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Waiting for Leadership that Never Appears

“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has been a wake-up call. It has … reminded all of us that our freedom, security and prosperity cannot be taken for granted, that some are trying to redraw dividing lines in Europe with force and in blood.”

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

download (1)Russia’s aggression against Ukraine may have been a wake up call like the clock radio beside your bed  but apparently most of the west’s leadership are sleeping through the alarm. For all intents and purposes, Ukraine is lost. NATO has no intention of using military force to defend that country and, indeed, are not even prepared to provide it with weapons and tactical equipment. Instead, it will continue to provide what Canada’s Stephen Harper refers to as “standing firmly with our allies” by providing non-tactical military equipment, imposing yet more ineffective economic sanctions and, of course, a lot of loud bellicose but pointless rhetoric.

Some have compared Vladimir Putin’s involvement in Ukraine to Hitler’s annexation of Austria before WWII. They are wrong. If Russia is the new Third Reich, then Ukraine is this generation’s Czechoslovakia. The allies talked a good game with Hitler but when push came to shove, they sold out the Czech state in the hope that it would provide peace and security for the rest of Europe.

The invasion of Poland that followed pretty much put the lie to that fantasy.

“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” -Benjamin Franklin

The west has interfered in Ukraine from the beginning of this crisis first throwing its support to opponents of the duly elected Ukrainian government leading to its downfall and then isolating Russia which was a member of the G8 and a NATO partner. The result of this careless and political gamesmanship has been the secession of Crimea to Russia and an ongoing civil war in eastern Ukraine that has cost more than 2000 lives and which threatens the economic and political stability of Europe.

It has demonstrated a leadership vacuum so significant that Hoover and Dyson would be impressed.

Russia has taken full advantage of the weak response by the west in general and NATO specifically. They’ve noted the unwillingness of western leaders to do much more than rant and threaten and their reading of the west’s lack of leadership has been more accurate than the west’s reading of Vladimir Putin. He knows that the west will not intervene militarily in Ukraine which leaves him pretty much free to do as he pleases.

obamaHe knows this because western leaders have said as much publicly. Terrorists and dictators in the Middle East are equally as aware.

Don’t bother to look, you won’t find any Winston Churchills in this current crop of political hacks. They’re still arguing over how much money should be spent on national and collective defense. Even as terrorism and aggression increases to threaten us, Canada along with other western countries, has cut military spending. Indeed, the Harper Government now spends half on defense spending as a percentage of GDP as the Liberal Government of Pierre Trudeau, a prime minister who had no use for the military. I suppose the good news for conservatives in Canada is that our Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been successful at side-stepping the NATO objective of spending 2% of GDP on national defense which means there will be money next year for more vote-buying entitlements like income splitting – high on the Conservative wish list. The argument that we spend more actual dollars on national defense today is just one more political slight of hand to defend bad policy.  The dollar is worth less than it was then and costs have increased significantly.

But this isn’t simply an issue split along ideological lines.

Neither leaders on the left or the right are prepared to stop Russia in Ukraine – the Balkans yes (perhaps) – but Ukraine is done like toast. The excuse given is that Ukraine is not a member of NATO and therefore, it cannot intercede militarily. They seem to have forgotten that neither Afghanistan nor Libya were members of NATO either but that didn’t prevent the organization from sending in a coalition force. Of course, Russia is not the Taliban – it’s the third largest military power in the world and, as Putin reminded us just the other day, it is heavily equipped with nuclear weapons that include retaliatory second-strike capability.

In the face of that level of potential conflict, talking the talk is more prudent (not to mention politically expedient) than walking the talk. If you can’t walk your talk — don’t talk. It only ends up making you appear even weaker in the face of aggression and that emboldens the aggressor. Your other only option is diplomacy which the west ignored in its rush to get right to portraying itself as tough for the folks back home.

Nobody was fooled except for the dwindling supporters of some of NATO’s political leadership and a few media pundits. Certainly Vladmir Putin wasn’t fooled, he’d already stated his opinion about Barack Obama during the Syrian chemical weapons crisis and it wasn’t very favourable.

I hate war. I hate the idea of it and I hate the reality of it. Inevitably, war results in an unforgivable waste of human life and peace, when it finally comes, almost never brings with it a justification for that loss of life or the economic devastation or ruin that result.

I accept, however, that there is sometimes a need to go to war and when we do we are always faced with a choice when confronting naked aggression. Do we stand up to it at the beginning when the aggressor is tentative and testing us or do we dither with loud talk and indecision until we are finally forced to inch into the confrontation well after the aggressor has gained strength and confidence?

The first duty of government is to provide for a strong and adequate defense of the nation. Everything else is secondary because if you cannot defend your nation, you cannot defend or maintain your economy or your way of life if attacked. Political leaders who betray that principle are fools. We saw an example of that political foolishness recently in Canada. A comprehensive review of Canada’s military capability was mocked and dismissed by defense leaders and their political masters in an attempt to deflect attention from the government’s failure to live up to its responsibility for a strong national defense.

