Ukraine diplomacy, the nuclear testing taboo, Canada and Saudi arms exports and more


Belfer Centre’s 3 Things to Know

The Belfer Center, as part of its ongoing detailed analysis of the Ukraine conflict, outlines “3 Things to Know” in its Russia in Review, Aug. 18-25, 2023.

The first relates to the death of Evgeny Prigozhin, his top military commander Dmitry Utkin and eight other people who were on board an Embraer passenger plane when it crashed on 24 August 2023. Citing a report in the Financial Times, Belfer concludes:

Whether or not it was ordered by Putin, the fiery downing of Prigozhin’s plane has strengthened the Russian autocrat’s ruthless reputation and his grip on power after it was undermined by Prigozhin’s mutiny.

On the second “thing to know,” regarding Ukraine’s counteroffensive, the Belfer analysis concludes:

Though Ukraine’s armed forces (ZSU) have made incremental advances, these gains were matched by the Russian military over the past month, fueling debates between Kyiv and Washington on what strategy the former should pursue in its counteroffensive, which has failed to gain momentum so far.

The third “thing to know” concerns the recent BRICS Summit in South Africa, relevant because it relates to the global influence of Russia, a founding BRICS member.

The Belfer analysis first notes that, at their summit, BRICS member states agreed to bring Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE into their group.

According to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva,

the enlargement will see the BRICS grouping rise to account for 36% of global GDP at purchasing power parity and 46% of the world’s population.

China’s Xi Jinping hailed the expansion as “historic,” while Financial Times editor James Kynge said the enlargement puts the G-7 “into the shade” in terms of economic output.

The participants in the summit adopted a joint statement on August 23 that, inter alia, called for a

comprehensive reform of the U.N., including its Security Council.

Belfer Centre’s 4 Ideas to Explore

The Belfer Centre’s Russia Analytical Report for 21-28 August 2023 raises “4 ideas to explore,” building on the aforementioned “things to know”.

The first ‘idea to explore’ is that

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s demise turns to dust hopes that Vladimir Putin’s omnipotence may have been punctured.

The second is that

The Kremlin is weighing options for bringing PMC Wagner under its control after the death of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

The third idea relates to the recent BRICS Summit discussed above. According to Fyodor Lukyanov, who chairs the presidium of Russia’s Council for Foreign and Defense Policy and is a leading Russian foreign policy expert, Moscow should be content with

a phased, but maximum expansion of the group, and its transformation into a most representative community, whose members interact with each other, bypassing Western pressure.

Contrast this view with the Financial Times Editorial on the recent summit, which predicts:

An expanded BRICS will struggle to challenge, transform or come up with a rival to the West’s architecture of global economic governance. comments:

Surely the best response to the challenges posed by BRICS is for Western countries to heed the call of the UN Secretary-General for a “reinvigorated multilateralism,” in a “fractured world with overwhelming crises and no alternative to cooperation”.

Bloomberg editorial urges diplomacy

The fourth Belfer idea to consider relates to the now-familiar question of whether sanctions are really helping the West against Russia.

Belfer references a recent Bloomberg editorial that acknowledges:

the Kremlin has so far done an effective job of blunting sanctions.

However, in a most welcome change of approach, Bloomberg urges that, in addition to toughening sanctions:

[Western leaders] should continue to seek opportunities to offer Putin a way out of the disastrous course he has set. comments:

“Continue to seek” suggests that Western leaders have already been engaged in such efforts, which is patently not the case. Nonetheless, the more important point is surely that mainstream commentators are at long last beginning to urge Western leaders to add diplomacy to their strategies for ending the Ukraine war.

For another insightful analysis of the implications of the death of Wagner Group leader Evgeny Prigozhin, see Prigozhin, Putin and What Next? Private military companies, war, and the dilemma of the elites (Katrina Vanden Heuvel,, 24 August 2023).


29 August – The International Day Against Nuclear Tests

August 29, 2023 marks the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, commemorated since 2010 as a result of an initiative of the Republic of Kazakhstan at the UN General Assembly in 2009, with the first commemoration taking place in 2010.

In the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at this year’s commemoration:

On the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, the world speaks with one voice to end this destructive legacy.

Why Kazakhstan?

456 nuclear tests were carried out by the Soviet Union at the Semipalatinsk Test Site in what was then the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan. After gaining its independence in December 1991, Kazakhstan became a leading actor against nuclear weapons, playing a catalytic role in the achievement of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996 and in the creation of the Central Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty in 2006.

