arms control regime when New START ends.
NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION IN EAST ASIA
As part of the annual East Asia Strategy Forum 2022, hosted by the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy, RI President Peggy Mason moderated an expert panel on nuclear proliferation in East Asia.
The panel took place on 2 November 2022 against the backdrop of North Korea that day firing 25 missiles of various kinds off its east and west coasts. Since then, North Korea has launched yet more missiles.
NPR reported on 5 November:
The North has test-fired more than 30 missiles this week, including an intercontinental ballistic missile on Thursday that triggered evacuation alerts in northern Japan, and flew large numbers of warplanes inside its territory in an angry reaction to a massive combined aerial exercise between the United States and South Korea.
Is North Korean denuclearization a fantasy?
Bearing in mind that compelling North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons capabilities has been US foreign policy for the past 30 years, the first question put to the four panelists was the following:
Given North Korea’s relentless increase in its levels of nuclear and missile capability, is denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula still achievable?
Below are edited excerpts from the responses of the expert panelists to the question, with some portions highlighted in direct quotes.
Jenny Town, Director and Senior Fellow, Stimson Centre
We need to be really realistic about the challenge here.
We have been approaching North Korea the same way over the past 30 years… a non-proliferation approach — how do we prevent North Korea from getting nuclear weapons? That’s what we did in the 1990s and we continued to use the same approach despite the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons.
So this is no longer a non-proliferation challenge, this is a disarmament challenge and yet we continue to use the non-proliferation approach….
That means we have to convince a country that has a weaker military, a weaker nuclear weapons programme, and living in a nuclearized neighbourhood — all of its neighbours have nuclear weapons, either their own or by proxy — a country we are technically still at war with because the Korean war has never [officially] ended — and whose political system is at odds with the system that we want — we have to convince this country that if they disarm, they will be safe and to trust us.
That’s kind of a tall order, especially after the examples of Iraq, Libya, and now Ukraine….
Our approach needs to change…. especially when we have rising great power competition… an arms race going on in Asia and when all the security trends are working in a very negative direction, especially in South Korea as well, when you have South Korea [under a new Conservative administration] testing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and launching satellites and talking about ‘kill chain’ and ‘massive punishment’ and ‘retaliation.’
These are not security trends that would lend themselves to the weaker country disarming.
Jeffrey Lewis, Director, Middlebury Institute of International Studies
Is denuclearisation achievable? No, it is a fantasy and has been so for many years.
Lewis goes on to explain that North Korea used the term “denuclearisation” not “disarmament” because
by denuclearization what they meant was a process that applied to all parties. They believe that they built nuclear weapons because they were under nuclear threats. So unless you believe that the United States is going to engage in nuclear disarmament, matched by the North Koreans, then you are not going to have a process of denuclearization.
What about the Trump-era negotiations?
Contrasting what actually took place during the negotiations between the Trump administration and North Korea with the media hype and misleading statements from the US negotiating team, Lewis explains what North Korea was actually looking for:
It was a deal similar to the one the United States has given Israel and gave India before 1998 which was to look the other way if North Korea stopped testing, brandishing, parading and otherwise making a scene with its nuclear weapons.
With the collapse of those negotiations after the USA made clear it still wanted unilateral North Korean denuclearization, Lewis notes that we now see North Korea “moving in a very different direction”:
North Korea has laid out a very ambitious programme for modernizing its nuclear forces… and Kim Jong-un will [now] never, never, ever bargain this capability away because he believes the United States poses a threat to him….
In his view, North Korea has concluded that
if they are invaded, their best hope of surviving is the large-scale use of short and medium-range nuclear weapons against US forces in South Korea and Japan.
Lami Kim, Director, East Asia Studies Program, US Army War College
First recalling that the North Korean government in September “enshrined its right to have nuclear weapons in its law” and its leader Kim Jong-un has since said there can be “no bargaining over nuclear weapons”, Lami Kim also concludes:
I think it would be very hard to expect that North Korea will denuclearize.
Andrew Latham, Professor Macalester College and former Canadian diplomat:
I think I am guardedly pessimistic….
Referencing Thucydides, he continues:
States are always motivated by honour, fear and interest…honour is the pursuit of status and prestige. Fear, we would call it insecurity, and interest really boils down to the pursuit of power.
We see all this in play on both sides of the inner Korean border.
The result is increasing nuclear proliferation pressures, both vertical [quantity and quality] in relation to North Korea and horizontal [new nuclear-armed states] in relation to South Korea… and I see nothing pushing either North or South Korea in a different direction.
What are the implications of abandoning the goal of denuclearization?
The first step toward sound policymaking is setting a feasible goal.
