UKRAINE UPDATE: BIDEN BRINKMANSHIP INCREASING
In The American Prospect, the self-described “independent voice for liberal thought,” editor at large Harold Meyerson wrote a 2 June 2022 commentary on the concept of brinkmanship.
Referencing the stated American policy to boost Ukraine’s capacity to defend itself against Russia but not to the point of attacking Russia proper, he writes:
Clearly, it’s time to resurrect a word that has almost disappeared from usage since the Cold War began to wind down: “brinkmanship,” which Webster (at least, my Webster) defines as “the practice of pushing a dangerous situation to the limit of safety before stopping.”
The balance that President Biden is striking between arming Ukraine to resist and repel the Russian invasion, but not arming Ukraine so that its counterattacks could reach into Russia itself, which might just compel Putin to use tactical nuclear weapons, which might in turn compel—well, let’s not go there—is brinkmanship par excellence.
In his view, and we agree:
The problem with brinkmanship is that it requires everyone on both sides to play by its rules. That’s hard enough to ensure in peacetime; in times of actual war, it’s harder still. Precisely calibrated military actions are few and far between. (See: “surgical strikes.”)
With Meyerson having so astutely identified the problem, we are frankly left dumbfounded at his conclusion:
I think Biden has so far gotten the balance between what I view as the necessary defense of Ukraine and the risk of plunging the planet into far more catastrophic conflict just right.
But as he knows all too well, he’s on a tightrope. So are we all.
In the view of Ceasefire.ca:
The real lesson of the Cold War, especially after the Cuban missile crisis, is that brinkmanship between nuclear superpowers is to be avoided at all costs.
More dangerous brinkmanship ahead
As if that article were not alarming enough, a new report by the Quincy Institute indicates that President Biden may well be planning further provocative steps in this deadly game.
Author Kelley Beaucar Vlahos writes:
It was literally only yesterday that President Biden assured the country in a New York Times op-ed that we would not provide weapons to Ukraine that could penetrate deep inside Russia, risking an escalation to a wider war with Moscow.
Now reports are emerging that the White House may be readying to sell Kyiv some of our best killer drones which have the capability of doing just that.
For the full report, see White House wants to sell our killer drones to Ukraine (responsiblestatecraft.org, 1 June 2022).
What will it take for Western leaders to start questioning America’s increasingly reckless leadership and urge far greater efforts to build a diplomatic off ramp from this conflict?
For an example of how supposedly responsible Western media outlets report on efforts by French and German leaders to negotiate with Putin, see Baltics attack Franco-German talks with Putin over Black Sea blockade (ft.com, 29 May 2022).
One quote should suffice to give the flavour (bias may be a better word) of the article:
There is a growing rift between many eastern European countries and the likes of Germany and France over the wisdom of speaking to Putin as the war enters into its fourth month. [emphasis added]
A strengthened NATO is not a wise NATO
In a recent article Professor Paul Rogers examines one of the indisputable results of the Ukraine war — an enlarged and newly “relevant” NATO Alliance. He writes:
Far from creating greater disunity between member states, Russia’s president has given NATO a new purpose, just as its role was starting to be questioned. Its unity has even been enhanced, and Sweden and Finland have now applied to join.
This may have drastic global consequences.
With Finland and Sweden integrated into the Alliance, the assumption is
a strengthened and confident NATO will dominate European security for the good of everyone west of Russia and Belarus.
Paul Rogers sees two problems with this analysis, the first being NATO’s singularly bad track record over the past two decades, as Afghanistan and Libya surely demonstrate.
As for the second problem, he writes:
Beyond these [failures], though, is the much bigger issue: NATO is well-nigh irrelevant when it comes to the main global security challenges, climate breakdown and the widening socioeconomic divide.
Those challenges include:
- the lethal heatwave right across South Asia and
- an impending global food crisis, stemming in part from climate factors but also fuelled by market impacts of the Ukraine war.
