Two things caught my eye over the past couple of days:
- First, from The Dispatch, an article by Lieutenant General (Ret’d) Mike Day, who was commander of Joint Task Force Two ( JTF 2) and, later, of Canada’s Special Operations Forces Command, entitled “NATO and Canada’s national Interests;” and
- Second, from the Globe and Mail, an article by Mark MacKinnon, the Globe’s London based Senior International Correspondent, headlined “In words – and now actions – a new Cold War dawns.”
General Mike Day explains that “The decision to participate in NATO’s presence in Latvia … demonstrates NATO’s resolve, and by extension, Canada’s determination to continue to play an active role within NATO. Dismiss with impunity the criticism regarding the size of the force. The deterrence is not in the size but the presence, the force is a reminder of a larger commitment. This is not to say that it will deter Russia’s “Little Green Men” strategy, but it would stop the wholesale movement of a massed Russian military force into the Baltics as was seen in both the Crimea and in Eastern Ukraine. Ignore any protestations to the contrary: those actions were executed by the Russian military apparatus. Claims by Moscow to the alternative are patently, and demonstrably, ridiculous. By this measure, the positioning of a force in the Baltics is good geopolitical strategy and concurrently allows for continued military cohesion within NATO at a price that avoids being a road block to that cohesion.“
He is less convinced about the West’s support for Ukraine which he describes as being “Plagued by continued internal corruption with ongoing reports of service members and officials selling donated defence equipment; hampered by not being a member of NATO; and seemingly unable to create internal cohesion in its dialogue with Russia” … [therefore, he says] … “the questions abound as to why Canada is there and what we hope to achieve. Canada’s military should rightfully be considered a strategic tool for its government, the NATO mission in the Baltics provides a templated example of this. What then is the call for continued presence in Ukraine? We are “training” the Ukrainian military, a force which fought alongside its allies in Iraq and indeed was a partner in training the Iraqi military. Our military presence, well to the east of any conflict, will neither deter nor be physically and legally in a position to respond to the easily conceivable next step by Putin … [and, he asks] … Is the potential downside of appearing toothless in the face of aggression part of the strategic calculus?“
Mike Day concludes that “We should never be against using our military as an expression of our national interests nor be reluctant for them to play their part in supporting a coherent grand strategy to achieve national objectives. With regards to our continuing presence in the Ukraine, a reasonable argument can be made for and against supporting the Prime Minister’s comments on “having to fight for democracy.” Equally, there is room to explain its limitations so as to mitigate, in some degree, the potential downsides. Both arguments, to date, have been noticeably absent … [and] … After a year in office, it is reasonable to state that the policy of a physical military presence in the Ukraine is no longer an extension of a prior government’s commitment, but rather the active going forward policy of the Liberal Government. In addition to hearing the arguments from both sides, the debate could also serve as an expression of how we think about “peace support operations” in the larger sense. It is time to talk about our national objectives in the Ukraine and what role our military might or might not play in that strategy. Putin likely doesn’t care (and won’t be waiting for Canada to sort itself out) Canadians, however, should.“
Mark McKinnon, in the Globe and Mail, says that “A new Cold War, often declared by analysts and often denied by both governments, felt like a very real thing on Friday … [as] … The news alerts came in rapid succession: Finland reported Friday that its airspace had been violated by Russian warplanes. Then NATO member Estonia reported the same thing. Later, the Estonian government claimed it was tracking a ferry crossing the Baltic Sea that Tallinn said was delivering nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, a move one Western analyst likened to a “a Baltic version of the Cuban missile crisis.” … [and] … Then, Washington and Moscow began a dangerous war of words.“
It might be useful to remember (and I can, albeit just barely, from newsreels at the Saturday matinee) how the earlier Cold War started … it was Soviet “opportunistic adventurism” in the mid to late 1940s in Eastern Europe and then over access to Berlin which resulted in allied air forces lifting food and supplies to the beleaguered German city. There were eerie parallels to what we are seeing today in Crimea and on the borders of the Baltic states. Now, I have contended that the Cold war was, in effect, “won,” in 1959 but, in fact, it wasn’t until about 1985 that we, in the US led West, actually understood that we had won it and many were never quite sure when it happened. Canada didn’t start to seriously question the basis of allied cold war strategy until 1968, but then we did so for all the worst reasons. America didn’t back away until the the late 1980s and Britain didn’t acknowledge that the cold war was over until about 1990 … we all may have jumped too soon.
One theatre of the new cold war is Syria where, Mark MacKinnon reports: “The White House has let it be known in recent days that it was even pondering military action – likely in the form of air strikes against the Syrian military – as a method of trying to force an end to the siege. The Kremlin, which controls the airspace over Syria and recently bolstered the anti-aircraft defences around its base in the northwest of the country with sophisticated S-300 and S-400 missile systems, has let it be known it would open fire on any warplanes it saw as a threat to its forces.“
More seriously, Mr MacKinnon says, “The delivery of the Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad, if it happened … [and the Public Radio International (PRI) report linked above suggests it did] … may be the most serious development. From Kaliningrad, 15,000 square kilometres of Russian territory wedged between NATO members Poland and Lithuania, the missiles can target anywhere in Poland or the Baltic states … [because] … In 2009 – back when Washington and Moscow were still working on the ill-fated “reset” of their relations – Russia promised not to make such a deployment in exchange for the U.S. standing down on its proposed missile shield for Eastern Europe. That pact now looks to have been unilaterally shredded by Moscow, which last week announced it was also withdrawing from a 16-year-old plutonium disposal treaty that was previously seen as a key step toward guaranteeing nuclear non-proliferation … [and] … “For Warsaw and several other NATO capitals, this move [deploying Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad] resembles a Baltic version of the Cuban missile crisis,” wrote John R. Schindler, a former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer.“
Canada’s response to the Soviet aggression in the mid to late 1940s was typical of Liberal Canada: cautious (the poet FR Scott quipped that Prime Minister Mackenzie King was always inclined to “Do nothing by halves which can be done by quarters.” By late 1948, however, Liberal Prime Minister St Laurent was in office (he had been guiding the government for longer because King was tired and weak) and his response was much more clear eyed and responsible. For a start the Canadian Armed Forces were “recreated” as a strong, professional, combat ready force ~ an exercise that shocked many admirals and generals but was managed, occasionally almost brutally, by a really first rate defence minister, probably the best to ever hold that post, Brooke Claxton. Prime Minister St Laurent and Minister Claxton “sold” their plans to their cabinet and to the Liberal caucus and then to parliament and they “told” the admirals and generals what to do. Several rather timid, process driven admirals and generals ~ who were, then, very much like some of their modern, 21st century, counterparts ~ were driven into early retirement, replaced by younger, tougher, smarter and more focused men (there were nothing but men in the top ranks back then) who could and would get on with the minister’s programme. The expansion and “refocusing” (professionalizing) of the Canadian military from 1949 to 1952 as unprecedented in peacetime, but the cabinet saw, clearly, that the military had to be tool of the government’s grand strategy and it, cabinet, understood that the old, small, ill-prepared pre-war style military could not be an effective tool.
Canada needs to give thought to similar problems today. As General Day says, “It is time to talk about our national objectives … and what role our military might or might not play in [our] strategy. Putin … won’t be waiting for Canada to sort itself out, Canadians, however, should.” Do we have the “right” military force? Is it large enough? Is it properly organized? Does it have the right equipment? Those are all questions that ministers and officials and admirals and generals need to address. The really big question, however, is: do we have leaders at the cabinet table or just Sunny Ways and tokens?