Should Canada worry about the future of NATO?

By Fritz Lionel Adimi, MA Candidate in International Relations at McGill University

NATO is facing one of its toughest periods since the end of the Cold War. Firstly, and perhaps more serious than the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the situation in Syria is symptomatic of a schism between different members within the Transatlantic Alliance. On one side, over the past few weeks Turkey conducted a series of strikes against the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG. On the other, the U.S. tacitly support the Syrian Kurdish militia by supplying them with ammunitions and equipment, an acknowledgement of their effectiveness in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). Over the past decades several European countries have significantly decreased their defence budget, reflecting the hard times facing the Alliance. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute pointed out that Washington has pushed its allies to honor the target of 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) mandated for defense spending. With more and more divergences in terms of national security interests and domestic priorities among its members, one can question whether Canada should be worried about the future of NATO?   Clearly the answer should be no. One can make the argument that NATO remains very powerful and relatively unified, and the recent belligerent behavior from Russia tends to reinforce the unity of the Alliance.

My take is slightly different. The geographic position of Canada allows us, frankly, to not worry much about the future of NATO. The Transatlantic Alliance is not – or at least should not be – as important for Canada as the North American Aerospace Defense Command partnership (NORAD). Apart from national and international terrorism, the Arctic issue remains the only threat to our sovereignty, as stipulated in the Canada First Defense Strategy. Russia’s recent territorial claims over some parts of the Arctic raised serious concerns in Ottawa, as well as Washington. Strengthening that strategic partnership should be our primary priority, especially if current divergences among NATO members persist. Thanks to our geographic position, a threat to our territorial integrity from the Arctic will inevitably represent a threat to our southern ally, which remains the most powerful country on earth. If NORAD is reinforced, Canada will be in a better position to pass the buck to the U.S. I am neither advocating against having our own defense strategy, nor against giving the Canadian Forces the means to ensure our security and sovereignty. The fact that the Liberal government recently rejected cutting the size of Canadian military is good news, as our forces, and especially our naval fleet, need more soldiers and modernization. 

Even though our geographic position might seem to be a curse because of the inevitable competition with Russia over natural resources in the Arctic, it is also a blessing, as a threat to our sovereignty in that part of the planet will inevitably drag a nuclear power and ally such as the U.S. into the equation. The deterrent effect of nuclear power may be crucial as it will force Russia to use a diplomatic avenue instead of a military one. Geostrategically speaking, the future of the Transatlantic Alliance should not be the main concern for Canada. In the event of a NATO collapse – which I think is unlikely in the near future – Canada’s strategic partnership with the U.S. should ultimately remain the key component of our defense policy. 

Photo “NATO” (CC BY 2.0) by  Gjunollie 

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Categories: Europe and NATO

3 replies

  1. I mostly agree, however, if Russia is the largest threat to Canada, isn’t it in Canada’s interest for NATO to remain strong? If Russia is focused on NATO forces in Europe, then does this not benefit Canada because Russia has less resources and attention to focus on Canada?

    • Hi Erik! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! In fact I do agree with you on that and I have even thought about it. However, this is exactly why geography is a very important variable. Again, NATO or not, Russia will always have to “dedicate” a portion of its state power towards [Eastern/Central] Europe. Assuming an expansionist Russia. That is de facto a concern for countries like Poland [which, for instance, is incredibly trying to increase its military means]. This create a vicious circle as the more expansionist Russia becomes the more concerned states in the Balkans will become whether or not NATO exists. In other words, that implicitly means that Russia will still have to allocate some statepower/resources to react accordingly to the reaction of those countries. NATO, thus, isn’t the driving mechanism to distract Russia, as the buck here is almost automatically passed because of the distrust between Russia and those former soviet states. At least that’s my take.

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