Does Canada still need NATO?

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - THE WEST - JACK GRANATSTEIN

THERE has been much grum­bling among NATO mem­bers in the last few years. Those, like Canada, who are fight­ing in NATO’s first outof-area war in Afghanistan com­plain about those that aren’t and those that re­strict their sol­diers’ roles with caveats.

Oth­ers worry that the threats of the present day — ter­ror­ism or cy­ber-at­tacks, say — are not re­ally met best by a mil­i­tary al­liance of west­ern democ­ra­cies that was cre­ated to check the ex­pan­sion of Soviet Com­mu­nism more than 60 years ago. And the new mem­bers, still fear­ful of Rus­sia, cling to Wash­ing­ton, while some of the older mem­bers look to the Euro­pean Union as far more im­por­tant than the old al­liance.

Be­cause of th­ese com­plaints, be­cause of a de­sire to be­come more ef­fec­tive and to stay rel­e­vant, in July 2009 NATO or­dered a strate­gic re­view and ap­pointed a high-pow­ered panel un­der for­mer U.S. sec­re­tary of state Madeleine Al­bright to as­sess what needs fix­ing if the al­liance is to func­tion bet­ter.

A Cana­dian con­tri­bu­tion to the re­view process, Se­cu­rity in an Un­cer­tain World, has just ap­peared. There is no doubt that its writ­ers be­lieve that NATO con­tin­ues to mat­ter to the world and to Canada; there’s also no doubt that they are not happy with the state of the al­liance.

First, there is Afghanistan. While there are no di­rect com­plaints in the re­port that Canada is car­ry­ing the can for many of the other mem­bers, there are two telling pie charts that show that Canada has con­trib­uted seven per cent of all nonU.S. troops but suf­fered 24 per cent of all non-U.S. ca­su­al­ties. That is, of course, be­cause the Cana­dian bat­tle groups took the lead — and thus paid the price — in the very danger­ous Kandahar prov­ince. The les­son: more eq­ui­table bur­den-shar­ing is needed if NATO wants to take on tasks, and if so, it needs full sup­port from its mem­bers. All coun­tries must ac­cept their share of the mil­i­tary and ma­teriel costs. Com­mit­ments, in other words, must be sup­ported by re­sources.

In truth, Canada his­tor­i­cally has not been the best-po­si­tioned NATO mem­ber to carp that oth­ers are not do­ing their part. The Trudeau gov­ern­ment slashed its mil­i­tary con­tri­bu­tion to the al­liance by half — and did it without con­sul­ta­tion. The all-but to­tal with­drawal from Europe an­nounced by the Mul­roney gov­ern­ment in 1993 was sim­i­larly ar­bi­trary in its ex­e­cu­tion. But in an al­liance that makes de­ci­sion by con­sen­sus, the prin­ci­ple that all must be bound to hon­our al­liance com­mit­ments is the right one. Canada, like the Ger­mans and Por­tuguese, must do its duty.

But the real rea­son for NATO to con­tinue and for Canada to re­main in it is that the world is not safe. Ter­ror­ism to­day is spo­radic, but it is dan­ger­ously ef­fec­tive, and it will likely grow in in­ten­sity. Failed or rogue states can­not be per­mit­ted to of­fer safe havens to ni­hilis­tic zealots, and only NATO, cer­tainly not the UN, might have the will and abil­ity to take them down. More­over, Putin’s Rus­sia con­tin­ues to flex its (some­what at­ro­phied) mus­cles and China, rapidly be­com­ing a mil­i­tary and eco­nomic su­per­power, re­mains a one-party dic­ta­tor­ship. Pru­dence de­mands a watch­ful eye on th­ese not-quite-peace­ful un­demo­cratic regimes. Cana­dian na­tional in­ter­ests in peace, trade and a free in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity cry out for a world without threat. NATO is the best in­di­ca­tor that Cana­di­ans re­main will­ing to do their share to cre­ate and pro­tect it.

Then there are the Amer­i­cans. Without NATO, Canada would be locked into a bi­lat­eral con­ti­nen­tal mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship with the United States. They may be our best friends, but the close­ness poses dif­fi­cul­ties be­cause of his­tory and the im­bal­ance of power. We don’t want to be on our own, nor to be alone with the Yanks.

NATO of­fers a mul­ti­lat­eral fo­rum, one place we can get to­gether with our friends to try to rein in or en­cour­age Wash­ing­ton when nec­es­sary, to per­suade the U.S. that oth­ers’ views must be heeded. That is worth a great deal.

But NATO needs change. It can­not con­tinue as a Euro­cen­tric al­liance that treats with Wash­ing­ton and for­gets Canada on pol­icy ques­tions and in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing. We’re here, we mat­ter, we want to be heard. Some­times we have good points to make and use­ful con­tri­bu­tions to of­fer, Afghanistan be­ing the case in point. Just as im­por­tant, NATO should be looking less to coun­tries like Ge­or­gia and Ukraine as candidates for ad­mis­sion, both risky choices that un­nec­es­sar­ily goad Moscow, and more to links, not mem­ber­ship, with Aus­tralia, South Korea, Ja­pan, and In­dia, democ­ra­cies that can bring a clearer fo­cus on ways to deal with global threats.

It is also time to put some think­ing into de­vel­op­ing the al­liance’s civil sup­port func­tions. Sep­a­rate na­tion­ally di­rected pro­vin­cial re­con­struc­tion and train­ing teams in Afghanistan some­times seem only to have fos­tered balka­niza­tion. Co-or­di­na­tion must be the watch­word. NATO ad­mit­tedly is far from per­fect, but it’s there. If it can be made to func­tion bet­ter, it can con­tinue as our best hope for peace and democ­racy well into the 21st cen­tury.


Canada has borne a dis­pro­por­tion­ately high num­ber of ca­su­al­ties in Afghanistan among its NATO al­lies.

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