Nukes, democracy and hope?
RUSSIA AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS
A recent article in Arms Control Now provides some encouraging information regarding the threat of nuclear weapons use in the Ukraine conflict. Under the title “No indication of Imminent Russian Nuclear Use, U.S. Says,” authors Shannon Bugos and Heather Foye write of “continuing assurances” from the US — and Russia — that there is no threat of imminent Russian nuclear use.
They first quote a State Department affirmation of 30 August 2022:
Despite their bellicose rhetoric, we have seen no indications that Russia has intent to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and we have not seen any reason to raise our alert levels or adjust our nuclear posture.
The authors note that
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the Pentagon has been consistently monitoring Russia’s nuclear forces for any signs of impending use, thus far seeing none.
The article also outlines the efforts of Russian officials to “mitigate concerns” regarding Russia’s threatened use, citing Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s statement:
From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals…. The main purpose of Russian nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack.
In an 18 August 2022 briefing, Ivan Nechayev, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s press department, emphasized:
a direct confrontation with the United States or NATO is not in our interests.
He also reiterated the scenarios in which Russia will contemplate nuclear use according to the country’s nuclear deterrence policy released in June 2020, emphasizing that
nuclear weapons can only be used in retaliation to an attack as a means of self-defense in extreme circumstances.
As we have noted in the past, unfortunately, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in its 1996 opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons under international law, did leave open the possibility of a permissible use, in certain extreme circumstances.
Specifically, the court could not conclude definitively
whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.
It is clearly this circumstance, the meaning of which is entirely unclear, to which the Russian spokesperson is referring.
The Arms Control Now article also sets out the four scenarios under which Russia will consider the use of nuclear weapons, in accordance with the “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence,” published in June 2020:
- Russia receives reliable data indicating a launch of ballistic missiles toward Russia and/or its allies.
- An adversary of Russia and/or its allies uses nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction.
- An adversary of Russia undertakes an attack on Russia’s critical governmental or military sites that would undermine Russia’s ability to use its nuclear weapons.
- An adversary of Russia attacks Russia with conventional weapons and puts at risk the very existence of the Russian state.
In last week’s blog post, we highlighted the pledge made by Russia and the US — during ultimately unsuccessful negotiations at the 10th NPT Review Conference — to pursue a follow-on agreement to the New START treaty on nuclear weapons.
For more on the need for US–Russian strategic nuclear weapons talks to proceed, regardless of current hostilities, see Keeping an eye on the prize: divisive US-Russia nuke talks must go on (Shannon Bugos, responsiblestatecraft.org, 1 September 2022).
UPDATE ON RUSSIA–UKRAINE CONFLICT
For a superb and comprehensive look at all aspects of the Russia–Ukraine conflict — military, diplomatic and humanitarian — see NATO WATCH Newsbrief Update 26 of 4 September 2022, available in PDF format here.
On the diplomacy front, they write:
Of particular interest — and concern — is the speculation that a tentative deal to end the war was close to being agreed in April, but that [the] UK Prime Minister reportedly urged President Zelensky to break off the talks with Russia.
For more on this allegation and its implications, see Connor Echols, Diplomacy Watch: Did Boris Johnson help stop a peace deal in Ukraine? (responsiblestatecraft.org, 2 September 2022).
For more information on the Ukrainian counteroffensive, see Ukraine Counterattack Unfolds Slowly, Focuses on Limited Aims (Marc Champion, bloomberg.com, 6 September 2022, available for those with a subscription or who have not exceeded the limit of free articles).
See also the latest statement by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reported in Reuters on 9 September:
We see success in Kherson now, we see some success in Kharkiv and so that is very, very encouraging.
With the fast-moving situation on the ground, see also another Update from NATO WATCH available in PDF format here, which includes inter alia the latest IAEA report on their visit to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine.
On the broader issue of America–Russia relations, former US Secretary of Defense William J. Perry asks:
For the full article, see How the U.S. Lost Russia and How We Can Restore Relations (outrider.org, 5 September 2022)
UPDATE ON THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY
Despite everything, there are signs of a nascent rebirth of the Arab Spring
In these extraordinarily dark days, the Arab Digest analyzes the promise of a new kind of pan-Arabism, writing in their latest Newsletter:
the Sunni Arab world has trouble coming to terms with its past and imagining its future. A new kind of pan-Arabism could be the next ideology to drive the revolution forward.
