Ukraine and the Good Friday Agreement, Afghan accountability and an Israeli reckoning

UKRAINE UPDATE: the bad and the better

We begin with the depressingly familiar Russia-Ukraine Report Card, April 11, 2023 from the Belfer Institute Russia-Ukraine War Task Force:

April 11 update: Russia and Ukraine remain locked in intense territorial stalemate…. Net territorial change in the past month: Russia +21 square miles.

Leaked documents cast doubt on Ukraine’s counteroffensive goals

According to the, leaked US defence documents, many labelled ‘top secret’, reveal warnings in February from US intelligence that Ukraine’s planned spring counter-offensive might

fall “well short” of Kyiv’s goals for recapturing territory seized by Russia.

An article in elaborates further:

Few in the administration … believe Kyiv can recapture much of the territory Russia took since its invasion last year, citing manpower, resupply and logistics concerns.

The leaked documents also reveal a sharp disagreement between President Zelensky and the Biden administration over the merits of trying to regain Crimea, which Moscow has controlled for nearly a decade.

“White Papers” analysis casts doubt on Ukrainian military tactics

According to a new report, dubbed the White Papers, which was exclusively obtained by CTV National News, there are also serious problems with Ukraine’s military tactics, based as they are on a “legacy Soviet model,” which is

a commander centric system with no delegation of authority in training, planning and especially operations.

According to the report’s three authors, two former US Special Forces and one former member of the Canadian Armed Forces,

The result is painfully slow decisions on the front lines.

Retired NATO Commander and Canadian Armed Forces veteran Maj. Gen. David Fraser adds that there is

a clash of civilizations going on inside the Ukrainian defence force. Which means you’ve got the Soviet-era Ukrainian leadership now confronting the western trained rank and file.

The White Papers conclude that

without systemic change, the timeline and the outcome of the war become less clear.

Lessons from the Good Friday Agreement

American President Joe Biden arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 11 April 2023 to help mark the 25-year anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a peace deal that largely ended 30 years of bloodshed there.

The negotiations included parties associated with paramilitaries on both sides.

The decommissioning of paramilitary weapons took place under the auspices of an Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, headed by Canadian General (Ret.) John de Chastelain.

For a discussion of the process in de Chastelain’s own words, see “Jaw-Jaw Better Than War-War”: Perspectives on Negotiation and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 1994 to 2008, The O.D. Skelton Memorial Lecture (

General de Chastelain ends his lecture as follows:

As I hope I’ve made clear, I agree with Churchill when he said that “jaw jaw is better than war war” and I agree also with John F. Kennedy when he said “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate”. Both were saying the same thing, of course, and I think both were right.

New Ukraine peace plan with a difference

At last, some big-name American foreign policy experts appear to be thinking the same way. See The West Needs a New Strategy in Ukraine: A Plan for Getting From the Battlefield to the Negotiating Table (Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan,, 13 April 2023).

Beginning with an internationally monitored ceasefire and disengagement of forces to create a demilitarized zone, the plan then foresees peace talks along two parallel tracks:

On one track would be direct talks between Ukraine and Russia, facilitated by international mediators, on the terms of peace. On the second track, NATO allies would start a strategic dialogue with Russia on arms control and the broader European security architecture. comments:

What is new about this peace plan is not its content — nor its insistence that negotiations must await the outcome of the expected Ukraine counteroffensive — but its heavyweight mainstream authorship.

Will the Biden administration take note?

Adding further urgency to the issue of getting to the negotiating table is the view of Professor Paul Rogers, encapsulated in the title of his latest OpenDemocracy commentary: The risk of nuclear war over Ukraine is real. We need diplomacy now (14 April 2023).

AFGHANISTAN AND WAR CRIMES — AUSTRALIA ACTS WHERE CANADA HAS NOT readers will be familiar with the many times that we have called on Canada to ensure proper accountability for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by Canadians — both military and civilian — in Afghanistan.

Canada’s inaction stands in marked contrast to that of the Australian government, which commissioned an inquiry after

rumours and allegations emerged relating to possible breaches of the Law of Armed Conflict by members of the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan over the period 2005 to 2016.

As stated on the Australian government website detailing the process:

The Inquiry was conducted at arm’s length from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) chain-of-command and Government to ensure the independence and integrity of the process.

Its findings were announced on 19 November 2020, and a copy of the report is available in PDF format HERE.

As reported on 19 November 2020 by Christopher Knaus of the Guardian:

The heavily redacted report found credible evidence to support allegations that 39 Afghan civilians were killed by Australian special forces, which were subsequently covered up by Australian Defence Force personnel (ADF).

The Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) was established in 2020 in the wake of the report and laid its first charges in March 2023.

Speaking at the Lowry Institute on 11 April 2023, Australia’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Angus Campbell, commented on the likelihood of further charges:

You won’t see me trying to gloss over these things. And I think that there could be some very, very uncomfortable days coming forward.

Perhaps the most relevant and telling comments by General Campbell — insofar as Canada is concerned — are the following, regarding the issue of damage to the reputation of the Australian military:

I don’t look to the question of ‘how do I protect my reputation or the reputation of the Australian Defence Force?’ Instead I ask the question: what are the correct values and behaviours and purpose to which we should be applying our effort? And reputation emerges.

Whither Canada?

