Canada’s Policy Position on the Ukraine War: The Ugly Reasons
Canada’s number one foreign policy challenge is Ukraine. To date, Canada has sunk nearly $3 billion into this war and Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have been full-throated in their support for Ukraine and its entry into NATO.
To many, Justin Trudeau is an unserious person who cares very little about foreign policy issues. To that, add the fact the man seems a bit of a pacifist, or at the very least, he’s the least military-inclined leader in the West. When you put it all together, it makes Canada’s aggressive position on the war a rather peculiar one.
Would you like to know the many reasons why Canada is supporting the endless war in Ukraine? Then read on.
But first, it’s important to acknowledge the following point:
Russia is Not a Threat to Canada (or NATO).
As best I can tell, there are two reasons to justify Canada’s engagement in Ukraine. First, as a democratic country, Canada is standing by its democratic cousin Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and despotism. Second, as a member of NATO, we see the fight in Ukraine as necessary to prevent Russia from storming into Eastern Europe or the Baltics.
Both rationales are poorly informed. Regarding the first, we are not helping to defend a democratic cousin. Rather, all available evidence points to the fact that Ukraine is a proxy state created by the US. To be clear: Ukraine is a tool of US foreign policy. Aside from enriching the President of the United States’ immediate family members, the Americans see Ukraine as a tool to provoke and contain Russia. Is that foreign policy objective in the interest of Canada? I’m not sure it is, but that’s another post.
Beyond this reality, the level of corruption in Ukraine (which existed long before the start of the war) is so widespread and deep, it is more accurate to call the country a kleptocracy versus a democracy. In the years 2020 to 2022, on the world’s corruption index, Ukraine was ranked 76th, languishing well behind countries such as Ecuador, Kuwait, Cuba, and China. By way of reference, Canada’s ranking was 14th (not a great result btw, but again, that’s another post).
The truth is that aside from there being several hundred thousand Canadians who have some kind of family connection with Ukraine, Canada has almost no geopolitical reason to throw in so vigorously with Zelinsky and his crew.
Moving to the point that Russia is a military threat to the rest of Europe and that it is in NATO’s best interest to fight Russia in Ukraine than in one of its member countries (say Latvia or Poland), it became abundantly clear to NATO that by the first month of the invasion that Russia is and remains an incompetent shadow of the Red Army that marched from outskirts of Moscow to Berlin in the final year of WWII.
By almost every measure, Russia is a third-world state. And critically, this was known before the start of the conflict in Ukraine. The very idea that a country with an economy that is 1/14th the size of the United States would be able to take on the whole of NATO is beyond ludicrous. Combined, NATO’s defense spending is seventeen times what Russia spends on its military ($1.2 trillion vs $66 billion). Setting aside Russia’s nuclear weapons, find me the analyst in all of the Western world that would be able to argue with a straight face that Russia was a threat to NATO in February 2021, so I can give him the verbal beat down he so rightly deserves.
Which brings me to Canada. The idea that Russia is in any way a threat to Canada, which would require Canada to go all in on supporting the war in Ukraine is not an argument worth debating. Outside of a crazed Russian president who’s prepared to set the world on fire with nuclear weapons, there is no scenario where Russia presents a viable threat to Canada itself.
So if Ukraine is a corrupt backwater and Russia isn’t a threat, what are the reasons Canada is supporting the Ukraine War?
Reason 1: To Hide our own Paltry Defence Spending.
First and foremost, we are pouring money into Ukraine to deflect from the fact we don’t fund our own military. Canada is defense spending laggard. We invest a paltry 1.3 percent of GDP into defending our county and Canada has been resoundingly criticized for this. But now with the war in Ukraine in full effect, when our Prime Minister is criticized for our woeful funding of the Canadian military underfunding, he can point to the oversized spending Canada has made to Ukraine.
If you’re the Liberals, this approach makes good political sense. Ukraine is the issue de jour. If the Liberals can win political points by investing a couple of billion dollars into this conflict while deflecting attention from their anemic spending on defence, this represents a winning proposition the LPC. They would much rather invest $2-5 billion into Ukraine over the next two years than begin to invest $16-19 billion annually, which is the amount that would be needed to bring Canada up to NATO’s 2% spending objective.
And think of the timing. What’s going to happen in two years in Canada? An election! And during this election every time Trudeau is asked about Canada’s shameful defence spending, he’ll point to Ukraine and say that we overspent relative to most other nations. All give Mr. Trudeau and his advisors this – it’s a crafty strategy. Spend $4 billion to avoid spending $50-80 billion properly fund the Canadian military. Politically, it’s a good calculation.
Let me be clear. Using Ukraine as a bait-and-switch tactic to avoid properly spending on Canada’s defence is a disingenuous tactic and it’s the worst kind of leadership.
Reason 2: US Foreign Policy should not be Canadian Foreign Policy
Instead of getting into the details about the relationship between US political elites and the military industrial complex, I’m going to suggest that you listen to one of Glenn Greenwald’s many recent excellent podcasts on the Ukraine war and how this terrible conflict has been pushed and propped up by the Washington elite. His analysis is compelling to say the least.
By helping to fuel the war in Ukraine, the Liberal Party of Canada is directly strengthening the US military industrial complex and their allies in the Washington elite. It is this Washington-driven worldview more than anything else that is a risk to the Canadian national interest.