The full article, entitled The return of pan-Arabism (arabdigest.org, 8 September 2022), is paywalled, but because of its importance and the hope it offers, we include a detailed summary here.
The article begins by recalling the “seemingly endless parade of autocratic rulers” that the Arab world has had to endure
since the modern Arab world was shaped a hundred years ago from the ruins of the Ottoman empire and the machinations of Western colonialism….
As readers familiar at all with the region’s history will know all too well, the latest failure in the quest for freedom and democracy was the 2011 Arab Spring, about the outcome of which Arab Digest writes:
Arab democracy was set back years by the failings of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military coup in Egypt in 2013. The rise and fall of Islamic State, which took Sunni Islamism to its most extreme and fanatical edge, damaged the wider appeal of political Islam in the region for years to come.
Arab Digest observes:
These disasters have led to widespread disillusion with both democracy and political Islam, leaving an ideological vacuum at the heart of the Arab revolution.
Given the continued deterioration in the region’s socioeconomic and political fabric and the grim economic outlook, Arab Digest argues:
it seems inevitable that sooner or later the Arab Spring is going to return, raising the question when it does, what kind of narrative or ideology will be driving it?
They offer this potential answer:
One perhaps surprising answer to that question looks increasingly likely to be a return of pan-Arabism. Not the pan-Arabism of Gamal Nasser and the June 1967 war, but a new model twenty first century version, updated for a globalised, digitalised world.
Unlike the dark vision of Islamic State,
pan-Arabism holds out the promise of much more positive change, as well as economic benefits.
In the view of Arab Digest,
Its appeal lies primarily in the notion of a pan-Arab identity and Arab unity which Arab intellectuals and elites have always found attractive.
At its core is the belief in an Arab “super culture” extending across the region from North Africa to the Gulf, albeit with many variances under that umbrella.
Arab Digest argues further that
Another important attraction of pan-Arabism is that it promises to put Palestine back at the top of the agenda.
Polling shows that, despite the actions of their leaders, not least in relation to the Abraham Accords, Palestine remains an important issue among ordinary people.
The 2019-2020 Arab Opinion Index found that
88% of all Arabs polled… oppose recognition of Israel and nearly the same proportion (81% of respondents) supported the sentiment that the various Arab peoples constitute a single nation….
A key observation by Arab Digest is the “remarkably non-ideological” nature of pan-Arabism in how society should be organized:
Crucially, it makes pan-Arabism an ideology all opposition groups can rally around, whether intelligentsia, artists, Jihadis, Muslim Brotherhood, liberals, or leftists, and this is what gives it its political potency.
Arab Digest highlights a fatal error of the Arab Spring in its failure to recognize the need for a common front across Arab states, arguing,
it has since become clear that the Arab dictators and the Israeli Occupation are all interlinked, making it nigh on impossible to tackle any of them individually without tackling them all simultaneously and collectively.
democracy in Egypt was rolled back by Israel and the Gulf, while Israel maintains its occupation and siege of Palestine with Egyptian support.
Meanwhile Gulf autocrats depend on Egypt’s repression of democracy and political Islam to maintain their own domestic power base, while the Egyptian military dictatorship depends on Gulf petrodollars.
Arab Digest concludes:
This is the Gordian knot that defeated the Arab Spring revolutions, one that IS [Islamic State] attempted to and that pan-Arabism still has the potential to cut.
A triumph for Kenyan democracy
Crisis Group issued a statement on the outcome of the latest Kenyan election entitled A Triumph for Kenya’s Democracy (crisisgroup.org, 5 September 2022).
On 5 September, Kenya’s Supreme Court upheld Deputy President William Ruto’s victory in the 9 August presidential election.
The decision concludes a hard-fought electoral campaign that, despite high stakes, was peaceful and transparent, showing the strength of the country’s institutions.
Crucially, all parties accepted the Court’s judgment.
On the election itself, Crisis Group states:
Both of the main presidential candidates mounted issue-based campaigns rather than trying to marshal support primarily along ethnic lines.
The Crisis Group statement concludes:
The 2022 Kenyan elections have been a success and an example to the region.
For [the winner] Ruto, however, given sky-high popular expectations and an economy in dire straits, governing may well prove tougher than campaigning.
American democracy: some glimmers of hope
A CBC article entitled Kansas vote on abortion broke the mould. Party strategists now have to figure out what it means (Kazi Stastna, cbc.ca, 4 August 2022) begins:
Voters in staunchly Republican state surprised many by voting 59% in favour of retaining abortion protections.