For a detailed report of the high-level plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly to commemorate and promote the International Day against Nuclear Tests, click on the Reaching Critical Will (RCW) report  HERE. (Note that while Canada is not named specifically, we are part of the Western European and Other States (WEOG) grouping, which is frequently mentioned in the RCW Report.)

For a video of the General Assembly proceedings, click on the arrow below:

Defending the De Facto Nuclear Test Ban

A key element in making progress towards nuclear disarmament is the global ban on nuclear explosive testing enshrined in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, has written a compelling article on urgent steps that need to be taken now to shore up the treaty.

The article, entitled Defending the De Facto Nuclear Test Ban (, September 2023), begins with Kazakhstan’s role:

More than 30 years ago, citizen activists and independence leaders in Kazakhstan forced Russia to halt nuclear testing, prompting the United States, under pressure from U.S. activists and members of Congress, to adopt a nine-month testing halt in 1992.

The repercussions of the temporary halt were immense:

On July 3, 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton extended that moratorium and announced plans to pursue negotiations on a global, comprehensive test ban treaty.

After more than 2,000 deadly nuclear test explosions worldwide since 1945, including 715 Soviet tests and more than 1,030 U.S. tests, these developments marked the beginning of the end of the nuclear testing era.

The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has been signed by 186 countries,including the United States and China, and ratified by 178, including the UK, France and Russia. It cannot come into force until ratified by all so-called Annex 2 states, a group that includes all 9 nuclear-armed states (China, DPRK, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, UK, USA) and Egypt, Indonesia and Iran.

Of the 9 Annex 2 states, the following have yet to ratify the Treaty: China, the DPRK, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, and the United States.

Nuclear testing is a taboo

The first important message in Daryl Kimball’s article is that, despite the failure of the CTBT to enter into force,

nuclear testing has become taboo…. Most nuclear-armed states that have not signed or not ratified the CTBT, including China, India, Israel, and Pakistan, are observing nuclear testing moratoria.

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization operates a fully functional International Monitoring System (IMS) to detect and deter cheating.

Kimball underscores that, although it has not yet formally entered into force,

the CTBT is one of the most successful agreements in the long history of nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.

Without the option to conduct nuclear tests, it is more difficult, although not impossible, for states to develop, prove, and field new warhead designs.

CTBT now under threat

But Kimball stresses this is no time for complacency:

as with other critical nuclear risk reduction, nonproliferation, and arms control agreements, the CTBT is under threat due to inattention, diplomatic sclerosis, and worsening relations between nuclear-armed adversaries

For example, while the Biden administration made it clear in 2021 that “the United States supports [the CTBT] and is committed to work to achieve its entry into force,” it

has done none of the outreach and education that will be necessary to secure treaty ratification by the Senate.

Very low-yield nuclear test explosions still difficult to detect without on-site inspections

One area where entry into force of the treaty would make a big difference is in relation to very low-yield nuclear test explosions, which require on-site inspections to be sure of detection. Under the CTBT, these inspections will not be put into place until after the treaty’s entry into force.

In Kimball’s view, to address concerns about clandestine activities at former test sites,

CTBT states-parties should adopt voluntary confidence-building measures designed to detect and deter possible low-level, clandestine nuclear testing by the major nuclear powers.

In that regard, he cites the “positive move” by Jill Hruby, administrator at the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, that her agency is

open to working with others to develop a regime that would allow reciprocal observation with radiation detection equipment at each other’s subcritical experiments to allow confirmation that the experiment was consistent with the CTBT.

Russia threatening to “unratify” to achieve nuclear policy “symmetry” with the USA

Meanwhile, according to Kimball, Russian officials have acknowledged reports that

they are considering the self-defeating option of “unratifying” the CTBT to achieve symmetry with Washington in all areas of nuclear policy, but say no official decisions have been made.

Kimball concludes with this hope which we fervently share:

As diplomats from CTBT signatory states gather this month for the next conference on facilitating the CTBT’s entry into force, more energetic strategies must be considered not only to advance the treaty, but to strengthen the de facto norm against testing.


Canada’s 2022 Exports of Military Goods report was released on 31 May 2023. Project Ploughshares tweeted at the time:

Saudi Arabia still Canada’s top Canadian arms export destination after the United States

Shortly after the release of the report, in an article entitled Saudi Arabia is top export destination for Canadian arms after United States in 2022 (, 4 June 2023), Steven Chase wrote:

Last year was the 11th year in a row where Saudi Arabia, which is ranked among the worst countries in the world for human rights by Freedom House, has been Canada’s second-biggest customer of military goods.

Freedom House, an American advocacy group for civil liberties, awarded the kingdom a score of 8/100 on its latest global freedom scoring. (Canada, by comparison, gets a 98/100 score.)

