Nuclear risks, foreign meddling & building a Ukraine peace table
ASSESSING NUCLEAR RISKS UPDATE
Last week’s post had mainly bad news about rising nuclear risks as a result of Russia’s “suspension” of participation in the reporting, notification and inspection obligations under the New START treaty.
The one bright spot was the continued American openness to dialogue, and the Arms Control Association has now reported that
Russia expressed a willingness to consider the proposal by U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in June to engage in a bilateral dialogue on nuclear risk reduction and arms control “without preconditions.”
For more detail on this encouraging step, see Russia Open to Hearing U.S. Arms Control Proposal (Shannon Bugos, 22 June 2023)
The Rideau Institute comments:
American and Russian willingness to consider such a dialogue, in current circumstances, underscores their mutual concern to contain nuclear risks.
Russia, tactical nukes and Belarus
The above-noted article by Shannon Bugos also includes important assurances from the United States and NATO that, despite claims by Russia and Belarus that the transfer of Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus territory has begun,
they continue to monitor Russia’s behavior and … neither see a reason to adjust their respective nuclear postures in response.
We don’t see any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.
For an excellent discussion of the implications of Russia’s decision to establish a NATO-style nuclear-sharing relationship with Belarus, see We know where Russian nuclear-capable aircraft will be hosted in Belarus. What’s next? (Matt Korda, Eliana Johns, thebulletin.org, 24 April 2023).
Might the Ukraine conflict spark a nuclear war? Science for Peace Webinar
For an excellent webinar discussion of the risk of nuclear weapons use in the Ukraine conflict, led by CNANW co-chair Robin Collins, click on the arrow below:
REMEMBERING DANIEL ELLSBERG
CBC, along with media outlets around the world, reported the sad news on 16 June 2023 that Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked Pentagon Papers exposing Vietnam War secrets, was dead at 92.
This follows the revelation, on 2 March 2023, by the legendary Pentagon whistleblower and life-long campaigner for nuclear disarmament that he had terminal cancer, with only months to live.
We quote a portion of his words in that letter:
It is long past time–but not too late!–for the world’s publics at last to challenge and resist the willed moral blindness of their past and current leaders. I will continue, as long as I’m able, to help these efforts. There’s tons more to say about Ukraine and nuclear policy, of course, and you’ll be hearing from me as long as I’m here.
In December 2017 Daniel Ellsberg published his memoir, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (Bloomsbury Publishing), and we include here the video and transcript link of the interview by Democracy Now! With Daniel Ellsberg about the memoir.
Reveal the truth… at whatever cost to yourself…
See also the 20 June 2023 democracynow.org article entitled Daniel Ellsberg’s Dying Wish: Free Julian Assange, Encourage Whistleblowers & Reveal the Truth.
And for another thoughtful commentary, see My reflections on Dan Ellsberg, a man who helped end a tragic war (Morton H. Halperin, responsiblestatecraft.org, 17 June 2023).
FOREIGN INTERFERENCE UPDATE (A lot has happened since we last discussed this!)
We last addressed the issue of foreign interference in elections in our 28 May 2023 blog post on the David Johnston report.
Since that time, the Independent Special Rapporteur has announced his resignation by the end of June, upon completion of a short final report. The government, for its part, has tasked Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc to consider next steps.
As Leblanc explained:
My job, in the very next few days, in short order, is to ask opposition leaders to take this matter seriously, and address questions around a public process or inquiry, who would lead it, what its scope and timeline would be, and how it would address national security information.
The government has been adamant it will not agree to a public inquiry without opposition parties coming to a consensus about the details.
With the unanimous consent of parliamentarians, the House of Commons rose for its summer break on 21 June 2023 with no deal between the government and opposition parties having been reached. Negotiations continue, and New Democratic House leader Peter Julian said Thursday,
Canadians can be confident there will be a public inquiry into foreign interference.
In addition to the leadership issue and the inquiry’s terms of reference, see Kady O’Malley’s deep procedural dive in So you want a public inquiry into foreign interference? Here are a few things to keep in mind (ipolitics, 13 June 2023).
Procedure and House Affairs Committee and Chinese election interference
In the meantime, the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) in its study of Chinese election interference has heard extensive testimony from government officials on the issues underlying the call for a public inquiry, which in turn have been evaluated by intelligence expert Professor Wesley Wark in his entertaining and informative National Security and Intelligence Newsletter.