Both the heatwave and the food crisis are early signs of what is to come if economic reform and radical decarbonisation are not implemented, and they mean that we are heading for a deeply unstable and insecure world.
And NATO will not just be seen as irrelevant to addressing these challenges but increasingly as
a negative influence across the Global South, an alliance dominated by white Western states committed to protecting their own security.
Paul Rogers concludes with a way forward:
If NATO is to be relevant in a fractured world, it will have to evolve very quickly into a different kind of alliance. This must be part of a global transformation of understanding about security that is becoming more and more urgent.
It is a lot to hope for, but if NATO doesn’t change, it won’t just be irrelevant, it will be an increasing part of the problem.
The review of NATO’s Strategic Doctrine involves not only the role of nuclear weapons but the overall Alliance strategy. We call on Canada to bring desperately needed new thinking and our much-trumpeted “whole of government” approach, especially in relation to climate change and global inequity, to NATO’s security role, going forward.
More casualties of Ukraine conflict: Norway–Russia nuclear safety cooperation paused
While the two countries have pledged to continue dialogue on nuclear safety issues, cooperation hitherto under way for the last 27 years on securing Russian nuclear dump sites has been paused by Russia, apparently as a result of Norway’s decision to freeze all project funding after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Thomas Nilsen, writing in the Independent Barents Observer, notes that
Some of the largest run-down dump sites for radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel from Soviet-era submarines are stored some 60 kilometers from the land border with Norway.
A statement from the Foreign Minister of Norway asserts, despite the pause, that
Nuclear security cooperation between Norway and Russia is a key dimension in our bilateral relationship. It is in our common interest to reduce the risk of accidents and radioactive contamination.
Charles Digges, in a separate article, writes:
The news casts a shadow of uncertainty over the future of several major radiation safety projects – from the removal of radioactive spent nuclear fuel from the derelict Soviet submarine base at Andreyeva Bay near the Norwegian border, to raising sunken nuclear submarines off Russia’s Kola Peninsula – that Norway and other European partners have spent millions of dollars to fund.
Clearly both countries lose badly when vital cooperation to help secure and remove spent nuclear fuel, currently stored in unsafe conditions, is halted.
GLOBAL ARMS TRADE ON HYPER-DRIVE
Veteran commentator on the American arms industry William Hartung questions the new, positive, image of America’s largest weapons contractors. He asks:
Does arming Ukraine really make Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and their cohorts “defenders of democracy”?
Here is his answer:
If they were truly to become part of an “arsenal of democracy,” those militarized mega-firms would have to trim their client lists considerably.
In his view, when the full client list is scrutinized, a more accurate description would be
arsenal of autocracy.
His article canvasses US weapons flows to “reckless, repressive” regimes in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, the Philippines and Nigeria, which he notes is a partial list, at best.
The Dictators Lobby
Hartung next examines the extraordinary lobbying efforts of US military firms over the last two decades, noting:
In an average year, the industry employs around 700 lobbyists, or more than one for every congressional representative.
The article is not all gloom and doom, however. Hartung describes legislative measures in the works to “flip the script” on arms-sales decision-making:
These would require congressional approval for major sales, thereby preempting the ability of the president to veto efforts to block specific deals.
But he ends with a sobering question, hearkening back to the blind embrace of all things NATO in the wake of Russian aggression:
Will they succeed [in these legislative changes] in the Ukraine war moment when the weapons industry is riding so high and proclaiming its good deeds all too loudly?
For the full article, see Arsenal of Autocracy? The Major Weapons Makers Cash in Worldwide, Not Just in Ukraine (William D. Hartung, tomdispatch.com, 24 May 2022).
Canadian dimension: CANSEC protest
On June 1-2 Canada’s largest global defence and security trade show — CANSEC — was held at the EY Centre in Ottawa.
Writing for the National Observer, Natasha Bulowski explains:
An expected 12,000 people and 55 international delegations will attend the two-day event, organized by the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries. CANSEC showcases leading-edge technology and services for land-based, naval and aerospace military units to international delegates and top government and military officials.