Australia has initiated and completed an independent inquiry into grave breaches of the laws of war in Afghanistan by their armed forces.  They are now actively following through with criminal prosecutions and internal military reforms. It is long past time for Canada to do the same.

We reiterate our call for the Government of Canada to establish a public inquiry into the multiple allegations of complicity by Canadian military and civilians in the torture of Afghan detainees.


The prestigious — and paywalled — Arab Digest has a new podcast, the summary of which succinctly captures this horrific moment in the long descent of Israeli democracy:

Summary: William Law’s guest on the podcast is the Palestinian academic Dalal Iriqat.

This week marks the first 100 days of the latest Netanyahu government, the most extreme in Israel’s history. Acting with impunity, a Fascist coterie of his ministers has stepped up a vicious campaign aimed at removing whatever rights Palestinians might still have while using violence to provoke violence in order to justify apartheid.

Whither Canada?

In the wake of the recent, terrible violence around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, it is true that we have heard stronger words than usual from Prime Minister Trudeau:

We’re extremely concerned with the inflamed rhetoric coming out of the Israeli government. We’re concerned about the judicial reforms that have an awful lot of Israelis concerned as well. We’re concerned by the violence around Al-Aqsa Mosque during this holy month.

In Trudeau’s view:

We need to see Israel, the Israeli government, shifting in its approach, and Canada is saying that as a dear and close and steadfast friend to Israel. We are deeply concerned around the direction the Israeli government has been taking.

We need action, not just words

But it should be painfully clear by now that strong words are meaningless unless backed up by tangible steps commensurate with the gravity of the situation.

One of those steps, in the view of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), is the cancellation of Canada’s free trade deal with Israel, which they see as

a political and economic tool for normalizing Israeli injustice.

They continue:

The Canada-Israel free trade deal legitimizes Israel’s economic control over its self-declared customs zone, which includes the Palestinian territories.

In their view, and we strongly agree:

If the government is truly committed to what it calls inclusive trade and a feminist foreign policy, it would terminate the CIFTA to exert pressure on the Israeli government to change course.

The CCPA also outlines other actions Canada can take, short of terminating the agreement, relating to Israel’s failure to “implement effectively” obligations in CIFTA to eliminate forced and child labour.

As the article notes:

Lack of economic opportunities for Palestinians forces many to work for low wages and in unsafe working conditions in the Occupied Territories.

Human Rights Watch has documented that Israeli settlement farms use a high incidence of Palestinian child labour and systematically deprive Palestinian-owned agriculture of access to water.

Other steps Canada could take

Canada and several other Western countries have called for expedited action by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in its investigation of alleged war crimes in the Ukraine war.

We call on the Government of Canada to advocate for a similar approach by the ICC in its investigation “respecting the situation in Palestine,” including the provision of additional resources.

Security experts at Canada’s Citizen Lab have once again warned about dangerous spyware of Israeli origin, with hacking capabilities comparable to the notorious NSO Group spyware known as Pegasus. The new hacking tool, according to the Citizen Lab, is marketed by QuaDream under the name Reign.

The Biden administration has already blacklisted the NSO Group over the Pegasus spyware, and we have previously reported on UN efforts for a global moratorium on the “sale, transfer, and use of surveillance technology” until an effective regulatory framework can be established.

In the conclusion of its latest report, the Citizen Lab experts write:

Until the out-of-control proliferation of commercial spyware is successfully curtailed through systemic government regulations, the number of abuse cases is likely to continue to grow, fueled both by companies with recognizable names, as well as others still operating in the shadows.

We call on the Government of Canada to adopt an approach that includes both blacklisting QuaDream and strong support at the UN for broader systemic regulation.

The fatal flaw in Israeli democracy — privilege over equality

For a truly masterful exposé of the fatal flaw at the heart of the Israeli state — since its inception — see the non-paywalled article Israel: Whose constitution, Whose Democracy? (Joshua Leifer,, 13 April 2023).

The fundamental problem is

the irreconcilable contradiction between the country’s Jewish-supremacist character and its liberal-democratic aspirations.

Leifer argues:

The protesters [against the Netanyahu judicial “reform” legislation] are largely content with Jewish supremacy as long as it protects liberal freedoms for Jews. What they seem to want is to maintain both the material benefits of that inequality and the self-comforting illusion of democracy.

But there is a significant demographic shift now underway in Israel, with traditionalist and Orthodox Jews set to supplant secular Jews. Leifer writes:

After dismantling the judiciary and eliminating any checks on Jewish majority rule, it [the right] aims to annex the West Bank, legally formalize the apartheid regime over the Palestinians living there, and expel those who resist their permanent subjugation.

But why would the right stop there? comments:

Should Netanyahu’s coalition succeed in its aim to subordinate the judiciary to the Knesset (Parliament), secular liberal Jews may begin to find out, as Palestinians and Israeli Arabs know only too well, what it is like to be subject to the permanent tyranny of the majority.

Commemorating the Nakba in 2023

2023 marks 75 years of dispossession and violence faced by the Palestinian people beginning in the late 1940s and continuing to this day. Palestinians refer to these events collectively as the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe.”

For more information and the opportunity for organizations to endorse the “Nakba 75 Action Campaign” to draw attention to the dispossession of the Palestinians, click HERE.

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Tags: Afghanistan, Australia, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), democracy, inequality, Israel, Negotiations, Palestine, Richard Haas, The Good Friday Agreement, Ukraine, war crimes investigation