Ukraine update, COP15 and the China reset, and gun control in Canada
UKRAINE UPDATE: KEEPING THE DOOR OPEN TO DIPLOMACY
For a comprehensive new briefing on the Ukraine conflict, see Answering Four Hard Questions About Russia’s War in Ukraine (crisisgroup.org, 8 December 2022).
The sub-head reads:
Russia’s war in Ukraine is taking a terrible toll. The Western response nonetheless remains the right one. NATO capitals should continue supporting Kyiv, while avoiding direct conflict with Moscow and keeping the door open to talks.
Keeping diplomacy alive
Crisis Group summarizes its position on the role of diplomacy as follows:
Calls for diplomacy to end the war need to be tethered to reality. The West, and Washington in particular, should keep the door open to talks. They should continue to make sure that Kyiv does not set impossible preconditions; avoid regime change rhetoric that would deter Kremlin engagement; and signal that a reasonable peace will lead to sanctions relief.
In the meantime, they urge Kyiv and Moscow to
continue to look for areas where cooperation can blunt the war’s effects — for example, prisoner exchanges, efforts to sustain and extend the deal that provides safe passage for Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea, and arrangements to manage nuclear safety risks at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant.
Beyond addressing the war’s consequences, they see no room at this point for talks on the core of a political settlement.
In their view:
But, no matter who the mediator, meaningful peace talks can take place only when Russia, Ukraine or both are prepared to compromise. Thus far, neither is.
Future co-existence of Russia and NATO
Crisis Group believes it is not too soon, however, to observe that the future co-existence of Russia and NATO is going to require new European security architecture.
In their view:
One way to facilitate such coexistence, making further Russian aggression less likely, NATO less threatening to Russia and all the countries of Europe, including Ukraine, more secure, might be through arms control arrangements and other mutual commitments to help quiet the greatest anxieties on all sides.
The briefing includes a number of ideas to this end, including:
- Significant limits on Russian deployments and exercises in the Black and Baltic Sea regions;
- Reciprocal NATO limitations on military exercises and activities in the same areas;
- Limits on specific weapons such as short-and-medium range missiles for Europe as a whole; and
- Credible security guarantees for all involved including Russia.
The Crisis Group’s proposals on how the West can “keep the door of diplomacy open” are most welcome and eminently doable. However, the elephant in the room remains the lack of any signal from President Biden that a reasonable peace will indeed lead to sanctions relief for Russia.
Ukraine, the US and Cluster Munitions
On 8 December 2022, CNN broke the news that the Biden administration was weighing repeated Ukrainian requests (dating back to the onset of the Russian invasion) for access to the US stockpile of controversial cluster munitions.
The article outlines the indiscriminate and devasting effects of these weapons on civilians, citing Mark Hiznay, a weapons expert and the associate arms director for Human Rights Watch:
Cluster munitions are imprecise by design, and scatter “bomblets” across large areas that can fail to explode on impact and can pose a long-term risk to anyone who encounters them, similar to landmines.
They also create “nasty, bloody fragmentation” to anyone hit by them because of the dozens of submunitions that detonate at once across a large area.
A UN Convention banning the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions was negotiated in 2007-08, entered into force in August of 2010 and now has 110 States parties, including Canada but not the US, Russia or Ukraine.
CNN further reports that, while the US maintains large stores of these munitions,
administration officials believe that, in addition to the congressional limitations [on these weapons], there are too many downsides to the use of cluster munitions — the biggest being the risk they pose to civilians — to justify transferring them unless absolutely necessary.
And for now, the US does not believe the munitions to be imperative to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield.
Both Russia and Ukraine have used cluster munitions in the conflict, with Russia using them more often and against civilian targets.
We give the last word on this issue to Earl Turcotte, a retired diplomat who led Canada’s delegation throughout the negotiation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions:
The point must be made clearly and forcefully that any military benefit cluster munitions might afford Ukraine at this time would be nullified and far exceeded by their humanitarian impact on the Ukrainian population, now and for decades to come.
For Canada’s own problems in complying with its obligations under this convention click HERE.