But she acknowledges, this new approach comes “with costs”:
This will essentially mean recognizing North Korea as a nuclear weapons state which will undermine US global non-proliferation efforts. If North Korea can have nuclear weapons, why can’t Iran have nuclear weapons, or Saudi Arabia or Turkey for that matter?
She then touches on the potential impact on South Korea and Japan:
[I]f it becomes clear that there is no hope North Korea will ever denuclearize, South Korea and Japan may also pursue nuclear weapons.
They may feel betrayed that the US seeks to defend itself only but disregards their security concerns which would undermine the credibility of the US as their security guarantor.
In Jenny Town’s view, the manifest ineffectiveness of the unilateral North Korean denuclearization goal has been an impetus for countries like South Kora and Japan to consider their nuclear options. They are asking:
Do they need nuclear weapons to deter North Korea, especially after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
Those anxieties are heightened now that there has been a nuclear weapons state that has attacked a non-nuclear weapons state and threatened to use nuclear weapons.
Town emphasizes the importance of seeking to understand why South Korea might decide to go this route instead of continuing to rely on the US, emphasizing:
In terms of the fears, no ally is ever 100% assured.
South Korea must consider:
- The American withdrawal from Afghanistan, hearkening back in their view to the withdrawal of American troops from Viet Nam,
- The failure of security assurances in the Budapest Memorandum to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine,
- The restraint being exercised by the USA through not directly engaging militarily with Russia because it has nuclear weapons, and
- The lack of transparency in US strategic [nuclear] planning.
Jenny Town continues:
Yes, they are under the US extended deterrence nuclear umbrella but they are not involved in the decision-making process; there is no formal mechanism … that guarantees the American President will even call the South Korean President before making that [launch] decision.
In short, as Town points out, in circumstances where Seoul is only 30 miles away from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating South and North Korea, and where the missile launch response time is 90 seconds:
There are a lot of questions — would they even consult the South Koreans before making the decision? Can they make the decision fast enough and can they respond fast enough?
All these “x factors” heighten anxieties in South Korea.
In Town’s view, the debate in policy circles has now shifted from pre-Ukraine invasion discussions on whether to strengthen extended deterrence or acquire a South Korean nuclear capability to the need to pursue both.
Regarding public sentiment, Town states:
While there is high confidence in the US still, and high value in the alliance, they also have high public approval for having a nuclear weapon.
Town also notes that in Japan
you see rising public support for actually formally debating the reversal of their peace constitution and they are also watching the debate in South Korea over nuclear weapons very closely.
I think it is important to distinguish South Korea and Japan. I think that Japan is very unlikely to build nuclear weapons: I think that allergy is quite real, and I think we see that in how hard it was for the late Prime Minister Abe to revise or really reinterpret Japan’s constitution.
RI Senior Fellow Craig Martin comments:
On the other hand, the Japanese government under Prime Minister Abe did purport to “reinterpret” the constitutional constraints on the use of force, and did so in ways that raised questions about both the legitimacy of the changes under constitutional law, and the legality of the changes under international law.
There is also evidence — to which Jenny Town has alluded — that one legacy of Prime Minister Abe, and the shifting perceptions of threat in the region, is a tempering of the reluctance to consider developing nuclear weapons.
And now for some good news
The good news is that abandoning the chimera of North Korean unilateral denuclearisation means that we can now turn to more effective measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war with North Korea and that, in turn, will help reduce the pressures on South Korea and Japan to acquire nuclear weapons.
Jeffrey Lewis outlines possible next steps to reduce the risk of nuclear war with North Korea:
That starts first and foremost with reducing tension on the peninsula but also includes finding a way to talk to the North Koreans about how they think about nuclear weapons so that there isn’t some sort of misunderstanding.
This is especially important, Lewis underscores,
because with the deployment, now, of large numbers of tactical nuclear weapons to frontline units in North Korea, those risks are quite serious.
For a lot more discussion of these issues, including effective measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war with North Korea, click HERE for the recording of the panel discussion in full.
And click HERE for the video recordings of the entire East Asia Strategy Forum 2022 two-day event.
Haiti update: Centre for International Policy Studies Webinar
Event Date: November 16, 2022 – 12:00 to 1:30 pm EST
Organized by CIPS’ Fragile States Research Network in partnership with the uOttawa’s Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire et de valorisation des savoirs en Haïti (CRIVASH)
Climate crisis and COP27
Amid a gathering confluence of hope, skepticism and taxi surveillance at the Sharm COP27, former Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May — uncharacteristically watching this COP from home as she campaigns for co-leader of the party she headed for 13 years — flags the possible sources of COP disaster.
For the full article, see Will the Highway to Climate Hell Run Through Sharm el-Sheikh? (Elizabeth May, policymagazine.ca, 7 November 2022).
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Flanders Field)
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