Canadian LAVs implicated in Yemen conflict

The Canadian government has long argued there is no evidence that its exports of heavily weaponized armoured personnel carriers (designated “light armoured vehicles’ by their manufacturers, General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada) have been used by Saudi Arabia in its deadly war against Yemen, despite being called out by name in UN Expert Group reports condemning these exports.

Canadian LAVS and border security in Saudi Arabia

Canada has, however, always acknowledged the role of the LAVs in Saudi Arabian border security. Now we learn of horrific allegations against Saudi border forces accused of killing hundreds of people trying to cross the border from neighbouring Yemen:

Peter Beaumont writes in the Guardian:

Saudi border guards have been accused of killing hundreds of Ethiopians using small arms and explosive weapons in a targeted campaign that rights advocates suggest may amount to a crime against humanity.

Arms Trade Treaty and Crimes Against Humanity

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has an absolute prohibition (Article 6) on arms exports if a state party has knowledge that the arms would be used in the commission of a war crime or crime against humanity.

Article 7 of the treaty stipulates that a State Party “shall not authorize” an export where “there is an overriding risk” that the arms in question “could be used to…. commit or facilitate a serious violation of human rights” [emphasis added].

The ATT Article 7 international legal obligation has been incorporated into Canadian law through an amendment to Canada’s Export and Import Permits Act, which reads, in article 7.4:

7.4 The Minister shall not issue a permit under subsection 7(1) or 7.1(1) in respect of arms, ammunition, implements or munitions of war if, after considering available mitigating measures, he or she determines that there is a substantial risk that the export … of the goods or technology specified in the application for the permit would result in any of the negative consequences referred to in subsection 7.3(1).

The “negative consequences” in subsection 7.3(1) of the Canadian legislation mirror Article 7.1 (b) of the Arms Trade Treaty, which includes the “commission or facilitation of a serious violation of human rights”. comments:

Canadian LAVs, exported to Saudi Arabia over many years, are an integral part of that country’s border security equipment.

In these circumstances, there is clearly and unmistakably a “substantial risk” that these exported Canadian LAVs could be used to facilitate the commission of the horrific crimes against migrants of which the Saudi security forces stand credibly accused by the UN and human rights organizations.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to immediately suspend any further exports of LAVs to Saudi Arabia, including in particular parts and servicing support for those LAVs previously exported.


Group of 78 Annual Policy Conference 2023

Entitled Preventing and Stopping Violence: Effective Actions to Curtail Conflict, the Group of 78 is holding its annual policy conference over the period from 26 September to 2 October 2023.

The opening of the event on Tuesday, September 26, will feature three speakers in a hybrid virtual and in-person program:

Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford (UK), will lead off in the morning, followed in the afternoon by Kai Brand-Jacobsen, President, Peace Action Training and Research Institute of Romania, and Irvin Waller, Professor, Criminology, Faculty of Social Sciences, at the University of Ottawa.

The conference will continue with virtual sessions of panels and speakers until Monday, October 2, 2023.

For registration information, click HERE.

Institute for Peace and Diplomacy (IPD) to host Middle East Strategy Forum 2023

The Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) is hosting the 3rd Annual Middle East Strategy Forum (MESF 2023) on September 26, 2023 at the Delta Hotel in downtown Ottawa. This year’s conference theme is The Middle East in a Multipolar World.

RI President Peggy Mason, a member of the IPD Board of Advisors, will moderate Panel 3 – “The Future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime in the Middle East: Iran and Beyond” from 4:30 to 5:30 pm, which will feature:

Chen Zak Kane, Middle East Nonproliferation Program Director, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute for International Studies; Founder, Middle East Next Generation Arms Control Network;

Farzan Sabet, Researcher, Middle East WMD-Free Zone Project, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research;

Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association; and

Henry Rome, Senior Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

For the full conference program, click HERE.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (BRICS Summit 2023); (Semipalatinsk Test Site). 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: Arms Control Association (ACA), Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), Bloomberg News, BRICS Summit 2023, Canada and Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia, Canada's 2022 Exports of Military Goods Report, Canada's Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA), Canadian LAVs, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Daryl Kimball, Financial Times, Group of 78 2023 Annual Policy Conference, Institute for Peace and Diplomacy 3rd Annual Middle East Strategy Forum (MESF 2023), International Day Against Nuclear Tests, Kazakhstan, nuclear testing taboo, Russia and CTBT, Saudi Border Guards, Semipalatinsk, the Belfer Center, Ukraine diplomacy, Ukraine Update, Yevgeny Prigozhin