Weaponizing winter in Ukraine
Dr. Michael Byers, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, has written a compelling article on recent Russian military tactics, entitled By weaponizing winter in Ukraine, is Putin committing a crime against humanity? (globeandmail.com, 29 November 2022).
His commentary begins:
Winter has arrived in Ukraine, with temperatures well below the freezing point. Russian President Vladimir Putin is exploiting the opportunity by launching missiles against power plants and transformers across Ukrainian territory. Millions of civilians are now at risk of hypothermia, contaminated water supplies, and delays in medical care and emergency response.
He then sets out to examine whether, under the international law of armed conflict, the targeting of a country’s power system is “an obvious crime against humanity” as Ukrainian President Zelensky alleges.
He describes two tests that President Putin’s actions must satisfy for these attacks to be legal:
- The target must constitute a “military objective”, the total or partial destruction of which offers a “definite military advantage” and
- The expected “incidental loss of civilian life” or “injury to civilians” must be “proportional” and not “excessive” in relation to the “concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”.
In Byers’ view, with missile strikes against power infrastructure in areas far from Russian forces, and the potential for thousands of civilian deaths and serious illnesses from the targeting of the Ukrainian power system in winter, Russia’s actions fail both tests.
The decision to target Ukraine’s power system at the onset of winter could well be a crime against humanity.
Leadership crimes and the ICC
In Byers’ view, the further significance of the Russian missile attacks lies in the nature of the decision-making they require, writing:
The targeting of the Ukrainian power system in winter involves decision-making at the highest level. …. They are leadership crimes, committed in full knowledge of the applicable law and the potential for suffering.
No immunity for Putin from prosecution
Dr. Byers makes two other important points:
- these obligations to protect civilians are now part of “customary international law”, binding on Russia despite its withdrawal in 2019 from the applicable Protocol and
- as confirmed by the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim A.A. Khan, Vladimir Putin’s status as President does not provide him with immunity against such crimes.
Dr. Byers ends with the possibility that the International Criminal Court might use its power to issue an international arrest warrant, as was done against Slobodan Milošević in 1999 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, concluding:
Were the ICC to take a similar approach to Mr. Putin, it would send a powerful signal, to the entire world, about the seriousness of weaponizing winter in Ukraine.
For those without a Globe and Mail subscription, we include HERE a PDF version of the article, with the kind permission of the author.
Nuclear war and nature
For a chilling expert look at the potentially devastating impacts on global food security due to climate disruption from “nuclear war soot injection”, click HERE.
CHINA UPDATE: Is Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy really an “away-from-China policy”?
In a commentary in the National Post entitled Deteriorating relations with China are not in our national interest (André Pratte, 4 December 2022), the sub-head reads:
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly unveiled the government’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy this week, but let’s not fool ourselves: this is principally a China policy. Or, rather, an away-from-China policy.
Professor Pratte, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, argues that instead of the status quo, moving closer or moving farther away,
a “fourth option” should have been chosen: deeper, subtler engagement with China.
After challenging the “optimistic view” that increased trade with India can somehow replace China as our second-largest trading partner within any reasonable time frame, he acknowledges that
an aggressive approach towards China is aligned with public opinion.
However, the reality is that whether we like it or not, China is well on its way to becoming the largest economy in the world, and is also a military and technological superpower. We cannot ignore such a giant.
Professor Pratte expands on his idea of a “fourth option”:
while being 100 per cent clear-eyed in our assessment of China’s goals and methods and steadfast in the defence of our values, we could engage more intelligently with the Chinese in order to foster Canada’s economic interests and restore a significant level of confidence between the leaders of both countries.
His commentary gives the last word to Jean Charest, former Quebec premier, and Huawei adviser, on the importance of fully engaging with China:
It requires a special effort. The government needs to rise above opinion polls, take the political heat and engage with China. That’s how important it is.
Asia Pacific Foundation expert analysis of new Indo-Pacific strategy (IPS)
For further insights into the strengths and weaknesses of Canada’s newly announced policy framework, see an excellent summary report from the Asia Pacific Foundation entitled Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy: Analysis from our Network (asiapacific.ca, 5 December 2022).
