If someone criticizes NDP foreign policy, do they worship Vladimir Putin? Jagmeet Singh says so.
On the sidelines of the recent Canadian Labour Congress convention, I asked Singh “why the NDP supports the US empire’s position on China, the NATO proxy war, Iran and pretty much everywhere?” In response he twice stated that the NDP doesn’t “support the US Empire”.
I added that the NDP is “supporting sending more Canadian military vessels and spending more military money in Asia. You’re supporting the NATO proxy war which is basically fuelling billions of dollars more of weapons and opposing negotiations.” Singh then talked about assisting Ukrainians who were suffering, which I agreed with, simply adding that the NDP contributed to provoking Russia’s illegal invasion as it “supported Ukraine joining NATO before the invasion, which is a central reason for the invasion.” In response Singh said Putin was a “dictator” who gave the country’s wealth to a “handful of billionaires” and twice said I shouldn’t consider Vladimir Putin a “hero”.
But I never mentioned Russia, let alone Putin. Many world leaders (Lula, Xi, Petro, Ramaphosa, etc.) — as well as a dozen retired US generals and top security officials in a recent New York Times ad — consider NATO expansion a central factor in understanding Russia’s brutal invasion. When George W Bush and Stephen Harper infamously pushed for Ukraine to join NATO at the alliance’s 2008 Summit in Bucharest the current director of the CIA, William Burns, wrote a confidential cable to the State Department titled “Nyet [no] Means Nyet: Russia’s NATO Enlargement Redlines”, which described how the entire Russian security establishment opposed the push to draw Ukraine into NATO. Then US ambassador to Russia, Burns presciently laid out how the NATO push would divide Ukraine and stoke war, writing: “Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests. Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.” (A few years later Canada supported the ouster of elected president Viktor Yanukovich, largely because he opposed Ukraine joining NATO, spurring fighting in the east.)
Before Russia’s illegal invasion NDP foreign affairs critic (who was then deputy foreign critic) promoted Ukraine’s adhesion to NATO. In April of 2021 Heather McPherson told Ukrainian Canadian paper New Pathway, “the NDP will continue to strongly support Ukraine’s bid to join the MAP [Membership Action Plan] program and we have and will continue to push the government to advocate for this with our NATO allies. That Prime Minister Trudeau and (Foreign Affairs) Minister (Marc) Garneau have been unwilling to explicitly state their support for Ukraine’s bid and their failure to adequately support the bid via advocacy efforts and multi-lateral diplomacy is very disturbing.”
The NDP has also supported the US neocons’ position on China. They’ve explicitly backed Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which devotes half a billion dollars for military and intelligence operations targeting China and calls for increasing the number of Canadian frigates deployed to the region. Following a provocative trip by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, McPherson recently met the Taiwanese president in Taipei and she is a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, which is an “international cross-party group of legislators” claiming “the rise of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as led by the Chinese Communist Party is a defining challenge for the world’s democratic states.” On its site the alliance says “IPAC is pleased to be funded by the following partners: The [George Soros controlled] Open Society Foundations. The [US government’s] National Endowment for Democracy. The [Taipei sponsored] Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.”
Over the past six months the NDP has taken an aggressive position on repression in Iran but has stayed silent on the US/Canadian backed ouster of elected leftist Peruvian president Pedro Castillo, which saw security forces kill 60 protesters. During the last federal election, the NDP also explicitly backed Canadian participation in the US-led Core Group, which effectively appointed current Haitian leader Ariel Henry.
Washington greatly influences current NDP foreign policy and historically the party has openly backed US belligerence. The NDP/CCF supported Canada fighting in US-led wars in Korea, Yugoslavia and Libya. After Moammar Gaddafi was savagely killed in 2011, for instance, NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel released a statement noting, “the future of Libya now belongs to all Libyans. Our troops have done a wonderful job in Libya over the past few months.”
As I argue in Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada one can’t expect the NDP to buck the US Empire and adopt justice oriented positions: “While the party could take a few principled foreign policy positions, it’s almost certainly too much to expect the NDP to pursue a ‘first do no harm’ or ‘would we want it here’ perspective in the short or medium term. A political party with electoral ambition must bend to the prevailing political culture, which is dominated by corporations and a US Empire- aligned foreign policy establishment that promotes an interventionist international posture.”
To this point, probably the NDP’s best ever foreign affairs critic, Svend Robinson, backed Canada’s significant contribution to NATO’s illegal 1999 bombing of the former Yugoslavia. In the House of Commons Robinson endorsed “military action against selected Serbian military targets to address the humanitarian crisis … We in the New Democratic Party accept that the use of military force as a last resort is sometimes necessary in grave humanitarian crises, when all efforts at diplomatic settlement have failed, and we believe this meets that test.” (The party only turned critical over a month after the bombing began.)
Unlike McPherson and Singh, Robinson actually sought an independent minded international policy. But he buckled in the face of war propaganda and if a Robinson type were NDP foreign affairs critic today they would also have to support the broad outline of Canadian policy on Ukraine/Russia. The question for party officials seeking to shift gears should be to find opportunities to intervene such as when South Africa’s High Commissioner recently criticized Canadian policy to bolster – rather than undermine – antiwar forces.
While the political/media consensus on the NATO proxy war is particularly strong, there’s greater room to maneuver on China. Instead of aligning with the intelligence agency/military industrial complex/US Empire faction of the ruling class the NDP could amplify the discomfort felt by many in Canada’s business and Chinese community towards the USA’s confrontational policy.
On Peru and Haiti there’s even greater room to dissent (as they’ve done to some extent on Palestine recently).
There are ways the NDP can weaken Canadian support for the US empire without costing the party electorally. But that can’t happen if its leader labels principled criticism of NDP policy Putin worship.