Unsustainable militarism, UN challenges and Patagonia’s astounding gift to Earth

RUSSIA, AMERICA, UKRAINE, AND ALL-DOMAIN OVERREACH

We begin this week’s blog post with a commentary entitled Russia’s Underperforming Military (and Ours) (quincyinst.org, 13 September 2022), written by celebrated American historian, professor emeritus and retired career officer in the US Army Andrew Bacevich.

He begins by summarizing the prevailing  American explanation for Russian military ineptitude — exemplified most recently by significant Ukrainian gains in their recently launched counteroffensive. In essence, the view is that Russia fails to appreciate the fundamental aspects of modern warfare as perfected by the United States military, which are:

  • Jointness, the seamless integration of ground, air, and maritime operations, not only on Planet Earth but in cyberspace and outer space;
  • Combined arms warfare, which emphasizes the close tactical collaboration of tanks, infantry, and artillery;
  • Command flexibility at the front, which is inhibited by Russia’s longstanding tradition of top-down leadership; and
  • Lack of understanding of battlefield logistics, the mechanisms that provide a steady and reliable supply of the fuel, food, munitions, medical support, and spare parts needed to sustain a campaign.

Bacevich observes:

Implicit in this critique…. is the suggestion that, if the Russian army had paid more attention to how U.S. forces deal with such matters, they would have fared better in Ukraine.

The underperformance of the American military

This, in turn, leads Bacevich to ask the fundamental question,

why haven’t American forces — supposedly possessing such qualities in abundance — been able to win their own equivalents of the Ukraine War?

After all, Russia has only been stuck in Ukraine for six months, while the U.S. was stuck in Afghanistan for 20 years and still has troops in Iraq almost two decades after its disastrous invasion of that country.

The former colonel then provides his explanation for the “performance gap” that afflicts the twenty-first-century US military establishment:

It’s the way Americans, especially those wielding influence in national security circles, including journalists, think tankers, lobbyists, corporate officials in the military-industrial complex, and members of Congress, have come to think of war as an attractive, affordable means of solving problems.

This has not only led to unimaginably large and ever-increasing US military budgets, but to a doctrine that’s goal was succinctly summarized in an official document entitled Army Readiness and Modernization in 2022 as:

the army maintains all-domain overmatch against all adversaries in future fights.

This approach, as Bacevich wryly observes, has the advantage of ensuring the maintenance and continued increase of the Pentagon budget.

To sustain this “all-domain overmatch”, Bacevich writes,

requires a military of global reach that maintains a massive global presence… [including] perhaps 750 military bases on every continent except Antarctica.

In short, the American military rejects out of hand the proposition that defending Americans where they live can suffice to keep them safe.

The unsustainable cost of American militarized globalism

Andrew Bacevich now makes two points that have been ongoing themes of Rideau Institute blog posts, especially since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic:

militarized globalism, the Pentagon’s preferred paradigm for basic policy, has become increasingly unaffordable. With the passage of time, it’s also become beside the point.

He reminds us that the “most elemental concerns” America faces are

disease, drought, fire, floods, and sea-level rise, not to mention averting the potential collapse of our constitutional order.

All-domain overmatch is of doubtful relevance to such threats.

Come home, America, before it’s too late

The above section title is also the title of the last part of Andrew Bacevich’s commentary. Having argued for “an entirely different approach to national security”, of which he sees little evidence, he concludes:

Americans spend a lot of time these days trying to figure out what makes Vladimir Putin tick. I don’t pretend to know, nor do I really much care.

I would say this, however: Putin’s plunge into Ukraine confirms that he learned nothing from the folly of post-9/11 U.S. military policy.

Ukraine and forever militarism 

The pre-eminent NGO on all things NATO-related has issued another briefing paper, this time on The proposed ‘Kyiv Security Compact’ and the Western network of advisers and consulting firms helping to steer Ukraine’s foreign policy choices (Ian Davis, NATO Watch Briefing No. 97, 16 September 2022).

In an accompanying email, author Ian Davis summarizes the Security Compact, writing inter alia:

On 13 September President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office published a draft set of security guarantees that, if agreed, would commit Ukraine’s allies to legally binding large-scale weapons transfers and multi-decade investment in the country’s defences.

The nine-page Kyiv Security Compact was prepared by a Working Group On International Security Guarantees for Ukraine co-chaired by former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Andrii Yermak, the head of Zelensky’s presidential administration.

The Compact claims that

these will be the first such guarantees of the 21st century and can lay the foundations for a new security order in Europe.

This model involves formalizing guarantees that the international community would in future take steps similar to those taken in the ongoing Russia–Ukraine war to supply Ukraine with all the resources necessary to prevail should it experience an incursion.

Crucially, however,

it goes further than this, committing those states giving the guarantees to do all in their power to expand Ukraine’s military capability over decades.

In the view of NATO Watch:

It is a recipe for massive increases in military spending across Europe.

As for the timing, former NATO Secretary General Rasmussen is quoted in Newsweek as saying:

These security guarantees should enter into force as soon as possible. We should not wait for an end to the conflict.

While the Compact does not propose that NATO countries collectively offer their troops in defence of Ukraine’s sovereignty (as they do for each other under NATO’s so-called Article 5 collective defence commitment), it does say:

there should be no restriction on the military, diplomatic and economic help provided by NATO member countries (and potentially other states) through bilateral agreements.  [emphasis added]

The Compact further states:

Ukraine needs the resources to maintain a significant defensive force capable of withstanding the Russian Federation’s armed forces and paramilitaries….