Jeff Reeves, Vice-President, Research and Strategy, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada writes:
Overall, there are many good things in this Strategy…. It is at its worst when it attempts to recreate other Indo-Pacific strategies, particularly the U.S.’s, which are predicated on great power politics and the need to challenge China in Asia.
And then there are these particularly telling comments on the differential treatment in the IPS of China from other nations in the region on human rights. Sharon Zhengyang Sun, Trade Policy Analyst with the Canada West Foundation, writes:
Issues of human rights, forced labour, SOEs [state-owned enterprises], and unfair trade practices exist in these Asian countries that the IPS has identified as key partners.
Yet, there were no discussions of these issues nor how to manage them with India, the Philippines, or Myanmar, just to name a few.
Is it not obvious that such hypocrisy undermines Canada’s credibility and moral authority on human rights in general and with China in particular?
Canada and China and COP 15 – the UN Summit on Biodiversity
Negotiators from 196 countries are in Montreal from 7 to 19 December 2022 to negotiate a plan aimed at halting further losses of ecosystems by 2030 and beginning to reverse the damage that has already been done.
In a pre-conference statement, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biodiversity, warned:
biodiversity underpins our very existence on this planet.
Mrema also emphasized the “direct connection between climate change and biodiversity”, with climate disasters all negatively impacting the ecosystems that can, if protected, absorb more of the carbon dioxide that is contributing to global warming and help reduce the impacts of extreme weather.
Given the dismal results from previous conferences, the stakes are high at this year’s event. UN Environment Chief Inger Andersen stated, just ahead of the conference:
Right now we are on this trajectory of losing one million of our 8 million species on this planet. That’s clearly not a trajectory we want to be on.
Canada hosts the Summit while China holds the Convention Presidency
Canada is the host of the Montreal summit but China currently holds the UN convention’s rotating presidency, meaning the two countries must work together to lead the talks to a successful outcome.
Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbault, comments on the high stakes and urgency surrounding this meeting:
The biodiversity crisis requires the same level of effort and action as the climate crisis….
For the Government of Canada website on the Global Summit, click HERE. For a detailed report of the meeting’s goals and challenges, see Global Summit Tries to Slow Biodiversity Crisis as Species Wink Out around the World (Sara Schonhardt, 7 December 2022).
Despite the clear distancing from China that underpins Canada’s recently announced Indo-Pacific strategy, there was nevertheless an explicit commitment to cooperate on global challenges such as climate change.
At COP15 Canada has the opportunity — and the necessity — to do just that.
BILL C-21 AND HUNTING RIFLES
In November 2021 the Liberal government introduced Bill C-21, its “comprehensive strategy to address gun violence and strengthen gun laws in Canada”, including a national freeze on handguns and expanded licence revocation for individuals posing a danger to themselves or others.
The latest government action, through amendments to Bill 21, is to enshrine in law the definition of what constitutes an “assault-style firearm”, rather than relying on a regulatory ban with a long list of specific firearms that requires regular updating.
Prime Minister Trudeau recently explained why more than a regulatory ban is needed:
we’re now enshrining it [the ban] into law and ensuring that going forward, all assault-style weapons that might be sold in Canada will not be sold in Canada. And for that, we have to establish a definition because we know gun makers keep creating new variations to try to get around a list that we’ve put forward.
So the main part of it is a set of definitions of what characterizes an assault-style weapon, the kinds of weapons that are used to kill the largest number of people as quickly as possible.
In light of fierce criticism from some hunters and farmers, and most recently from First Nations leaders — and further reflected in concerns raised by at least two Liberal MPs representing rural and northern constituencies — the Prime Minister also acknowledged the “challenge” inherent in drawing the definitional line appropriately:
It’s a complex issue.
This is extremely important legislation for the safety of Canadians. We firmly believe that a workable definition of assault-style rifles is within reach, especially if all parties in the House of Commons cooperate to that end.
We call on all parties in the House of Commons to address the “assault-style rifle” definitional issue in Bill C-21 fairly and effectively — which means in a manner that puts public safety first, but does not unnecessarily or arbitrarily constrain legitimate hunters and farmers.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Biodiversity)
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