While the political acrimony in the United States is as brutal as it has ever been, there is one issue the Democrats and the Republicans continue to agree on, and that’s the need to wage war. In the case of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine, the political elites in the United States have been in lock-step and this isn’t going to change any time soon.
So why is it that the Laurentian elite are adamantly supporting the Washington elite and their current military adventure? The answers are many and complex, but if I had to flag the top reasons they would be:
- The Democratic Party and the Liberal Party of Canada are ideological bedfellows. Barak Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Joe Biden have all directly or indirectly campaigned for Justin Trudeau. The Liberals of Canada want and need Democratic support to be elected.
- Beyond getting elected, it is my belief that there is an unspoken quid pro quo between the Liberal Party of Canada and the Washington elite (this includes reps from both parties) that goes something like this: If you (Canada) support us on our foreign policy endeavors, we (the US) will not press you on defence or security issues, leaving you to spend on domestic issues. In my opinion, this is why the Washington elite are relatively quiet on Liberal’s defense spending and the Liberal’s unwillingness to take on leadership role on such issues as Haiti. Effectively, the deal is: you support whole sale on our foreign policy and we’ll turn a blind eye to your anemic defence spending.
To be very clear, Canada should make its own foreign policy decisions. If you take a hard look at the facts regarding the Ukraine conflict, you will see there are no compelling reason for Canada to be investing billions of dollars into this conflict other than the Democrats and other elites in Washington are demanding that we support their latest foreign policy adventure.
Canada should separate itself from whatever control, obligations, or favors we owe to people in Washington and chart our own path on NATO and the war in Ukraine.
[As an aside, it wasn’t always like this. Back in 2003, then-Liberal PM Jean Chrétien opted not to send the Canadian military into Iraq. I don’t have fond memories of Mr. Chrétien but on this policy issue, he was 100% correct].
What Should Canada’s Policy be Regarding Ukraine?
First and quickly, it’s worth re-stating that Russia is not a military threat to Canada or NATO (per the above).
In Canada, we’ve had two referendums on Quebec sovereignty. If one of them had passed, I can assure you we wouldn’t have sent in the tanks. Instead, we would have honored the democratic process and negotiated an amicable divorce. Why shouldn’t it be the same in Ukraine?
I won’t disagree that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a terrible thing and there’s a part of me that thinks the bloody nose the Russians have received is a good and appropriate thing. If nothing else, Ukraine will serve as an excellent reminder to Russia of how pathetic its military is and how quickly it would lose a conventional war if it did elect to invade a NATO country.
But the fact of the matter is that there are provinces in Ukraine that would vote to stay with Russia if a referendum was held. Countries break up all the time and in many cases, a break up is better for all involved. What makes Ukraine so special that we need to invest billions of dollars into a war that is killing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians?
As a middle power, Canada must be a practical country, and the practical (and obvious) solution to the Ukraine conflict is to facilitate an end of the war that sees Ukraine become a cohesive and viable country that is free from a war it cannot win. The people of Ukraine have done themselves proud. They have fought against and successfully pushed back Russian aggression. Not every country in history can say make this claim. A Ukraine that doesn’t include its eastern provinces is still Ukraine and it can be rebuilt and can become a modern and successful country.
Instead of supporting an endless war that can only lead to more suffering, Canada, as a practical middle power that has experience with peacekeeping and democratic separations, should take on a leadership role to facilitate divorce proceedings between Ukraine and those parts of it that would prefer to be part of the Russian state.
Briefly, here are the specific steps we should be taking:
Step 1: Canada should be the first in NATO country to propose that Ukraine be given no more than 9 months of military and financial support at current levels and that by the 9-month mark, it must have a negotiated deal with Russia. At the six-month mark, if Ukraine is not in active negotiations with Russia to end the war, NATO’s financial and military support will cease immediately.
Step 2: In whatever agreement is reached, Canada with its NATO partners would ensure the following principles are incorporated:
- For the next twenty-five years, Ukraine will not be permitted to join NATO
- That NATO will continue to support Ukraine militarily but it will only provide weapons and equipment that is truly defensive in nature. These assets include: mines (anti-personnel and anti-tank); man-portable ant-tank weapons; anti-air weapons; construction equipment, and various defensive supplies (e.g., concertina wire, barbed wire, concrete, etc).
- That the members of NATO will fund a multi-billion dollar infrastructure program in Ukraine that is intimately linked with anti-corruption requirements.
So there you have it. To summarize, Canada’s engagement in the war in Ukraine is driven by the Liberal’s unwillingness to fund the Canadian military in favour of more popular domestic spending and the Liberal’s need to curry favour with the Democratic Party and their allies in the Washington elite so as to ensure these powerful American actors maintain their support for a dominant Liberal Party in Canada.
The way forward on Ukraine would see Canada and other willing partners propose a viable path that acknowledges parts of Ukraine will become part of Russia, and that which remains of Ukraine will be supported and rebuilt by NATO and other interested countries.
Ryan Flannagan is the author of Take Whiteman, A CANZUK at War novel. Visit Ryan’s website: www.raflannagan.ca to learn more about Ryan and his writing.