Chairman's Desk

The world is waking up to a new security reality. It’s time Canada did the same

When Russia first began its illegal invasion of Ukraine, the entire world seemed to stop for a moment. We watched in disbelief as a European ally — a modern democracy and major trading partner — was invaded by a foreign power.

In short order, the Western world sprang to action, launching the most severe sanctions in history and demonstrating both the unity and the resolve of our alliance. The costs for Russia are real, but even the most optimistic view concedes the sanctions will not deter Vladimir Putin.

Worse yet, his campaign has grown all the more brazen and murderous: shelling residential neighbourhoods, targeting women and children in clearly defined shelters, and using brute force against civilians in an effort to terrorize the Ukrainian people. There is no doubt about it — Putin is committing war crimes, and U.S. President Joe Biden was absolutely right to call a spade a spade.

The president of Ukraine, for his part, has not stopped. For the past two weeks, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has relentlessly appealed to Western governments for military aid and a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over his country. Addressing our own House of Commons, Zelenskyy expressed his frustration that in return, allies “express their deep concern about the situation. When we talk with our partners, they say please hold on a little longer.”

It’s difficult to argue with Zelenskyy, but nonetheless essential to remember that for all its appeal, a no fly-zone would entail NATO forces engaging Russian air power — a bridge too far for an alliance intent on avoiding all-out confrontation.

But as parts of Ukraine are transformed into a hellish theatre of war, the rest of the world is waking up to a new global reality. The consequences are astonishing. Countries around the world have responded to an increasingly hostile landscape with bold action to undo decades of policy consensus, informed by their history.

Germany, for one, has increased defence spending to roughly two per cent of GDP, after decades of extreme self-restraint on its military capabilities. As a result, the world’s most pacifist major power will now instead become its third-biggest military spender.

Likewise, there is now talk in Japan of potentially hosting U.S. nuclear arms on the soil of a country that has never forgotten the pain of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But as Japan sees China revaluating its stance in light of Russian aggression, the only nation to ever suffer a nuclear attack is reconsidering what truly poses the greatest threat to its security.

This shift extends far beyond Japan and Germany, to countries around the world — including China — that are imagining their place within a new security framework.

Canada, for its part, must recognize this transformation and decide what it means for us. Our military procurement systems are among the worst in the Western world, and successive governments have failed to meaningfully secure our Arctic — while Russia has built up its military presence in the region.

Now is the time to change that. It is incumbent on the prime minister to recognize that our authority as a NATO member relies on far more than our “convening” power.

While it seems unlikely now, threats to Arctic sovereignty are mounting as Russia grows more belligerent and shipping lanes become more easily accessible.

Like our allies around the world, Canada seems to be waking up to this new dawn; on Wednesday, American and Canadian forces announced military exercises in the Arctic. It’s a promising sign, but whether it portends a serious effort to beef up our presence remains to be seen.

Simply put, Canada cannot afford to sleepwalk while our allies — to say nothing of our enemies — redefine their stances on global security. Our country once played an important role as a broker and convenor, yes, but also as a military power which upheld its commitments and defended its strategic interests. In a world consumed by change, it’s time to re-evaluate those interests.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on March 20, 2022.

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