See, for example, his offering of 22 June 2023 entitled Following the Breadcrumbs (into the intelligence maze), where he analyzes the 13 June 2023 testimony of David Morrison.
David Morrison, currently the Deputy Minister at Global Affairs Canada, served during the Summer and Fall of 2021 as acting National Security and Intelligence Adviser to the Prime Minister.
The acting role ended up stretching to six months, during which time Mr. Morrison was “double-hatted” as the Americans say, as the Foreign and Defence Policy adviser (F&DP) to the Prime Minister.
Wark makes two trenchant observations about this double-hatting:
There should never be “acting” NSIAs for any period extending beyond a few days. Secondly, the roles of NSIA and F&DP Adviser should never be conflated, as this risks setting intelligence reporting against the pursuit of foreign and defence goals, when they may not align.
The Rideau Institute comments:
This blog post illuminates some of the systemic problems in government with the handling of intelligence as well as underlying concerns about its reliability and utility.
The trouble with intelligence agencies
Concerns about reliability and utility and the potential for abuse of intelligence have been a consistent preoccupation of the Rideau Institute. A recent court ruling does nothing to allay those concerns. The headline to this CBC story sums up the problem nicely:
CBSA thought he might be a Chinese spy. A federal judge called the intelligence ‘dubious.’
The federal government denied a 68-year-old Chinese citizen permanent residency last year after arguing he had trained Chinese spies — and might be one himself.
Intelligence assessment “dubious” and “overreaching”
But a recent Federal Court ruling says the information the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) used in its assessment of Liping Geng’s past was “dubious” and “overreaching,” raising questions about the credibility of CBSA’s intelligence wing.
“conclusions not backed up by evidence”
Justice Mosley ruled that the conclusions made by both the CBSA’s national security screening division and the immigration officers were not backed up by evidence.
The indispensable Wesley Wark, our favourite Canadian intelligence expert, said CBSA officials clearly struggled to conduct research:
Open source research conducted by CBSA was very limited and unprofessional.
It has scant internal knowledge of foreign state intelligence practices.
And perhaps most worrying is the fact that, in 2020, a Federal Court judge raised the same concerns over accusations by the CBSA’s war crimes investigation unit that a former Russian translator, Elena Crenna, was a post-Cold war spy:
It is remarkable to me how similar the errors that were made in judgment by CBSA about the Liping Geng case were to those made in the Elena Crenna case, which also revolved around ‘membership’ in an espionage organization and the facilitation of espionage.
The Rideau Institute comments,
The CBSA Intelligence Unit relied in part on a misguided CSIS assessment, underscoring once again the often-considerable chasm between intelligence assessments and the truth.
Our concluding comment in this section goes beyond the clear and pressing need for a major overhaul of how intelligence is handled, and the purposes it should serve, to the question of an overarching national security policy strategy or framework for Canada.
To this end, Wesley Wark provides yet another useful service in his review of the recent Danish foreign and security policy document and of the German national security strategy. See The Danes are doing it, the Germans too, can Canada be far behind? (wesleywark.substack.com, 20 June 2023).
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
It is precisely because of the importance of the foreign policy dimension of such a strategy that it would be unwise to proceed before the fundamental reset now underway at Global Affairs Canada is complete.
On the state of the conflict, we reference the Russia Analytical Report for June 12-20, 2023 in Russiamatters.org, a website of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, which summarizes a Wall Street Journal article on the Ukrainian counteroffensive now underway.
Ukrainians’ early setbacks are a sign that their offensive will be a long, deadly grind, and not a repeat of their rout of Russian troops in … Kharkiv region late last summer.
Likewise the Belfer Russia- Ukraine War Task Force Report Card of 21 June, 2023 reports:
June 21 update: No significant territorial change. Zelensky said counteroffensive is going “slower than desired,” but compared it to fall counteroffensive which eventually had sudden breakthrough. Net territorial change in the past month: Ukraine +91 square miles.
Building Peace in Ukraine
Against this somber backdrop, we are extremely pleased to present a Hill Times article by renowned Canadian peace and security expert Ernie Regehr entitled Towards a deliberately built peace: the inevitable negotiations on Ukraine (23 June 2023), the under banner of which reads:
The likelihood of either side in this war ever being in a position to dictate settlement terms to the other is remote, and that means talks are inevitable.