It is understood that it is not always possible for smaller nations to build a military to withstand an attack from a large aggressor which is why nations form alliances like NATO. Individual national security is enhanced through a commitment to collective security. If one member of the alliance is attacked, all members of the alliance will rally to defend its partner.

An alliance is only as strong as its members leaders, however, and when its leaders willfully gamble that they can reduce the financial commitment required to maintain a strong alliance, they gamble that the stronger members of the alliance will pick up the slack on their behalf.

We are seeing that currently in NATO where only four countries are meeting the 2% of GDP goal and many members, including Canada, are actually cutting defense spending even as threats are increasing. Contrast that with Russia:

Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear states. It’s not words, it is the reality,…We are strengthening our nuclear deterrence forces, we are strengthening our armed forces…We are beefing up our potential and will continue doing so.” -Vladmir Putin

How any political leader can be so focused on political expediency at home as to ignore that stated threat eludes me but that is precisely  what most of NATO”s leaders are doing.

Canada has a long history of taking that gamble with NORAD (North American Defense Treaty); a joint alliance between Canada and the United States to mutually defend North America in the event of an attack across Canada’s north.

The alliance is important but it is also dangerous in that it has lulled Canadian governments into a false sense of security. Being allied with the world’s strongest military has led many Canadian governments to commit less to our own defense than we should in the belief that the Americans will be there to defend us.

The Americans will be there – there is no question about that – but it will be to defend themselves not us. In the event of an attack, the United States sees Canada as the battleground on which it will fight to defend its cities and people. The battle will be fought here and it is our cities that will burn.

I don’t blame the Americans. Given the option, I would do no less. I blame Canada’s political leadership who have allowed Canada’s military to degrade over the past five decades out of political expediency. Where Canada once had the fourth largest navy in the world, it now has one of the smallest. Where we once had a standing army of 100,000; it is now somewhere around 60,000. Where we were once considered one of the world’s leading military nations, Canada’s military strength is now ranked 16th, and falling, well behind countries like Brazil, Italy and Japan.

Our military forces are highly trained and among the best in the world but they are poorly supported by government and under-equipped and that, my friends, means that we are incapable of mounting even a tacit defense of this nation.

That same attitude has pervaded the leadership of most members of NATO and it has resulted in the loss of the sovereignty of Ukraine. That country will be sacrificed despite the bold but hollow rhetoric because NATO members lack the will, the focus and commitment to stand up to aggression until forced and when (and if) they do, it will be too late for Ukraine. As late as today, NATO announced it would conduct military exercises in Ukraine but not, of course, in eastern Ukraine where the conflict is happening. That might run the risk of actually engaging the Russian-backed rebels. They do this to send a message to Russia but it is unnecessary. Russia has already got the message, NATO and the west will do nothing to protect Ukraine.

They are penny wise and dollar foolish. Surely to Christ, if history as taught us anything it is that we are going to pay at some point. The choice we have is whether to pay at the beginning while the aggressor is still tentative or later when we no longer have a choice. From Nazi Germany to ISIS, the west has learned nothing. It continues to repeat the same mistakes of delay, indecision and deflection.

The politicians talk tough but do nothing and their supporters spin and justify that inaction while aggression expands and people die.

It is already too late for Ukraine as a result of a lack of decisive and effective action. The only question now is whether or not it is too late for others thanks to the west’s and NATO’s unwillingness to step up and walk its talk.

I would gladly trade all of the current prime ministers, presidents and other leaders of NATO countries for one Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Borden or JFK. Certainly I would feel a lot safer than I do these days.

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© 2014 Maggie’s Bear

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Twitter: @maggsbear – Facebook: Maggie’s Bear – ivmaki@sympatico.ca

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  • morri

    courage is lacking both in the populace and in the politic. you note that Canada has about 60,000 in what could be termed the standing army. about 10,000 of those may be capable of actually fighting, the rest are civil servants in uniform drawing large salaries for doing nothing. fort drum in ny state has more manpower than all of Canada’s military. the world will do nothing about Ukraine and nothing about islam until our own cities are under siege and then it will be the people not the government who will have to take action.

    • MaggiesBear

      we actually employee more than a few civilians in our defense department as well. The only difference is that a corporal doing clerical work can also be sent into battle if need be. Good luck sending in a civilian bookkeeper.

      • morri

        there are many corporals doing paper work who cannot do basic PE. as one who is very familiar with the supply end of things, there are also sergeants, warrants, captains and majors who are completely incapable of the physical action needed in combat. age is also becoming a serious problem when considering readiness.

  • CanadaGoose1

    Who will bell the cat?
    We have wasted so much money on phony ecological initiatives instead of tackling real pollution that there is little margin left in government budgets now. And Europe is left dependent on Russia for its energy.

    • MaggiesBear

      I think you might appreciate today’s post which takes this issue further.