Ukraine could become the theatre of a proxy war

Despite delusions of grandeur on the part of President Putin, Russia is no longer a superpower.

image: Telecom Review

Putin imagines a restoration of the glorious The Soviet Union when it spanned Eurasia from 1922 to 1991. Back then, it included multiple national republics including Ukraine.

It was a superpower to be feared. In the Sixties part of my job for Alberta Government Telephones, now TELUS, was to maintain a communications link between a string of radar stations in Canada’s North to a command centre in Colorado. It was called the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) and built in response to the threat of a potential Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) attack from the Soviet Union.

Russia, while not as powerful as The Soviet Union, still represents a threat to world order. Canada is nervously looking over the North Pole at Putin’s erratic adventures in Ukraine. Just how crazy is he? Could he have designs in the arctic?

However, the appetite for Russian arctic conquests will likely be dampened by the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine. There’s nothing like boys coming home in body bags to put you off further invasions. I think arctic dreams are far from Putin’s troubled mind.

Putin has deeper worries as the Russian economy tanks. He risks becoming a client state of China.

In a recent video meeting between President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping, they discussed what to do with the problem of Putin. Russia’s antics are a distraction from the superpowers’ agenda to divide up the world; the U.S. with its hegemonic control through globalization and China through its Belt and Road infrastructure program to bring the resources of the world to China.

Taiwan continues to be a contentious issue between the U.S. and China. Biden calls China’s actions in the Taiwan Strait coercive and provocative. China regards the island state as theirs.

 The U.S. has sent weapons worth more than $2 billion to Ukrainians to fight the Russian invasion, including Stinger anti-aircraft systems and Javelin light anti-armor weapons.

Russia has asked China for weapons to bolster the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine.

The transformation of Russia as a client state of China began in 2014, when Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled to Beijing after the annexation of Crimea.

Following the annexation and with sanctions from the West, there was a $400 billion deal to supply gas to China.  In 2017, Chinese banks provided US$12-billion in funding for a liquefied natural gas project on Russia’s Yamal Peninsula.

With further sanctions from the West over Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, Russia is more dependent on China. Helena Legarda, a lead analyst at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies, says:

“With the West and many allies and partners around the globe united in sanctioning Russia, the country’s economy is bound to take a severe hit, and only a few countries will be willing and able to help Russia mitigate this. China’s economic support will be key.”

It looks like a long war in Ukraine that can only be financed by the U.S. and China. The Ukraine will become a battle field in which China and the U.S. fight a proxy war.

China could learn propaganda techniques from the U.S.

China’s attempts to control the impression that the world has of China at the Beijing Winter Olympics is clumsy compared to propaganda used by the U.S. during the First World War.

image: Amazon

Back then, the U.S. showed how reporters and can be recruited to carry positive messages around the world.

China is making a mistake by increasing the control and intimidation of reporters.

Unlike the last time when Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008, visiting reporters will not be able to travel around either the country or the city itself, but will instead be confined to a “closed loop” bubble with limited interaction even with athletes taking part in the Games.

According to a report from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China:

“The Chinese state continues to find new ways to intimidate foreign correspondents, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press seeks to interview, via online trolling, physical assaults, cyber hacking, and visa denials.”

The U.S. successfully overcame resistance to the First World War by using public relations techniques.

In 1917, the U.S. had joined the Allied forces in defeating Germany. But Americans had voted for President Woodrow Wilson because he had promised to keep them out of war. Recent immigrants and radical working-class organizations viewed the war as an imperialist rivalry between states that served industrial elites.

To overcome the opposition to the war, Wilson hired public opinion guru Walter Lippmann to gain national and international support for the war.

“Wilson used his executive power to establish the Committee on Public Information (CPI) for the purpose of rallying US and world opinion to the cause of defeating Germany and promoting the supremacy of the United States’ liberal democratic capitalist ideals (Hearts and Mines, Tanner Mirrlees).”

The head of the CPI said: “recognition of Public Opinion as a major force” made the First World War different “from previous conflicts in that it necessitated a “fight for the minds of men, for the conquest of their convictions. There was no part of the great war machinery that we did not touch, no medium of appeal that we did not employ,”

One of the targets in the public relations exercise was the foreign-language press. The CPI opened press offices in every world capital. The federal agency also provided war correspondents with its own content.

The CPI brought reporters from around the world to the U.S. so they might “see with their own eyes, hear with their own ears,” the power and resolve of the United States.

While travelling the U.S., the foreign newsmakers sent home daily reports by cable and by mail, and on returning home, they wrote glowing news articles and lectured to promote U.S. aims.

Importantly, because these journalists were not directly affiliated with the U.S. government, their depiction of the United States seemed more credible and trustworthy. Every column carried weight because it came from the pen of a writer in whom the readers had confidence.