This requires a multi-decade effort of sustained investment in Ukraine’s defence industrial base, scalable weapons transfers and intelligence support from allies, intensive training missions and joint exercises under the European Union and NATO flags.

The briefing note’s author, founding director of NATO Watch Ian Davis, notes that it is unclear at this point which countries might be willing to contribute to the Compact, specifically citing the ‘hesitancy’ of key Ukrainian supporters like the United States and UK to

sign up to new security guarantees, even while providing vast amounts of military equipment.

The briefing provides information on the composition of the Working Group behind the Compact as well as other advisory bodies involved in providing foreign and security policy advice to the Ukrainian government, including a Canadian connection. The Chair of a Strategic Advisory Council (SAC) within the Ukrainian World Congress is former Canadian Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier.

The Rideau Institute comments:

General Hillier’s view of the merits of peace negotiations is well summed up in his 2006 labelling of the Taliban as “detestable murderers and scumbags”, a sentiment that not only undermined diplomatic efforts but which many believe also contributed to the alleged torture of Afghan detainees.

Ian Davis sums up the implications of the Kyiv Compact, given the “largely hawkish” backgrounds of its authors:

these groups of consultants continue to favour NATO membership for Ukraine, and … the Compact can be seen as a device for steering Kyiv on such a path, rather than looking for alternatives that might de-escalate tensions and build a more inclusive European security architecture.

The Russian response

According to a 14 September Reuters report, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that the idea of Ukraine joining NATO remains

the main threat to Russia.

For the full NATO Watch briefing note in PDF format click here.

CRISIS GROUP: TEN CHALLENGES FOR THE UN IN 2022-23

As world leaders prepare to gather for the high-level meetings of the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly, the International Crisis Group outlines Ten Challenges for the UN in 2022-2023 (Special Briefing, 14 September 2022), noting:

Russia’s war in Ukraine has dominated UN diplomacy in 2022 to date. It will continue to be high on the agenda, but other matters require urgent attention, too.

This will be the first meeting of the leaders of UN member states since Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine. In the view of Crisis Group,

The war has strained diplomacy at the UN, but the organisation continues to do important, life-saving work in conflicts and post-conflict transitions around the world.

In their view, and we wholeheartedly agree,

The yearly meeting is a chance for leaders to assess the Ukraine war’s impact on multilateral diplomacy and to consider how the UN – from the Security Council itself to agencies and missions – can continue to help thwart and mitigate wars and other crises and prepare to meet future challenges.

We also agree with their view that:

Notwithstanding the Ukraine war, work at the UN continues.

The world body can and should continue to play a constructive role in crises from Afghanistan to Mali and (where possible) Ukraine itself. It should explore new ways to support climate security, peacekeeping and other peace and security priorities.

The Ukraine war’s impact on the UN

On the impact of the Ukraine war on the work of the United Nations, the Crisis Group assessment is much more nuanced and positive than general media reporting to date would suggest. While the role of the General Assembly has faded diplomatically as the war has dragged on, in their assessment,

[m]ajor powers have managed to maintain a modicum of cooperation on non-Ukraine matters at the Security Council…. [and] [t]he Secretary-General has been able to carve out a niche as a humanitarian player in the conflict….

In short, the escalated Ukraine war has seriously disturbed but not decisively transformed work on peace and security issues at the UN….

From Mali to Afghanistan, to Yemen and beyond

The rest of the report outlines 10 challenges for the UN and the “risks and opportunities” they present to the UN in terms of

managing regional crises, augmenting the UN toolbox and addressing thematic issues that are or should be on the Security Council’s agenda.

As Crisis Group emphasizes, the list is “indicative” not “comprehensive”, but even with that caveat, it demonstrates the breadth and reach of the UN’s work, including as it does:

The briefing concludes:

these ten items show why the UN’s presence in many countries – and its focus on global policy questions – remain useful and important.

Even in an era of acrimonious major-power competition, the institution has shown resilience and the capacity to offer aid and protection in crises where other actors are unable or unwilling to step into the breach.

The Rideau Institute adds:

This Crisis Group report is a succinct and incisive examination of the urgent steps that the UN (at all levels) can take to address huge, ongoing challenges to international peace and security. We highly recommend it in its entirety, available here.

SOME GREAT NEWS ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL FRONT

We end this week’s post with some welcome positive news in the battle to save the environment.

Journalist Marc Fawcett-Atkinson of The National Observer reports that on Wednesday morning (the 14th of September)

[Patagonia] founder Yvon Chouinard, 83, had a message for his employees. He had donated the nearly $4-billion company to a specially designed trust and a non-profit dedicated to protecting the environment, a decision designed to help the company put its profits towards environmental advocacy and stay in business.

Perhaps equally astounding:

While Chouinard remains on the board of the trust — which is tasked with managing the company’s voting shares and direction — neither he nor his wife will continue to benefit financially from the company.

They will pay about $23.1 million in taxes on the shares donated to the trust and will receive no tax benefits from donating their shares to the non-profit.

Fawcett-Atkinson observes that the two adult Chouinard children, who will remain on the Patagonia payroll, will hold no shares nor inherit any:

Such a dramatic transfer of wealth from individuals to environmental and social causes is nearly unprecedented in the world of billionaire philanthropy.

For the full article, see It was obviously shocking in the best way possible: Patagonia pledges profits to the Earth (Mark Fawcett-Atkinson, national observer.com, 16 September 2022).

For the letter to the public written by Yvon Chouinard, see Earth is now our only shareholder  (Patagonia.com).

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Jessie Eastland – electric desert)

 

 

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