Trudeau’s dilemma

Murray Brewster, writing on the CBC News website, says that “It may be a world away from NATO, but the Chinese telecom titan Huawei — and the United States’ desire to keep it out of the security grid of western democracies — will be a major topic of conversation among allied leaders this week … [and] … The NATO summit likely will see Canada tested on multiple fronts — among them a renewed call by the White House for Ottawa to meet alliance’s benchmark for defence spending of two per cent of the gross domestic product.I discussed both issues just a few days ago.

Mr Brester also tells us that “There is also the “Four 30s” plan, a U.S-led initiative that aims to bolster NATO’s ability to reinforce Europe during a crisis with the deployment of 30 battalions of soldiers, 30 squadrons of aircraft and 30 warships within 30 days … [and that] … plan is due to roll out next year and would require Canada to put more money into keeping existing forces at a higher state of readiness … [but] … Some countries, notably France, are pushing back at the American agenda, telling Washington that the discussion among NATO leaders has to be about more than money.” Prime Minister Trudeau will, certainly, be President Macron’s corner, wishing him well, but Canada is much, Much, MUCH more dependent on the USA, for everything, than is France. We live in a dangerous world and Canada has too few friends and Justin Trudeau has alienated too many of them.

As Murray Brewster notes, “Canada already has committed to increasing its defence spending but it will not meet NATO’s target of two per cent of the country’s gross domestic product …[and] … One defence expert said the “Four 30s” plan could back the Liberal government further into a corner.

I, and others, expect Prime Minister Trudeau, who leaves today for London, to dissemble and prevaricate. ““Will the government, if it makes promises in London, add more money to operations and maintenance? My suspicion is no, they won’t,” said Canada’s former top NATO military adviser, retired vice-admiral Bob Davidson … [adding that] … “they’re not going to grow the defence budget any more than they already have, particularly in a minority Parliament.”” But it must be obvious to everyone that President Trump doesn’t give a damn about Justin Trudeau or Canada or our government’s problems and priorities. Canada is, almost, the weakest of the weak-links in NATO: the Europeans are not going to rush to our political defence as they will for, say, Germany or Greece.

Russia’s opportunistic adventurism in and around Europe, including in the volatile Middle East, means that the security situation is as dangerous, now, as it was in the 1960s but NATO and especially Canada is far less well prepared to respond. The strategic calculus which underpinned NATO’s response to the old, failed USSR still exists ~ it was, and remains, a nuclear strategy based on a small, highly capable “tripwire” force in Europe that is ready, willing and able to open nuclear operations within days of any Russian aggression. The problem is that the “tripwire” is too small, it is spread too thinly across too many borders. It is also less than clear that the USA is still committed to the core idea of NATO: “one for all and all for one.” Will Donald Trump really risk a nuclear war with Russia for Latvia?

While we can doubt President Trump’s grand strategic inclinations, we ought not to doubt that he wants what he wants and, right now, that is for Canada to do as he bids. We should also suspect that he holds Canada and Prime Minister Trudeau, himself, in low esteem and will not hesitate to punish us, as the Chinese are doing, just because we are a “soft target” and readily available whipping bay.

There are, as Mr Brewster points out, many different opinions about Russia’s strategic and operational options, and not everyone agrees that NATO needs substantial increases in force levels in Europe, but he says that “The Trump administration doesn’t necessarily see it … [the strategic situation the sway that many European analysts do, and] … Recently-appointed U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said America expects its allies, including Canada, to live up to their spending commitments, to pull their weight in the world and to fall in line on security threats such as Huawei.” That’s the dilemma that Prime Minister Trudeau will face in London, this week. It’s not about Russian threats, it’s about American ones. He has no plans to spend more on defence but for his own political reasons President Trump needs a “win” in London this week and, given how he thinks, Canada might be in his sights to be the (necessary, in his world-view) loser.

We should all wish prime Minister Trudeau well.

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