Lessons from Africa – International diplomacy is the only way to a just, sustainable peace in Ukraine
DISARRAY IN THE AFRICAN SAHEL
One of the world’s foremost international peace and security experts, Professor Emeritus Paul Rogers, reminds us of developments beyond the Ukraine conflict that are important in and of themselves, but also for the lessons they continue to teach — and we continue not to heed — on the futility of war and the perils of coercive regime change.
His 3 September 2022 article in OpenDemocracy.net is entitled Beyond Syria and Iraq: Islamist paramilitaries gain ground in Africa (opendemocracy.net, 3 September 2022) and carries this sub-head:
Western focus on Ukraine has eclipsed reporting on escalating Jihadist activity across the Sahel and East Africa
Professor Rogers writes:
Islamist groups are maintaining and even increasing their influence right across the Sahel as well as along the East African coast from Somalia down to Mozambique.
It is useful at this point to recall the role that the NATO-led overthrow of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi played in the destabilization of the Sahel. To this end, we reference a 2012 policy brief written for the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre entitled Addressing Emerging Security Threats in Post-Gaddafi Sahel and the ECOWAS Response to the Malian Crisis, where its authors write:
there is deep apprehension by analysts that an unstable Libya could further exacerbate insecurity in the Sahel. This sense of uncertainty is further heightened by growing rebel activities in the three core Sahelian states, namely Mauritania, Mali and Niger….
Compounding this situation is the threat of militant groups in Africa’s Sahel region, including Nigerian-based Islamic terror organization Boko Haram and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who now have access to thousands of arms thought to have originated from Gaddafi’s vast weapons caches. [emphasis added]
Turning back to Professor Rogers, he concludes his article thusly:
Recent developments in Mali, Mozambique and Somalia all give the lie to the belief that ISIS, Al Qaeda and other paramilitary groups are little more than ghosts from the past. Instead, they are examples of a trend that shows no sign of ending but has been hidden across the Western world, first by the impact of the pandemic and now by the Ukraine war.
That war is itself damaging economies right across the Global South, leading to greater socioeconomic marginalisation and more young men available to be recruited into extreme paramilitary groups.
It is a part of the global security predicament that is now being repeatedly ignored.
Russia distances itself from tactical nuke use in Ukraine
With all the apocalyptic talk about nuclear “Armageddon”, including a recent statement by American President Biden, it is important to consider an October 3rd Reuters report where the Kremlin clearly seemed to be distancing Moscow from alarming calls by Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechnya region, that Russia should use
a low-yield nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
Asked about these comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov is reported to have responded:
The heads of regions have the right to express their point of view…. But even in difficult moments, emotions should be kept out of any kind of assessment. So we prefer to stick to balanced, objective assessments.
Peskov went on to say that the only basis for any use of nuclear weapons was set down in Russia’s nuclear doctrine, which the article accurately summarized as the following:
Those guidelines allow for the use of nuclear weapons if they — or another weapon of mass destruction — are used against Russia, or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
The unanswered question is what would constitute an “existential threat” in the Kremlin’s view, but we should take some comfort at least from the fact that Russia is not outlining a new — lowered — nuclear threshold but is restating longstanding nuclear use policy.
Norway’s “balancing act” with Russia has lessons for the rest of us
In an excellent Globe and Mail opinion piece by Michael Byers, entitled With its painstaking balancing act, Norway prepares for both peace and war (2 October 2022), the UBC Global Politics and International Law Canada Research Chair describes the balancing act in which Norway has been engaged since the onset of the Ukraine war.
He reminds us first of Norway’s strategic location and ongoing encounters with Russia:
- In the far north Norway shares a 196-kilometre border with Russia and, in March, 30,000 soldiers from 27 countries tested NATO’s ability to rapidly send reinforcements to that Arctic frontier.
- In the waters offshore Russian warships sail just outside Norway’s 12-nautical-mile territorial sea, while fighter jets and bombers engage in “similarly close, entirely legal but deliberately provocative maneuvers in the sky”;
- Russia is also jamming the signals of GPS satellites which guide civilian aircraft in Norwegian airspace;
- On this point the Rideau Institute notes that Russian signal jamming during NATO exercises has been ongoing since at least 2019, suggesting the primary targets are military, not civilian. This is not to downplay the seriousness of these incidents but to provide relevant background to this ongoing problem.
