On Wednesday foreign affairs minister Melanie Joly told the press, “right now, it’s not about a diplomatic solution” and that “you can’t negotiate when you have a gun to your head.” But that’s simply not true. That’s exactly what you should do if the alternative is far worse. More war is a recipe for many more deaths and incredible destruction in Ukraine.
If Canada truly cares about the lives of millions Joly should state that Canada opposes Ukraine joining NATO, wants Kyiv to implement the Minsk accords and for the US to remove its aggressive missile systems in Eastern Europe.
Ottawa should have taken these positions before Russia launched its criminal invasion of Ukraine. But articulating them now is better than extending or escalating the conflict.
It is true that conceding to the demands of a country with tens of thousands of troops stationed in its neighbour sets a terrible precedent. It reinforces the idea that might makes right.
But what’s the alternative? Pour ever more weapons into Ukraine? Encourage Canadians to go there to fight? Send Canadian troops? Enforce a no-fly zone? Nuke Russia?
While running into difficulty executing its war plans, Russia is unlikely to be driven out of Ukraine without a drawn-out counterinsurgency. That would cause untold suffering. So, there’s either a negotiated agreement or NATO pours in weapons until no one is left to fight.
While no good option is available amidst the devastation, it may be possible to end the violence based on what should’ve been agreed to before the Russian invasion. Countering Ottawa’s escalatory policies requires honesty regarding our government’s support for policies that helped precipitate the conflict.
Canada should not have pushed to expand NATO throughout Eastern Europe or have Ukraine join the alliance (a position Joly recklessly repeated in January.) Now, Ottawa should state clearly that Canada opposes Ukraine’s adhesion to NATO and believes that country should remain neutral.
But wouldn’t that infringe on Ukrainian sovereignty and democratic will?
Until the 2014 US/Canada-backed ouster of elected president Viktor Yanukovych polls showed that most Ukrainians rejected the idea of joining NATO. Barely a quarter of Ukrainians wanted to join the alliance, reported former Soviet specialist on the US National Security Council F. Stephen Larrabee in 2011. A Gallup poll released in March 2014 found that “more Ukrainians saw NATO as a threat than as offering protection.” While support for joining NATO has increased, it is far from a unanimous position in the country.
Irrespective of Ukrainian opinion, would Ottawa push for Morocco to join the alliance if some in that country said they wanted to join NATO? Or how about a country not bordering a NATO state such as Pakistan?
There’s another way of looking at military alliances. In questioning NATO expansion Moscow and others have promoted the notion of ‘indivisible security’, a concept included in the 1975 Helsinki Act and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) documents. “At its most crude”, noted Patrick Wintour in the Guardian last month, “it means security should be seen as a collective concept so if the actions of one state threaten the security of another, the principle of indivisible security is breached.”
The 1999 Istanbul Charter of the OSCE (which Canada belongs to) echoed this position. It said countries should be free to choose their security arrangements, but also declared that countries “will not strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other states.” By invading Ukraine Russia has, of course, made a mockery of its commitment to ‘indivisible security’. Still, the concept has legitimacy.
Along with calling for Ukraine to be neutral, the Canadian government should state its opposition to Washington ripping up nuclear arms control treaties and its provocative weapons systems in Eastern Europe. Threatening to Moscow, the US-missile defence system in Romania could stop Russian missiles following a US first strike.
In 2019 the Donald Trump administration formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which banned an entire class of nuclear weapons. Nine months earlier Canada voted against a UN General Assembly resolution for “Strengthening Russian-United States Compliance with Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty” and blamed Moscow for the INF’s demise. Canada should call on Washington to reengage with nuclear arms control measures and remove its provocative weapons systems from Eastern Europe.
Canada should also publicly press Kyiv to follow through with its commitments under the Minsk Accords. The Minsk agreements sought to end fighting in the Russian oriented eastern Donbass region, which resulted from the Canadian backed overthrow of Yanukovych in 2014. Negotiated by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, Minsk I and II granted autonomy to the two breakaway republics in the Donbas.
Instead of pouring in more weapons, Canada should push to negotiate a way out of the conflict. The alternative is more Ukrainians dying and the possibility of cataclysmic nuclear war.
Would it be so terrible if the negotiated solution was for Ukraine to keep its friends close, but its powerful enemy closer?
During war it’s easy to demand more weapons and to lionize fighting. Pressing for diplomacy and admitting errors takes courage. While condemning Russia’s criminal invasion, we must also be clear that Ottawa pursued policies that helped precipitate the conflict.
Does any Member of Parliament have the courage to stand up and say Canada should reject NATO expansion, aggressive US weapon systems in Eastern Europe and call for Kyiv to implement the Minsk accords?
Take a minute to write a letter to all MPs calling on them to support diplomacy instead of further militarization.