China’s attempt to harass and intimidate reporters at the Beijing Winter Olympics is counterproductive from a public relations point of view. It will simply reinforce the impression that the West has of a country under siege.

The divide with the U.S. will widen in 2022

The gap between Canadian and American values will grow wider in 2022.

image: Globe and Mail

Once, what seems long ago, we were happy with our southerly neighbours. The mood soured with the improbable election of Donald Trump in 2017. Then the proportion of Canadians who saw the United States as “a negative force in today’s world” grew to 6 out of 10. In the eyes of Canadians, that made America the most negative country.

Canadians even saw North Korea as less negative than the U.S.  North Korea  was second at 46 per cent.

Before the election of Trump, we had an overwhelmingly positive opinion of the U.S.

And why not? We have historically had a positive opinion of the U.S. for good reason. Our friends, relatives, and business partners in the U.S. are often within driving range.

My dad was born in the U.S. and became a Canadian citizen when he married my mom. I often visited my aunt in Ventura, California when she was still alive.

Like many Canadians, I once saw the United States as a bustling place where exciting developments in technology and culture were constantly taking shape.

Today, I see a dangerously fractured society that is diminished and dangerous.

Political events in the U.S. are alarming.

One year ago the impossible happened when thousands of radicalized, ill-informed Americans stormed the Capitol building to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden as president.

It’s astonishing that 39 percent of the Republican Party refuse to accept Biden as president.

The angry mob that attacked The Capital was encouraged by the maniacal demigod Donald Trump. They included present and former members of the military.

As the anniversary of the insurrection on January 6 approaches, three retired U.S. generals have warned that another insurrection could occur after the 2024 presidential election and that the military could instigate it.

In their article in the Washington Post they said: “In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.”

One of those generals, retired General Paul Eaton, told National Public Radio in the U.S.:

“I believe that we need to war-game the possibility of a problem and what we are going to do. The fact that we were caught completely unprepared — militarily, and from a policing function — on Jan. 6 is incomprehensible to me. Civilian control of the military is sacrosanct in the U.S. and that is a position that we need to reinforce.”

Trump channels the values and attitudes of a segment of American society whose numbers and influence are in decline: generally older, white voters, disproportionately male, who are alarmed by demographic and social change.

Pollster Michael Adams finds a widening gap between U.S. Democrats and Republicans that is not evident in Canada (Globe and Mail, January 1, 2022)

Even Albertans, generally said to be the most conservative Canadians, are more likely to be aligned with Democrats in the U.S. than Republicans.

As for the Conservative Party, the social values of its supporters are much more similar to those of Liberal supporters than the values of Republicans.

The ugly wound on the American body politic will not heal in the foreseeable future.

Canadians can only look nervously to the south at the unraveling of a once proud nation.

Five nations, one Arctic

Canada, the U.S., Russia, Denmark and Norway lay claim to parts of the Arctic. It’s not a trivial matter -30 per cent of the world’s gas reserves, 13 per cent of oil reserves, as well as iron and rare earth minerals lay beneath the rapidly melting icecap.

image: Athropolis

Science can inform the decision as to who owns what, and diplomacy could play a role as long as the hotheads stay out of the way.

Cooperation has been a hallmark of Arctic operations in the past in areas of search and rescue and military coordination. But that was when the Arctic was covered with an impenetrable sheet of ice, out of sight, out of mind.

Who owned the seabed of the under Earth’s oceans used to be easy. In the 1600s, nations extended their territory the distance that a cannon ball could be shot (three miles).

As the resources of the seas began to be exploited some nations ignored the three-mile limit. To resolve the matter, 160 countries agreed to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982. Sovereign rights could then be extended to 200 nautical miles from their shoreline; and even beyond that if nations could present detailed geologic evidence of the extensions of their continental shelves.

Continental shelves are the areas that stretch out under relatively shallow waters before dropping into the deep sea. However, the rights to the continental shelves apply only to the seabed, not the waters above. Fishing and navigation in those waters remain open.

So far, the determination of sovereign rights to the seabed is fairly straightforward. The tricky part is determining exactly where the continental shelf ends and the deep sea floor begins. Canadian geophysicist David Moser, formerly from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia and now professor at the University of New Hampshire, says: “that’s where all the science is (Scientific American, August, 2019).”

An international body, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), has been set up to review claims. The CLCS has received claims from Canada, Russia and Denmark that overlap. The U.S. isn’t expected to make a claim until 2022 but it will likely overlap with Canada’s claim in different area. It’s going to take years to sort it out. And the U.S. claim is weakened by the fact that they never signed UNCLOS although they are cooperating with the agency so far, but who knows how much longer with the current U.S. administration?

