Militarists on both sides are not your friends

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted a flood of calls to increase military spending. In effect, the militarists who helped precipitate the conflict are now using Moscow’s violence to demand more military spending.

Recently, I debated Hugh Segal on whether ‘Canada should increase military spending and strengthen our defence in the face of Russia’s aggression’. The former chief of staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney told CKNW 980 listeners that Canada’s armed forces were inadequate considering the threat posed by Russia while I said they already absorb too many public resources, which ought to be used to mitigate the climate threat.

Segal has long called for expanding the military and warfare. In 1997 the former head of the NATO Association of Canada demanded greater outlays on the armed forces to deal with “potentially hostile countries like Iran and Russia.” The next year the honorary navy Captain criticized Russia for opposing US/British/Canadian strikes on Iraq at the United Nations. “Russia”, wrote Segal, “as it returns to its imperialist tendencies — tendencies that transcend any change from communism to free markets — seeks to rebuild its Middle Eastern power base.”

In 2003 the former board member of military contractor SNC Lavalin published a column criticizing France for not supporting the US-led invasion of Iraq, which left hundreds of thousands dead. Eight years later Segal advocated intervention in Libya, which has yet to recover from six months of NATO bombing. Last summer he criticized the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, a war he’d long promoted.

Segal has also pushed aggressive policies in eastern Europe. After Moscow reacted to the US/Canada backed ouster of Ukraine’s elected president in 2014 the former chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee wrote a column headlined “Deploy NATO forces in Ukraine”. Segal supported formal Canadian participation in US Ballistic Missile Defence, which is designed to defend US missiles sites after they launch offensive operations. Threatening to Moscow, the US-missile defence system in Romania could stop Russian missiles following a US first strike. Segal also promoted NATO’s bid to dismember Yugoslavia that culminated in 78 days of airstrikes on Serbia in 1999. When Moscow vetoed a 1998 UN Security Council resolution calling for an embargo of Serbia, Segal labeled it “renewed imperialism of Russian foreign policy”.

Segal has advocated policies Russians — especially its militarists — consider threatening. Two weeks ago his ideological kin in Russia responded with aggression of their own. In response Segal and his militarist allies are clamoring for increased military spending.

But the escalatory cycle will drive us closer to the abyss, as rock legend Roger Waters aptly pointed out in “The War-Profiteering Gangsters Will Kill Us All Unless We Unite Against Them.”

Ukrainians are the primary victims of the “war profiteering gangsters” of course. But the deleterious effects are likely to be felt widely. The proponents of fossil fuels are using the Russian invasion to push more pipelines and extraction while militaries are seeking public resources required to transition off of fossil fuels. If one believes a Russian invasion is looming it’s entirely sensible to ignore the climate crisis. Already, the issue has been relegated from the headlines. A dire report released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week received limited attention.

Most environmentalists and progressives seem unprepared to respond to the worsening political climate because they’ve ceded to (adopted) the militarists geopolitical outlook. The Tyee, National Observer, Naomi Klein and many others largely echo the simplistic explanations for Russia’s actions offered by militarists. As much as it may be easier to pretend that ‘mad man Putin’ is solely responsible, decisions were made (and not made) by North American policymakers that greatly increased the likelihood that the rulers of Russia’s militarized society would invade Ukraine. If we can’t discuss the inhumane, anti-ecological, calculations of official North American planners we won’t resolve the crisis.

Now is not the time to cower in the face of the militarists but to censure them for contributing to the devastation we’re witnessing.


Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People’s History of the Canadian Military.

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