The article concludes that ballot initiatives such as the one in Kansas might be a way to safeguard access to abortion since the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in June 2022.
Midterm congressional and senate elections in the US are traditionally difficult for the president’s party. For more on how Democrats might at least limit the damage, see Democrats Sense New Optimism for Blunting GOP’s Midterm Gains (Laura Litvan, bloomberg.com, 21 August 2022).
In that article the sub-head reads:
Republicans still likely to gain House, but Senate a toss-up.
To remind folks why Republican gains in the midterms would constitute yet another blow to American democracy, see for example, The Radical Fringe That Just Went Mainstream in Arizona (Elaine Godrey, theatlantic.com, 5 August 2022), which begins:
The Republican primary has given us the most antidemocratic slate of candidates in America.
Those candidates, Godfrey notes,
argue not only that Donald Trump won the election in 2020, but also that the state’s results should be decertified—a process for which there is no legal basis.
Sadly, there is a Canadian version of democratic devolution playing out in the United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership campaign in Alberta and in the just concluded federal Conservative Party leadership race.
Turning first to the insanity at the provincial level, see the 7 September 2022 editorial by the Globe and Mail Editorial Board: ‘A constitutional crisis sounds like a great idea,’ said no Canadian, ever.
It provides a concise analysis of:
- The illegality of the proposal by UCP leadership candidate, and likely winner, Danielle Smith, to pass legislation purporting to give Alberta the power to ignore or override federal laws and court rulings;
- The warning from the Alberta Lieutenant-Governor that she might decline to sign into law such a manifestly illegal bill;
- The 1937 historical precedent in the refusal of the then Alberta Lieutenant-Governor to sign legislative bills that would have removed the independence of the province’s banks and media; and
- the subsequent Supreme Court ruling that the proposed legislation was unconstitutional.
The editorial reminds us that, even at the height of separatism in Quebec,
[Parti Québécois (PQ) leader] René Lévesque never declared that the province was free to ignore the Constitution; on the contrary he fought (and lost) a referendum on the question of changing the Constitution, and he and his successors respected decisions, from voters and the courts, that went against them.
Perhaps the most trenchant criticism of the proposed legislation comes from the beleaguered soon to be ex-Premier Jason Kenney:
a government that pretends it can, at will, set aside any court decision, [and] ignore the Constitution, is deciding to deliberately undermine the rule of law….
Kenney goes on to denounce the idea as the actions of a “banana republic”, “contrary to Conservative principles” and a “cockamamie” step towards separation.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
The plain fact is that Smith’s proposal is an extreme version of the tired old game of blaming the feds for all that is wrong in the province, that will do absolutely nothing to address key concerns of Albertans like inflation and the economy.
We can only hope that voters in that province, due to go the polls between March and 31 May 2023, will decisively reject a party pushing such unadulterated and dangerous nonsense.
The politics of “bilious resentment”
The picture is even more dismal at the federal level, with the winner of the race, Pierre Poilievre, having based his campaign on what the Toronto Star columnist Rick Salutin rightly terms “bilious resentment” and “inchoate rage”.
Salutin writes that this “paranoid style that’s always marked U.S. politics”
thrills his devotees and [Poilievre] seems addicted to it himself.
While Salutin acknowledges we have “racism and rage here”, his question is:
Can you market it on a large enough basis up here to win power?
…. Does Poilievre have anywhere else to go to build his vote?
In Salutin’s view:
Not that we’ve seen so far.
He notes that Poilievre’s rare attempts at serious policy are, well, a “tad embarrassing”, as his short-lived solution to the cost of living crisis — through the “freedom” of crypto currency — tanked along with the currency.
On the other end of the political spectrum from left-leaning Salutin, Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne sees it pretty much the same way. In his 9 September 2022 column he concludes:
And so, rather than use the leadership race as an opportunity to showcase itself as a government in waiting, reaching out to voters who, though discontented with the government, had until now hesitated to mark their ballots for the Conservatives, it has gone all in for the crackpot vote: pro-convoy, anti-vaccines, fearful that the World Economic Forum is plotting to put microchips in our brains.
Governments, it is said, defeat themselves. Unless the opposition beats them to it.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
This is too serious to mince words. The slick Poilievre is a clear and present danger to Canadian democracy. We must use all democratic means at our disposal to help ensure that he never becomes the leader of our country.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Arab Spring protests)