The article is based on a longer Food for Thought paper, To Silence the Guns in Ukraine, developed by Ernie Regehr and others, following a Canadian Pugwash Group November 2022 expert round table, organized by the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW), over steps needed to get to a ceasefire, an essential early step in negotiating a durable peace.
Ernie Regehr offers a compelling distillation of the longer paper on why peace negotiations are both inevitable and essential for a just peace, beginning with an admonition to us all:
The international community has a duty to be as vigorous and determined in pursuit of a just peace as it has been in support of the [Ukrainian] right of self-defence.
While we urge everyone to read it in its entirety, we highlight these key insights from the article:
[A]rguing for whatever-is-needed-for-as-long-as-it takes …[means] the prospects of thousands more dying, more [destruction]… recovery indefinitely deferred … the risks of escalation to the unparalleled horror of nuclear attack and the growing possibility of war spreading to neighbouring countries.
Despite Ukraine and Russia resisting negotiations at this time, and while continuing to support Ukraine’s defence,
it is only prudent to start getting ready for the inevitable. Readiness is as important to negotiating peace as it is to fighting a war.
Such preparations could include:
- Support by middle powers like Canada and Brazil to “proactively explore” a mechanism to prepare the way for a peace process;
- The appointment by the USA, NATO and others of peace envoys to investigate ceasefire and peace process possibilities; and
- Consultations with the warring parties and independent experts on dialogue mechanisms, and the development of an “inventory” of credible proposals.
Regehr forcefully reminds us of the key issues that simply cannot be settled on the battlefield:
- The governance and sovereignty questions in Ukraine that long pre-date the war and which armed force cannot resolve;
- The status of Crimea where only a “credible participatory process” for its population will lead to a long-term settlement; and
- The geographic reality that requires the redefining and restructuring of the Ukraine-Russia relationship if stable relations between the two countries are ever to be attained;
As for Europe and beyond, Regehr writes:
And there is broad acknowledgement that the international strategic order will not be stabilized after the war without a new modus operandi among the United States, NATO, Russia, and ultimately China. Russia came to the present disastrous war with genuine security grievances. None of those in any way justified invading Ukraine, but future stability requires that they, too, be addressed.
The article ends with these wise comments:
it’s not too late for the steadfast support of Ukraine to be expanded to include the exploration of a path toward an early, just, and durable peace.
Peace is not a by-product of war. It has to be deliberately designed and constructed.
For those without a subscription to the Hill Times, we are pleased to provide the article, with the kind permission of the author, available in PDF format HERE.
It is possible to implement incremental agreements and partial ceasefires even for short periods. This can shift the conflict parties towards dialogue.
See also the Report of the Canadian Pugwash Group Peace Table, which includes some important benefits of a ceasefire in rebuilding at least a modicum of trust between the warring parties, available in PDF format HERE.
Lessons from history: the danger of punitive reparations
In an article for the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs entitled How Wars Don’t End: Ukraine, Russia and the Lessons of World War I (12 June 2023), Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan contrasts the punitive reparations imposed on Germany following World War I and the US Marshall Plan for rebuilding the countries of Western Europe following WWII.
In her conclusion, she contends that some measure of “favourable outcome” for Ukraine in the war, will not be sufficient, and warns that
if the West does not make a sustained effort to help Ukraine rebuild—and if Western leaders are determined to treat Russia as a permanent pariah—then the future for both countries will be one of misery, political instability, and revanchism.
ADDENDUM IN LIGHT OF ALLEGED MUTINY IN RUSSIA OF WAGNER GROUP LEADER
The CBC headline relating to Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s open challenge to Putin’s conduct of the war against Ukraine reads Putin’s iron grip severely weakened after Wagner mercenaries march on Moscow (Briar Stewart, 24 June 2023) and probably reflects more wishful thinking than hard facts.
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
While this manifest disarray in Russia will likely provide Ukraine with a timely morale boost, those hoping for Putin’s early demise should be careful about what they wish for. There is no indication his replacement will be less hawkish or more able to consolidate his hold on power in a country bristling with nuclear weapons.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons