Unless the democracies stand up — and stand together — there will be more Ukraines
Colin Robertson, Special to Financial Post Mar 01, 2022
Our fraying rules-based international order is in danger of unravelling completely. Might makes right is enjoying a come-back. Unless the democracies stand up — and stand together — there will be more Ukraines. Democracy, under assault at home and from outside, is on the line. For Canada, standing up means we need to increase our defence and security premiums and, in concert with our democratic allies, rethink our global strategy
Bob Rae, our ambassador to the United Nations, got it right when he tweeted that Vladimir Putin is a “war criminal” and that “every possible assistance must be provided the people and government of Ukraine.” For now, that will mean money and equipment, including arms, to the Ukrainian patriots resisting Russian aggression, as well as humanitarian aid through the Red Cross and other organizations for the victims of the war, especially the displaced within Ukraine. We also need to open our doors to those who do not want to live under the Russian yoke.
After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Canada was the first western nation to recognize Ukrainian independence. The ties of history and family are strong, especially in western Canada, with over 1.4 million Canadians claiming Ukrainian roots. Canadian governments, both Conservative and Liberal, have actively supported initiatives to grow and strengthen Ukrainian governance and, since 2015, to help train Ukraine’s armed forces.
The great strength of democracies is our fundamental belief in norms of fairness and decency. But Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping have never shared these values. A democratic and prosperous Taiwan and a Ukraine moving in that direction disprove their claim that autocracy is superior to democracy. And let’s not delude ourselves, if Putin gets away with Ukraine, Xi will soon swallow Taiwan.
The weakness of the West is our failure to robustly defend our values. But push back we must and so the next tranche of sanctions must bite not just the personal pocketbooks of President Putin, his cronies and kleptocratic entourage, but their passports as well. Why should they and their families enjoy their mansions in London, study at Harvard or skiing in the Rockies?
The West also needs to continue beefing up its deterrence through NATO’s collective security alliance. At their Wales summit in 2014 the allies each pledged to commit two per cent of their GDP to defence spending by 2024. Canada currently spends just 1.39 per cent, which means we are outpaced by all our NATO G7 partners: the United States (3.52 per cent), the United Kingdom (2.29), France (2.01), Germany (1.53, and rising to at least 2.0, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced in the wake of the Russian invasion), and Italy (1.41).
Our habit of seeing the world as we would like it to be is no longer sustainable. As John F. Kennedy put it, “only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.” Surrounded by three oceans, and with the Russians and Chinese now active in the Arctic, we need a deployable, combat-capable Navy with destroyers, frigates, submarines, and attendant air and logistical support.
In addition to the ongoing disinformation and cyberattacks, Putin may decide to counter western sanctions by cutting off the Russian energy supplies to which our European allies, especially Germany, are addicted. Canada and the United States need to help out by ramping up production and getting tankers across the Atlantic (another reason we need more Navy). In the longer term, as a matter of national security, we need gas pipelines to both coasts and the LNG terminals that complement them.
As of last week, we live in a much messier and meaner world. The defining struggle going forward is between democracy and autocracy. Checks on abuse of power and human rights violations have eroded. Democracy is on the back foot. Freedom House reports 16 consecutive years of decline in global freedom, with fully 38 per cent of the world’s population living in “not free” countries, 42 per cent in only “partly free” countries and just 20 per cent — only one in five people on the planet — in “free” countrie
No democracy is perfect, but Canada’s is clearly in the top tier. We can share our experience, especially in managing pluralism, which is increasingly important in an age where tribalism and identity politics are on the rise. The Trudeau government needs to move now on its long-promised initiative to help advance “peace, order and good government.”
In the decades after World War II, the United Nations promoted the notion of fundamental rights. Canadian John Humphrey was instrumental in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During the Cold War the democracies actively advanced, albeit imperfectly, the cause of liberty and representative institutions in their domestic and foreign policies. It was all part and parcel of the larger effort to create an open, rules-based international system built on shared resistance to totalitarianism.
The system worked so well that we have enjoyed a remarkable period of peace and prosperity. But complacency set in. We are now called on once again to redeem and reinforce the norms and rules that ensure our democratic values and protect our way of life.