Norway’s large exports of oil and gas, meanwhile, are helping other European countries withstand Russia’s efforts to starve them of energy and therefore political will. These exports could make Norway’s energy infrastructure a target for Russian air or missile strikes, or for sabotage, as appears to have happened south of Norway, to the Nord Stream pipelines linking Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
The Rideau Institute further comments:
Most Western analysts seem to have concluded, although no formal finding has been made, that Russia is responsible for the sabotage of its own Nordstream pipeline. Such a finding surely begs the question of WHY they would destroy their own, costly, immensely valuable, infrastructure when they can deny Europe oil — as they have done — by shutting down the supply.
The rationale provided by Western commentators is that
The ruptures have sparked fears that Russia may stage surreptitious attacks on vital energy pathways to spike prices in the already-stressed European Union as winter sets in.
But if the aim is “surreptitious” Russian attacks on European energy infrastructure, why would Russia announce its intentions by attacking its own infrastructure first?
The Rideau Institute comments again:
The overriding problem is one we have discussed at length in past blog posts — the utter failure of Western media to provide any kind of objective assessment of the Ukraine conflict.
Further steps by Norway in support of Ukraine
Byers outlines further steps by Norway in support of Ukraine:
- Public support for increased military spending and the shipping of high-tech weapons to Ukraine
- Support for Sweden and Finland joining NATO and
- Approval by the Norwegian parliament for a new defence pact with the USA.
On the other hand, practical cooperation with Russia continues
Against this backdrop of extensive, active Norwegian support for Ukraine and NATO, Professor Byers emphasizes that
Norway also cooperates and communicates with Russia, to prevent accidents and misunderstandings and also to hold up existing treaties.
He cites a statement by Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre in June:
Norway has shared a border with the Soviet Union and then Russia, and while being a member of NATO, managing a balanced relationship of cooperation and also necessary deterrence next to military power.
Other examples of cooperation include:
- Five decades of co-managed fish stocks, including an agreement in September 2022 on science-based quotas for 2023;
- Allowing EU-banned Russian fishing boats to land fish and change crews in Norwegian ports;
- Achieving a maritime treaty in 2010 dividing 175,000 square kilometres of disputed water and seabed in the Barents Sea in half;
- Strictly observing all terms of the 1920 sovereignty treaty over the Svalbard archipelago, including a right of economic access for all parties, including Russia, and ensuring allied militaries do not violate the demilitarization clause in the Svalbard treaty; and
- Voluntarily refraining from entering the waters and airspace on the Russian side of the maritime boundary outside the 12 nautical mile limit, to avoid escalation.
Unlike Norway, the UK and American militaries are not exercising due restraint
On the issue of American and British behaviour in the same northern areas, Byers writes:
The U.S. and British militaries, however, have not exercised the same restraint. They regularly send ships and planes into the area, which lies just alongside the submarine bases that provide Russia with its all-important nuclear deterrent.
These allied exercises could easily lead to an accident, threatening the balance between cooperation and deterrence that Norway works so hard to maintain.
With the kind permission of the author, the Byers’ article is available in its entirety in PDF format by clicking here.
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
It is hard to overstate how outrageous and reckless are these actions by the USA and the UK. One has to ask: are they trying to provoke a nuclear incident?
Last week we reported that President Zelensky had applied for “accelerated accession” into NATO. Canada is one of the NATO countries backing this request, along with Czechia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.
We reiterate the blunt assessment of Zelensky’s request made by the Washington Post’s Mary Ilyushina, cited in last week’s post:
It was a largely symbolic statement, however. Under NATO’s collective defense clause, admitting Ukraine would immediately require the alliance to send troops to fight Russia, making Kyiv’s membership bid a political and practical impossibility.
We call upon the government of Canada to cease its cynical, self-serving support for accelerated Ukrainian membership in NATO, an action which can do nothing but fan the flames of paranoia in Moscow, while at the same time misleading the Ukrainian — and Canadian — public as to the utter implausibility of this request.
Power vacuums and the law of unintended consequences
Given the inherent — and all too apparent — risks of escalation in the Ukraine war, it is extraordinarily important that Western commentators not allow triumphalism, as Ukraine continues to gain ground in its counteroffensive, to blind them to the dangers of a post-Putin Russia. Yet nothing could be further from the case.
Take Andrew Coyne’s article of 30 September 2022, with the headline that says it all: There can be no end to this war that leaves Putin in power (theglobeandmail.com).
Our aim must now be, not just victory in Ukraine, but regime change in Russia.
Even more astonishingly, Coyne goes on to say:
And the consequences are potentially hazardous: violence, a power struggle, even civil war, with no guarantee that whoever emerges at the top is any better than Mr. Putin.
Quite aside from Coyne’s casual dismissal of nuclear risks, what he fails completely to take into account is the possibility that whoever — or whatever — emerges from violent Russian regime change is far worse than Putin.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
The danger of power vacuums and the sheer chaos they unleash is the unavoidable lesson from recent history in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Yet Andrew Coyne and most other mainstream Western commentators steadfastly refuse to consider it.
Because were they to do so, they would have to face up to the elephant in the room — that there is simply no sane way out of this conflict that does not involve internationally-mediated negotiations.
To put this another way, they apparently would rather risk nuclear war with what Coyne himself calls “a nuclear-armed madman” — or worse — than consider negotiating as fair, just, and sustainable a peace settlement as the circumstances permit.
We need a credible, ongoing international negotiation mechanism
On Wednesday, 5 October 2022, the Group of 78 hosted a webinar featuring celebrated Canadian international peace and security analyst and Order of Canada recipient Ernie Regehr discussing what the West — to this point — steadfastly refuses to discuss: War in Ukraine: Possibilities for a Peace Settlement. (YouTube video recording forthcoming. A PDF version of Ernie Regehr’s remarks is available here.)
We urge everyone to read his speaking notes in their entirety and/or watch the YouTube video once it is available on the Group of 78 channel.
Because of the clarity that Ernie Regehr brings to the central issue of securing a just, sustainable peace, we are now going to highlight key aspects of his seminal presentation.
Following introductory comments, Ernie Regehr makes two key observations.
The collective trauma of this war – the deaths and many more injuries, the extraordinary physical destruction, the material and psychological/cultural/political costs, and the threats of escalation, including to nuclear use – all of these horrors properly trigger in us an alarm that says – for this madness to end, talks must begin.
But we also face the reality that the conclusion we draw from our alarm is not reflective of the prevailing mood.
This is a reality that Rideau Institute blog posts have charted for almost the entire course of the conflict, with the possible exception of the first few weeks.
Ernie spells it out further:
So, there is a prominent public mood that figures Ukraine’s struggles against the invader are likely to be more effective on the battlefield than at the negotiating table.
This brings Ernie Regehr to a particularly important area of his expertise, how wars end — which he canvassed at length in his groundbreaking book Disarming Conflict: Why peace cannot be won on the battlefield (Between the Lines, 2015).
what’s left out in that analysis is the ugly fact that such wars don’t produce a winner, only devastating exhaustion, with mop-up operations then left to the humanitarians and the diplomats, searching for remnants of peace in the wasteland that war leaves in its wake.
With those initial remarks, Ernie turns to the issue of “Ending the War”, recalling the “three basic components” of most of the ceasefire calls that have been made to date:
- measures toward demilitarizing the conflict;
- proposals to address governance challenges at the root of the discord in eastern Ukraine; and
- ideas for addressing Ukraine’s unique position on the strategic fault line between Russia and the West.
He then reviews a “brief sampling” of those proposals, many of which have been canvassed in past Rideau Institute blog posts.
Turning to the second of the three elements, Ukraine governance issues and proposals for referendums in relevant regions of Ukraine to democratically determine their preferred political status, Ernie examines why the resolution of these issues is “key to the long-term stability of Ukraine on two levels”:
First, even if all Russian troops vacated Crimea, the Donbas, and the other occupied regions, the issue of the ultimate status and governance of those regions would still be a problem to solve. Future stability would still depend on the people of those regions having a genuine choice, and on Kyiv managing a national government that is respected and has the confidence of the regions – a sense that their interests would be served if they cast their lot with Ukraine.
Ernie’s second point is that [effectively managing] national governance is necessary for defence — for protection against foreign interference. He explains:
states that build a national consensus and national institutions that are supported and trusted across the entire population are much less vulnerable to interference and ultimately to attack.
in the absence of a national consensus, mistrust leads to unrest – which in turn invites intervention (Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya, Serbia, and so on).
The third essential ingredient for an enduring peace settlement of the Ukraine conflict is the issue of strategic stability.
Regehr inter alia cites Tatiana Stanovaya, a scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who makes a strong case that:
- regional stability and a peaceful Ukraine depend substantially on Western and Ukrainian respect for Russian security interests;
- the West has been ignoring Russian geopolitical concerns for 30 years; and
- if Russian concerns are chronically ignored, it will continue to have both the means and willingness to exact a price.
Regehr cautions against the current Western approach, entirely understandable but equally unhelpful:
[Unqualified] solidarity with Ukraine can reinforce an unrealistic expectation that the security concerns of Russia can be ignored by Ukraine with impunity.
He wryly observes:
Canada, for example, must certainly have due regard for how its powerful neighbor might react to Canadian security policy.
But Ernie is not arguing that Canadian — or Ukrainian — security policy simply “gets written” by our powerful neighbour. Rather, it means that
in both cases the key to recognizing the security interests of a powerful neighbor while still charting a reasonably independent path is intensified diplomacy in pursuit of mutually acceptable security arrangements.
Now Ernie Regehr turns to the crux of the problem, which is not a lack of good proposals once at the negotiating table:
the mechanism that is missing is the one that will actually get us to a ceasefire in the first place.
In fact, we have gone in the opposite direction, with initial proposals that seemingly addressed key concerns of both sides to the current situation with illegal, unilateral annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia on the one hand and “maximalist conditions” laid out by President Zelensky on the other in his 22 September UN General Assembly address.
So the fundamental question is how do we get the parties to the negotiating table?
An ongoing high-level international dialogue mechanism is needed
In Ernie Regehr’s view, and we strongly agree, an ongoing, high-level international dialogue mechanism is needed. He refers in particular to the proposal by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, reviewed in last week’s blog post, for a high-level “commission for dialogue and peace”, led by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Pope Francis, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
[the] idea is compelling because progress towards negotiations really depends on there being an effective and continuously operating negotiating forum.
Such a mechanism would:
- stay actively engaged with representatives of the parties (at whatever level of representation they are prepared to send at any given time),
- regularly test the parties’ openness to negotiations and particular formulas, and
- continuously develop and explore settlement options.
So the key question facing us all now is:
How can we help ensure that such a high level, ongoing international negotiating mechanism is, in fact, put in place, given the prevailing hostility of Western leaders to the very concept of negotiations?
This question came up at various times during the question and answer portion of the webinar. No easy solutions were identified, but Ernie Regher’s conclusion to his formal remarks points to a step along the way:
Part of our discussion might usefully focus on proposing to the Government of Canada that its support for a just outcome and an early end to the devastation should include expending at least some material and political capital in support of a Ukraine ceasefire/peace platform – to promote early attention to the negotiations that will, in the end, be absolutely essential for ending the current crisis.
American public favours diplomacy
In the absence of any polling on how the Canadian public views ceasefire negotiations to end the Ukraine war, it is encouraging to refer to a very recent American national poll, commissioned by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and conducted by Data for Progress.
Summarizing the results, Jessica Rosenblum writes:
In the aftermath of the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive at Kharkiv, polling shows that Americans want to see a quick conclusion to this war. A majority (57 percent) of Americans support U.S. negotiations to end the war in Ukraine as soon as possible, even if it means Ukraine making some compromises with Russia.
Negotiations are absolutely essential to ending the Ukraine conflict. To that end, impartial, expert international facilitation will be needed to ensure a just and sustainable negotiated settlement.
We call upon the Government of Canada to demonstrate foresight, courage, and leadership by entering into discussions with the federal New Democrat Party, the Green Party of Canada, and the Bloc Quebecois, with a view to presenting a united position in support of the establishment of an impartial, expert, ongoing international ceasefire/peace facilitation platform, ideally under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (militants on Mali-Niger border).