As if things weren’t complicated enough, another factor is muddying the waters. UNCLOS allows for nations to extend sovereignty beyond continental shelves to ridges. UNCLOS doesn’t define exactly what a ridge is other than a wide band extending from continental shelf.

One of those ridges, the Lomonosov Ridge, is massive. It divides the Arctic Ocean in half, stretching all the way from Russia to Canada’s Ellesmere Island and next to Greenland. All three countries have made claims on the Lomonosov Ridge.

It’s going to take years to sort through the science. Where the science is unclear, a diplomatic resolution is required. Meanwhile political leaders must be patient.

Another complication is the belligerence of the current U.S. administration. In June, the U.S. Department of Defense warns of an “era of strategic completion,” and “a potential avenue for . . . aggression” in the Arctic.

The rapidly-warming warming of the Arctic is enough of a problem without the addition of hot rhetoric.

Canadians look beyond America

For the first time in decades, Canadians are more likely to hold a negative view of the U.S. than positive. According to a survey by the Environics Institute, it’s the lowest ever with only 44 per cent saying that they hold a positive view of the U.S.

     image: openeurope.org.uk

It happened overnight says Doug Saunders:

“It is not a subtle drift – Canadians were overwhelmingly positive about the United States as recently as 2016, until Donald Trump’s inauguration put a majority into the anti-American column. The proportion of Canadians who see the United States as “a negative force in today’s world” is now almost 6 in 10, a 12-per-cent rise over 2008, making America by far the most negative country in the eyes of Canadians (Globe and Mail, April 16).”

Canadians see the U.S. even more negatively than even North Korea which is second at 46 per cent.

The U.S. and Britain used to be viewed as “standing out as a positive force in today’s world.” Now Germany is number one, Britain has fallen to second place, and Sweden has risen to third.

While we don’t share languages, we do see similar values in Germany and Sweden.  Those two countries took in two-thirds of Europe’s refugees during the crisis of 2016 at a time when President Trump was denouncing them. And they have avoided far-right governments, which make them look more like Canada.

Canadians look globally in terms of trade. Almost three-quarters of Canadians have a “very favourable” view on international trade. Even NAFTA is more popular than ever. Two-thirds of us say that it “helped rather than hurt” Canada -the highest level since the agreement took effect in 1994.

It may seem as though whatever Trump is against we favour, but it’s not just anti-Trumpism.

Peace defines Canada as much as war. Much has been made of the battle of Vimy Ridge as a defining moment for our country. However, peace played a significant role in shaping Canadian values. Pollster for Environics Institute, Michael Adams, says:

“In recent decades, Canadians have consistently named peacekeeping as their country’s most notable contribution to world affairs since Pearson’s Nobel Prize. This sentiment has held through both Canada’s World surveys that the Environics Institute has carried out, first in 2008 and in 2018 (Globe and Mail, April 16).”

Canadians are more connected than Americans. Anatoliy Gruzd, one of the authors of a recent report The State of Social Media in Canada, told CBC Radio’s Spark:

“Canada is one of the most connected countries in the world. There are twice as many Twitter users than the U.S. per capita. We are very outside-looking. We want to know world events (Mar. 11, 2018)”

Facebook is the most popular social medium with 84 per cent of Canadians having an account. YouTube is second at 59 per cent.

Canada is a nation of immigrants and, unlike the current U.S. president, we value them as an asset not a liability. Canadians look to the world, not only because trade is vital to our economy and to keep in touch with families in home countries, but because we see ourselves as part of a global community.

 

B.C.’s Carbon Tax not as advertised

B.C.’s carbon tax is praised nationally and internationally as achieving the best of both worlds: reducing CO2 emissions (GHG) without weakening our economy. I wish that it were true because I take pride in B.C.’s  leadership.

carbon tax

B.C.’s economy has not been hurt, but that’s because our carbon tax is small compared to other taxes.  The carbon tax is only 7 cents per litre compared to 30 cents per litre for fuel tax, excise tax, and GST.

The only way that B.C. meets its target for GHG reduction is by buying debatable carbon credits, not through the carbon tax. Marc Lee, senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, explains the mischief:

“The B.C. government makes the dubious claim that they met their interim GHG reduction target for 2012 of 6% below 2007 levels. Even then, B.C.’s numbers showed only a 4.4% drop, which, as noted, involves a one-time drop from 2008 to 2009. The claim of 6% reduction is based on the purchase of bogus carbon credits (offsets), making it more fiction than fact.”

The trouble with the purchase of offsets is that there is no detailed reporting on how offsets were used. The whole scheme suffers from “massive credibility problems” after a scathing report by the auditor general.

