UKRAINE UPDATE: MEDIA BLINDLY SUPPORTS WAR OVER DIPLOMACY
The focus of our Ukraine update this week is a conversation with Noam Chomsky, the title of which says its all: In Ukraine, Diplomacy Has Been Ruled Out (tomdispatch.com, 16 June 2022).
After reviewing the history leading up to Russia’s invasion, in an effort to better understand — not justify — it, Chomsky concludes:
So, criminality and stupidity on the Kremlin side, severe provocation on the U.S. side. That’s the background that has led to this. Can we try to bring this horror to an end? Or should we try to perpetuate it? Those are the choices.
Chomsky provides his answer:
There’s only one way to bring it to an end. That’s diplomacy.
He then points out what should be obvious — diplomacy requires compromise on both sides:
Now, diplomacy, by definition, means both sides accept it. They don’t like it, but they accept it as the least bad option.
And the alternative?
The other is just to drag it out and see how much everybody will suffer, how many Ukrainians will die, how much Russia will suffer, how many millions of people will starve to death in Asia and Africa, how much we’ll proceed toward heating the environment to the point where there will be no possibility for a livable human existence.
Having identified these two options, he continues:
Well, with near 100% unanimity, the United States and most of Europe want to pick the no-diplomacy option. It’s explicit. We have to keep going to hurt Russia.
And, as Chomsky points out:
this gamble assumes that if Putin is pushed to the limit, with no escape, forced to admit defeat, he’ll accept that and not use the weapons he has to devastate Ukraine.
In Chomsky’s view — and we agree — there is no moral basis whatsoever for this strategy of making Russia suffer, no matter the broader cost.
Yet “upholding principle” is the justification we hear over and over from western politicians.
Let us be clear. Chomsky agrees that “moral outrage” is absolutely appropriate for Putin’s criminal invasion. But that is an entirely separate issue from the merits of the approach chosen to defend the principle of territorial integrity.
Yet the mainstream media not only fail to question the endless war strategy. They act like it is the only strategy.
Perhaps the most important part of Chomsky’s analysis concerns the Orwellian concept of “doublethink”, where two entirely contradictory lines of thought co-exist unchallenged:
One, …the fact that Russia has proven itself to be a paper tiger that can’t conquer cities a couple of miles from its border defended by a mostly citizens’ army. So, they’re completely militarily incompetent.
The other thought is: they’re poised to conquer the West and destroy us.
Orwell, Chomsky reminds us, thought that only ultra-authoritarian states could successfully perpetrate doublethink:
He was wrong. You can have it in free democratic societies. We’re seeing a dramatic example of it right now.
Chomsky reminds us this was also the case during the Cold War when Europe alone, quite apart from the USA, was militarily on par with Russia:
But of course, we still had to have a huge rearmament program to counter the Kremlin design for world conquest.
these two ideas [Russia’s fatal weakness and its global designs] are consuming the West.
Gar Pardy on the importance of diplomacy
For a Canadian commentary on the importance of diplomacy, see Joly’s response to Canadian official attending Russia reception insensitive, ignores need for diplomacy (Gar Pardy, hilltimes.com, 16 June 2022).
Gar Pardy writes:
Diplomacy is an all-weather instrument.
He then reminds us:
History is replete with the glories of war but there is one absolute historical truth – the glory generated by war is ephemeral, if not, ethereal. It is always followed by diplomats who try and bring some measure of calm if not peace to the killing and maiming….
The full commentary is also available for non-Hill Times subscribes in PDF format here.
In the view of Ceasefire.ca:
The hostility of the mainstream media to the very concept of diplomatic peacemaking to end the war in Ukraine is extraordinarily problematic. It means they have become western propagandists, and are all the more dangerous because they are largely unrecognized as such.
Blurring the distinction between legitimate argument and disinformation
We now consider a Department of National Defence–funded study by academics at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, entitled Disinformation and Russia-Ukrainian War on Canadian Social Media (June 2022).
The researchers summarize their study as follows:
In this policy brief, we venture to examine the prevalence of pro-Russian narratives on Canadian social media as well as identify major influencers creating and spreading such narratives. Additionally, using artificial intelligence, we seek to examine the reach and nature of pro-Russian disinformation narratives.
The study defines “disinformation” as
false information intended to manipulate, cause damage, or guide groups and people in the wrong direction
In the view of Ceasefire.ca:
Equating pro-Russian arguments with false claims — or at a minimum failing to clearly distinguish between true and false pro-Russian narratives — is a staggering error — one which should disqualify a high school essay on disinformation, let alone a government-funded study.
A further problem with the study is that the raw subject matter of the study — the thousands of pro-Russian tweets — are not available for examination.
The five primary pro-Russian narratives examined are:
- Implying NATO expansionism legitimizes the Russian invasion
- Portraying NATO as an aggressive alliance using Ukraine as a proxy against Russia
- Promoting a general mistrust in institutions and elites
- Suggesting that Ukraine is a fascist state or has extensive fascist influences
- Promoting a specific mistrust of Canada’s Liberal government, and especially of Prime Minister Trudeau
Let us consider the first alleged false narrative: implying NATO expansionism legitimizes the Russian invasion
That NATO expansionism is a key factor in understanding Russia’s motivation for the invasion of Ukraine is a mainstream position of many experts as our blog posts have explored on many occasions.
Of course, that is an explanation for Russian actions, not a justification for them.
But this category of false narrative does not limit itself to assertions that NATO expansion/aggression justifies the invasion. Instead, statements that “imply” such justification are included as well.
Even worse is the second alleged false narrative: portraying NATO as an aggressive alliance using Ukraine as a proxy against Russia.
A May 2022 Washington Post headline read: Russia Is Right: The U.S. Is Waging a Proxy War in Ukraine.
Are they peddling disinformation?
The foundation of any credible — and useful — study of disinformation must be the clearest possible distinction between legitimate discourse (including, in particular, perspectives with which we may profoundly disagree) and the manipulation of that discourse for political or other nefarious purposes.
Without this understanding there is a grave risk of the study itself becoming a powerful vehicle for disinformation — in this case by Canada’s Department of National Defence, the University of Calgary researchers and the media outlets that uncritically convey the study results.
We call on the Government of Canada to develop a rigourous methodology for assessing social media disinformation, grounded in a profound commitment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee of freedom of opinion and expression.
Ukraine and Biden’s reality check
Bloomberg: White House officials privately admit “the collateral damage” from Russia sanctions “has been wider than expected”
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) June 14, 2022
The article referenced in the above tweet is entitled Corporate ‘Self-Sanctioning’ of Russia has US Fearing Economic Blowback (bloomberg.com, 14 June 2022).
Authors Daniel Flatley, Nick Wadhams and Saelha Mohsin write of the “slew of sanctions” that are meant to “punish” the Russian government and pressure Putin to pull his forces back:
some Biden administration officials are now privately expressing concern that rather than dissuading the Kremlin as intended, the penalties are instead exacerbating inflation, worsening food insecurity and punishing ordinary Russians more than Putin or his allies.
The article explains:
When the invasion began, the Biden administration believed that if penalties exempted food and energy, the impact on inflation at home would be minimal. Since then, energy and food have become key drivers of the highest US inflation rates in 40 years, a huge political liability for President Joe Biden and the Democratic party heading into November’s mid-term elections.
While the Biden administration continues to reject “the story that the sanctions are causing the problem”, they nonetheless are taking actions to encourage certain types of commerce with Russia:
For instance, the US government is quietly encouraging agricultural and shipping companies to buy and carry more Russian fertilizer, according to people familiar with the efforts, as sanctions fears have led to a sharp drop in supplies, pressuring food costs.
Impact of “privatized” sanctions implementation on potential negotiations
The article also raises, in passing, another potentially serious complication of the response by American business, which has been to go well above and beyond the strict requirements of the US sanctions regime:
The lifting of sanctions can be dangled as an incentive to help bring about a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. But right now it’s hard even to offer that as a potential benefit of entering into negotiations because much of the pullout by American businesses has been self-inflicted. Companies could face public blowback if they are seen as rushing back into the Russian market.
Reality checks don’t necessarily lead to course corrections
For a far-reaching analysis of the difficulty — if not impossibility — of Washington recognizing the scope of its blunder in trying to use the Ukraine crisis as the lever to bring down Putin and Russia with him, see: Last Tango in Washington (Michael Brenner, consortiumnews.com, 17 June 2022).
On political decision making, Brenner writes of two powerful, in-built tendencies that inflect the choices made, tendencies we are seeing on full display in the Ukraine crisis:
- inertial extension of existing attitudes and approaches; and
- avoidance wherever possible of endangering a hard-won, often tenuous, consensus on a lowest common denominator basis.
Despite the difficulties, we cannot allow the voices for diplomatic peacemaking to be stifled.
REPORT OF THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON AFGHANISTAN
The House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan presented its report to the House on 8 June 2022, entitled Honouring Canada’s Legacy in Afghanistan: Responding to the Humanitarian Crisis and Helping People Reach Safety.
The report examines Canada’s evacuation and resettlement of Afghan refugees following the Taliban take-over and the ongoing delivery of Canadian aid to Afghanistan.
On the critical issue of aid delivery — to a country where the economy has collapsed and more than three-quarters of the population will soon be below the poverty line — the Committee heard that Canadian terrorist entity regulations were “out of step” with adjustments made to the relevant UN Security Council resolution 2615, adopted on in December 2021.
The Report explains:
On 22 December 2021, the UN Security Council decided through Resolution 2615 — the drafting of which was spearheaded by the United States — that “humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan” do not violate the Council’s sanctions regime.
In the words of World Food Programme officer John Aylieff:
The sanctions carve-out by the UN Security Council has helped immensely to give us the space to operate, and that’s all we really needed: the space to operate in a context of where even paying the utility bill of our offices, just to give an example, would otherwise have been at risk of breaching sanctions.
Yet, inexplicably, Canada has failed to update its sanctions regulations accordingly.
Journalist Murray Brewster explains in a recent CBC article:
The Taliban is on Canada’s list of terrorist entities and the prevailing view is that indirect payments to Afghanistan in any form would risk violating the Criminal Code.
Canada is alone among its allies in not carving out an exemption for charitable work.
In response to this appalling situation the report states:
The Special Committee wants to communicate that it does not believe that Canada taking its own policy, regulatory and legislative steps to facilitate legitimate humanitarian action would equate to legitimization of the Taliban.
Citing the testimony of Care President Barbara Grantham, the report continues:
The unfortunate thing is that the sense of urgency that we feel is not aligned with the timeline the government seems to feel is possible. We’re running against a clock of weather, famine and malnutrition.
Accordingly, the report recommends:
That the Government of Canada act immediately to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 2615.
That the Government of Canada act immediately to ensure that registered Canadian organizations have the clarity and assurances needed — such as carve-outs or exemptions — to deliver humanitarian assistance and meet basic needs in Afghanistan without fear of prosecution for violating Canada’s anti-terrorism laws.
That the Government of Canada review the anti-terrorism financing provisions under the Criminal Code and urgently take any legislative steps necessary to ensure those provisions do not unduly restrict legitimate humanitarian action that complies with international humanitarian principles and law.
The Special Immigration Measures (SIM) Programme
The Special Committee also examined the important role of special programmes for Afghan nationals seeking refugee status in Canada and recommended further steps the government can take to improve the process, including:
That the Government of Canada ensure that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada dedicates more staff and hires new staff to process applications for Canada’s special programs for Afghan nationals.
But instead of reinforcing these programmes, there are fears from the Canadian humanitarian community that the federal government plans to end the Special Immigration Measures (SIM) programme.
In the words of a broad coalition of Canadian organizations working to support Afghans:
Such a decision would leave thousands at high risk of Taliban violence — not least those who worked to advance gender equality under Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.
Those same men and women are living in fear precisely because their support for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan makes them targets for violent retribution by the regime.
For the full statement, see Joint Statement on the closure of the Special Immigration Measures program for Afghan Nationals (15 June 2022).
The coalition website, under the title Save The SIM Program, includes a range of supportive actions that the public can take, including social media posts and
- Sending a letter to Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Canadian government actions must be commensurate with the obligation we owe to the Afghans who are particularly vulnerable precisely because of their role in supporting Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
We call upon the Government of Canada to immediately update its sanctions and anti-terrorist regulations on Afghanistan, and to amend relevant Criminal Code provisions, so they fully accord with the UN Security Council resolutions aimed at facilitating humanitarian assistance in that country.
We also call on them to heed the Report of the Special Committee on Afghanistan and strengthen, not weaken or abolish, Special Immigration Measures now in place for vulnerable Afghans seeking refuge in Canada.
THE WTO REACHES A VACCINE EQUITY DEAL — SORT OF
After a seven-year negotiating drought, the world’s top trade ministers on 16 June approved a package of accords, which include a “watered down plan” to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
The series of agreements required consensus from all participants, no small feat in current circumstances. Bryce Baschuk, writing for Bloomberg.com, comments:
The alignment of the 164 members of the WTO, whose mission is to promote peace and prosperity through closer economic integration, is all the more impressive considering two of them — Russia and Ukraine — are currently fighting a war.
Vaccine Intellectual Property Waiver
However, the response of global NGOs such as Oxfam to the vaccine deal is decidedly negative, with Max Lawson, Co-Chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, stating:
This is absolutely not the broad intellectual property waiver the world desperately needs to ensure access to vaccines and treatments for everyone, everywhere.
The EU, UK, US, and Switzerland blocked that text.
Lawson goes on to state that the agreement might even make the situation worse for developing countries:
There are some worrying new obligations in this text that could actually make it harder for countries to access vaccines in a pandemic. We hope that developing countries will now take bolder action to exercise their rights to override vaccine intellectual property rules and, if necessary, circumvent them to save lives.
We call on the Government of Canada to finally live up to its oft-repeated promise of facilitating vaccine equity for developing countries through tangible steps to widen access.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Kabul, March 2020)
Ceasefire.ca is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute linking Canadians working together for peace.