Displays featuring massive armoured vehicles, guns, protective gear and night-vision technology stretched as far as the eye could see.
Bulowski’s article also focuses on the approximately 100 protesters who obstructed access to the weapons fair in an effort to condemn war profiteering. Nicole Sudiacal, one of the protesters, decried the showcased armaments that
have been involved and complicit in wars against the people all over the world, from Palestine to the Philippines, to places in Africa and South Asia.
For the full article, see To get into Canada’s weapon’s fair, you’ll have to walk through an anti-war protest (nationalobserver.com, 2 June 2022).
For a recent report on the ever-loosening regime regulating Canadian arms exports, see New markets for Canadian arms? (Kelsey Gallagher, ploughshares.ca, 7 April 2022).
Surely Canadians should be consulted on whether we want military exports, and the dangerous dependencies they create, to occupy an ever-growing share of our exports.
We call on the Government of Canada to commit to a public, consultative process on the future direction of Canadian arms exports.
MORE GOOD NEWS ON CANADIAN GUN CONTROL MEASURES
On a much more positive note, further to our section in last week ‘s blog post on new gun control measures expected from the Liberal government, we are delighted to note that the Liberals exceeded expectations.
A detailed 30 May news release from the Prime Minister’s office reads in part:
Bill C-21 puts forward some of the strongest gun control measures in over 40 years.
These new measures include:
- Implementing a national freeze on handguns to prevent individuals from bringing newly acquired handguns into Canada and from buying, selling, and transferring handguns within the country.
- Taking away the firearms licenses of those involved in acts of domestic violence or criminal harassment, such as stalking.
- Fighting gun smuggling and trafficking by increasing criminal penalties, providing more tools for law enforcement to investigate firearms crimes, and strengthening border security measures.
- Addressing intimate partner violence, gender-based violence, and self-harm involving firearms by creating a new “red flag” law that would enable courts to require that individuals considered a danger to themselves or others surrender their firearms to law enforcement, while protecting the safety of the individual applying to the red flag process, including by protecting their identity. In addition, the government will invest $6.6 million to help raise awareness of the new law and provide supports to vulnerable and marginalized groups to navigate the provisions.
The press release announces one further important measure:
the Government of Canada will require long-gun magazines to be permanently altered so they can never hold more than five rounds and will ban the sale and transfer of large capacity magazines under the Criminal Code.
To ensure swift implementation once the legislation is passed, the Minister of Public Safety has already tabled associated regulatory amendments in both the House of Commons and the Senate, stating:
These regulations will help stop the growth of personally owned handguns in Canada and are expected to come into force in Fall 2022.
The news release contains relevant statistics, links to the legislation itself, other government actions and studies of trends in firearm-related violent crime in Canada.
Federal Conservatives mimic gun lobby talking points
The real problem in this country is not the law-abiding firearms owners, who are heavily regulated, heavily-licensed … the real problem in this country has to do with gangs and criminals who are importing firearms, mostly from the United States, using illegal guns on our streets.
Quite aside from the fact that Bill C-21 also includes further measures to curb smuggling, Brassard’s comments ignore the huge gaps in the data (which the government has pledged to address) on the source of firearms used in crimes in Canada, particularly whether the gun was stolen, illegally purchased or smuggled.
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
Denying the statistically proven connection between gun crime and the wide availability of legally purchased firearms is, of course, the approach in full force south of our border. It has resulted in a unique American horror story of over 200 mass shootings in the first 5 months of this year alone.
Postscript: Junior Assault Rifles for children
Perhaps nothing exemplifies the depravity of the American gun lobby more than the unveiling in February 2022 by the US manufacturer of AR-15-style assault rifles of a “mini-version” for children:
Our goal was to develop a shooting platform that was not only sized correctly and safe, but also looks, feels, and operates just like mom and dad’s gun.
ARBOUR REPORT RELEASED ON SEXUAL MISCONDUCT AND THE CANADIAN MILITARY
When Anita Anand was named Defence Minister in the new minority Liberal government elected in October 2021, we wrote:
Anand, the former procurement minister, is walking into the centre of a legal and social hurricane — with nearly a dozen flag and general officers on leave, or facing investigation, or leaving the military altogether….
Urging the Minister to take responsibility and to lead on the issue, we also hoped that she would soon have Louise Arbour’s report to guide her. In April 2020 Arbour had been tasked with conducting an external review to examine sexual misconduct in the military and military leaders’ response to it.
That report was formally released on 30 May 2022 with an accompanying government statement entitled Government releases final Independent External Comprehensive Review of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces and outlines next steps to address and eradicate sexual harassment and misconduct (canada.ca).
In the words of Minister Anand:
The report released today charts our path forward and will serve as the basis on which we will deliver meaningful reform.
When presenting a key recommendation of the report — that civilian courts henceforth handle sexual offences — Arbour pointedly skewered the ‘good order and discipline’ rationale long used by the Canadian military to retain jurisdiction over these offences:
The handling of sexual offences by military courts over the past 20 years has done very little to improve efficiency, discipline and morale. If anything, it has served to erode it.
Therefore, I see no basis for the Canadian armed forces to retain any jurisdiction over sexual offences and that jurisdiction should be vested exclusively with civilian authorities.
This report, the second in seven years, follows on the landmark report in 2015 by another former Supreme Court Justice, Marie Deschamps.
In her report, Arbour wrote:
Seven years later, I see no meaningful improvement in the investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes by the military justice system.
Narrowing the definition of sexual misconduct
While the recommendation to prosecute criminal sexual assaults in civil courts had also been made in the Deschamps report, Arbour added an important qualification — the need to narrow the DND definition to criminal activity only.
She writes in her report:
“sexual misconduct” is too broad a term, in that it captures everything from sexual assault and harassment, to the many micro‑aggressions that are the weapons of choice for the expression of discriminatory views, harmful stereotypes and even unconscious biases.
Rather than an appropriate definition for criminal conduct, instead
It is merely a convenient expression to refer to the whole range of issues when differentiation amongst them is not required.
Accordingly, she recommends that the definition of sexual assault be limited to “intentional, non-consensual touching of a sexual nature” under the Criminal Code and that civilian authorities should handle these cases.
On the issue of sexual misconduct in the CAF, writ large, Arbour eloquently writes:
Sexual misconduct has brought the CAF into disrepute, both internally and in the eyes of the general public. … [I]t is a justified condemnation of an archaic and deeply damaging organizational culture.
What the sexual misconduct crisis in the CAF reveals is complex and subtle. It combines abuse of power, antiquated practices unsuited to a more diversified workplace, the glorification of masculinity as the only acceptable operational standard for CAF members, and the continued unwillingness to let women in particular, as well as members of the LGBTQ2+ community, visible minorities and equity-seeking groups occupy their proper place in the military.
Implementation is key
A particular focus of Arbour’s comments about her report was the failure of the military to implement outside recommendations in the past. To help overcome this problem, she recommended:
that the Minister immediately appoint a person mandated to oversee the implementation of the recommendations in this Report. That person should be external to the Defence Team, have access to, and be supported by, both the Deputy Minister (DM) and the CDS, produce monthly assessment reports for the Minister that are ultimately shared with the public.
Stating that she agreed with “all of Madame Arbour’s recommendations”, as did the Prime Minister, Defence Minister Anand also said the report’s recommendations will be overseen by an external monitor, reporting to her.
For a comprehensive article on the Report, see Military should give up control of sexual assault cases permanently: former Supreme Court justice (Ashley Burke, cbc.ca, 30 May 2022).
For the full report, click here.
For a CBC video on the report, click on the arrow below:
We call on the Government of Canada to expeditiously implement all recommendations of the Arbour report, including those on follow-up and oversight.
Photo credit: Government of Canada (Centre Block entrance)
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