The 4.4 per cent drop in GHG wasn’t because of the carbon tax. It was because of the Great Recession of 2008 when the world saw a reduction because of slowing economies. Even the U.S. reduced GHG. Between 2007 and 2009, emissions fell by 10 per cent, half of it due to less coal burned, half due to the recession. The Smithsonian magazine says:

“In effect, more than half the carbon decline was due to a drastic drop in the volume of goods consumed by the U.S. population.”

Even the claim that B.C.’s economy was not hurt by the carbon tax is suspect; all of Canada’s economy grew. From 2008 to 2013, B.C.’s economy grew by 12.6 per cent while Canada was 15.1 per cent.

“If we go to constant dollars, there is a very slight edge to B.C. over Canada, but it works out to 0.07% per year in GDP growth rates.”

Our carbon tax could be something worth bragging about if it was significant. With relatively low fuel costs, now would be the time to increase them. If the tax was increased from the current $30/tonne to $200/tonne, fuel prices would only increase to what they were last year.

And since the carbon tax is revenue neutral, there would be no net increase in taxes. Even then, a better idea would be to invest the tax in renewable energy and public transit to lower GHG further. Meanwhile, let’s get real about our carbon tax.

“We need to stop telling fairy tales about the province’s climate action policies and its carbon tax (and I say this as a general supporter of carbon taxes).”

B.C.’s Premier Clark has a lot of explaining to do. Her proposed LNG project will result in the province exceeding targets. Clark’s new plan to be released by December will tell us whether our pride in the carbon tax is warranted.

Update on the Iraqi quagmire.

It’s time for the tredecennial review of the quagmire in Iraq. In my 2002 column, I cautioned:

“If Iraq were completely destroyed, it will break in three: a Shiite protectorate of Iran in the South, a Kurdish state in the north and a small Sunni state in the middle. That would completely destabilize the whole region, inflaming more conflict.”

SALADIN, IRAQ - AUGUST 31:  A Shiite militian flashes victory sign after Iraqi forces have entered the northern town of Amirli which had been under the siege of Islamic State militants for over two months in Saladin ,Iraq on August 31, 2014. Supported by Kurdish forces and Shiite militias, the Iraqi army launched an offensive shortly after the U.S. carried out airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) positions near the town, and dropped aid for the nearly 20,000 Shiite Turkmen trapped in Amirli. The government forces and Kurdish peshmerga forces have been fighting against the militant group to block their advance. (Stringer - Anadolu Agency)

(Stringer – Anadolu Agency)

Parts of that warning turned out to be true. Conflict has generated more conflict. The Kurds represent a coherent entity in the North, if not a Kurdish state. There is no Sunni state in the middle of Iraq but Anbar province is controlled by Sunni leaders of Saddam Hussein’s former party. Shiites are not just in the South. With the help of the U.S., they control government.

Whereas Canada declined involvement in the earlier invasion, now we are willing participants in the bombing of Iraq. The Harper government apparently believes that, while massive bombing didn’t fix the problem in the first place, a few more should do the trick.

Another difference is that the Prime Minster’s office sees the invasion as public relations opportunity. When Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the PMO issued a video reminiscent of U.S. President Bush’s macho response to the attacks of September 9, 2001. Reporter Patrick Graham describes the chest-thumping by the PMO:

“Three months after Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack [on Cirillo], the PMO put out a jingoistic video  –a montage of the cenotaph and the gunfight on Parliament Hill that included a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot punching the air; presumably after a successful mission. The takeaway: Avenge Corporal Cirillo. Bomb ISIS (Walrus magazine, June, 2015).”

Canada’s bravado avoids a vexing question. How were millions of Iraqis overcome by a few thousand ISIS fighters?

“As Canada continues –indeed escalates –its war with ISIS, politicians and policy-makers need to grapple with that question in a serious way,” says Graham. “But based on it public pronouncements thus far, there is little evidence that government’s analysis has gone beyond patriotic slogans and images of pumped-up fighter pilots.”

The Shiite-Sunni conflict has extended fourteen centuries. Relations were calm until Hussein came to power in the 1970s when he banned Shiite ceremonies and ruthlessly put down a Shiite uprising.

The opportunity for revenge came when a Shiite was installed as head of the Iraqi government. With Prime Minister Maliki in control of the army, Sunnis were arrested under the country’s anti-terrorism laws. Sunni tribal leaders, who had joined the U.S. fight against al Qaeda, were cut off from positions of power.

No wonder that many Sunnis have welcomed ISIS over a Shiite army. “From a Sunni point of view, the U.S. occupation simply was replaced with an occupation run by Tehran’s proxy armies [the Shiites].”

The undisciplined and corrupt Shiite army simply folded in the face of a small, determined, ISIS force. Army morale had been undermined by incompetent officers who were more interested in extortion than building confidence within the rank and file.

It will be interesting to see whether Canada’s new government will carry on with war as a public relations exercise or take a more nuanced approach. I’ll let you know in 13 years.