With Russia and China seeking to make the world ‘safe’ for totalitarianism, free countries can either rediscover confidence in our core values, or watch as the world descends into a long era of darkness.
The Canadian government recently announced that as part of a $500 million aid package to Ukraine, our country would be helping Ukraine purchase an air defense system worth $33 million.
Canada to give $33-million to help buy air defenses for Ukraine https://t.co/iqSvVOm1vw
— The Globe and Mail (@globeandmail) September 17, 2023
The move generated some criticism online, with many accurately noting Canada’s own dearth of such systems – and our lack of just about every other piece of needed military equipment.
However, what some took away from this is that Canada should only be spending on our own military, rather than giving military equipment and financial assistance to Ukraine.
But I don’t see it that way.
Instead, Canadians – and the Western world as a whole – must fully understand the gravity of the challenge being posed to the free world by countries like Russia and China, and must recognize that we must simultaneously do more to help Ukraine and build up our own defenses.
Back to normal?
In late 2019, our sense of ‘normality’ was shattered by the emergence of Covid-19, and the subsequent lockdowns pursued by many overzealous governments – particularly here in Canada.
While lockdowns are over, normality has not returned.
The combination of massive deficit spending, money printing, and the long-term economic dislocation and disruption caused by the collapse in global economic activity has generated widespread inflation, made worse by policies like the carbon tax that further erode our purchasing power and disincentivize investment in affordable energy.
Canada – due to our overly ideological government – has been hit worse by this than many countries, as we are one of the few nations to still have not reached 2019 per capita GDP levels. In fact, not only is our per capita GDP not returning to 2019 levels, it is declining.
The result of all of this is that there has been no return to normal in terms of the economy and our standard of living.
The pandemic was a profoundly isolating time for many people, and it’s no surprise that there is an ongoing mental health crisis in the aftermath.
Unfortunately, some world leaders seem to have become the worst possible version of themselves following years of being largely disconnected from others.
By some accounts, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin spent much of his time during the pandemic alone and pouring over stories about Russia’s past imperial conquests, before launching a brutal invasion of Ukraine based on a plan that was known to only about five other close associates.
Chinese dictator Xi Jinping also seemed to go a bit haywire during the pandemic, imposing a ‘zero-covid’ policy that was ripped from the pages of an Orwellian dystopia, and even now is reminiscing about all the worst economic times under Mao in an effort to convince the Chinese population that the pursuit of material prosperity is really nothing but ‘Western decadence.’
Dangerous leaders become a problem for the world
Of course, this is the problem with authoritarian states. One very bad leader can do immense damage without any recourse.
Now, some will note that here in Canada, Justin Trudeau – thanks to Jagmeet Singh’s support – has de facto unchallenged authority and is doing significant damage.
While there is truth to that, the kind of pushback that is possible in a country like Canada far exceeds what exists in Russia or China.
If Trudeau went completely crazy, he could be stopped by a vote of no-confidence. Canadians can still protest, Canadians can still share our views on social media (though the government is of course trying to restrict this), and we can still build up our own independent sources of information.
And, as weak as the courts often are, Canada still has substantial built-in human rights protections, as well as norms surrounding limits on the use of government power that act as a check on how far any politician can go. Our elections are – in terms of the counting of the votes – conducted honestly, though foreign interference particularly by Communist China remains a real threat that must be addressed. And finally, our closest allies are all democratic states, which itself would impose pressure on any government that sought to completely erode our rights.
Again, this is not to say that Canada isn’t heading in the wrong direction. On issue after issue, the Liberal government is trying to expand their power at the expense of the freedom of speech of the Canadian populace. However, the situation here is still not at all analogous to that of China or Russia.
We can say something similar about the United States.
There are constant checks on the power of the President, power is widely diffused through the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the States. The U.S. Constitution guarantees a wide range of individual rights and government efforts to impose their will on the individual are routinely struck down as unconstitutional. The varying nature of U.S. states also means that American citizens can find a part of the country that fits with their sense of moral values and political alignment, while still being part of a larger nation.
None of that is true in Russia or China.
There’s no part of China you can go to to be free of Xi Jinping’s personality cult. Hong Kong was once a relative free haven, but no longer.
As for Russia, Putin has used the war against Ukraine to crackdown on the remaining bits of dissent and independent thought that existed within Russia. While millions fled at the beginning of the war, it has become much harder for Russians to do so, and even those who strongly oppose Putin are largely stuck there.
Since Russia and China are authoritarian states rather than democracies, they are stuck with their current leaders.
And that means the world is stuck with those leaders as well.
This is why dictatorships are such a danger, not only to their own citizens but to the world. While they are far less innovative and prosperous in the long-run, authoritarian states go through moments of hyper-focus in which they can out-militarize democratic nations in the short-term, which is often long enough to plunge the world into war.
How much of a choice do we have?
Just as dictatorships deprive their own people of choice, they also deprive us of a choice in some ways.
For example, ask yourself how much of a choice the people of France had when Germany invaded them in 1940?
A pro-war and anti-war citizen of France found themselves in a war just the same, with their own personal opinions being rendered irrelevant.
Likewise, pro-fascist fools living in London found themselves in just as much danger from the Blitz as the vast majority who opposed the German fascists.
And after World War Two, many Communists in Europe found themselves trapped behind the Iron Curtain, and were certainly shocked to be subjected to brutal oppression at the hands of their ‘comrades.’
The underlying point is this: If a ruthless dictator has decided to plunge part of the world into war and spread oppression, then there will be a war and oppression.
At that point, the question is whether the dictator will be challenged, or whether they will be allowed to get what they want.
Spend now, or spend more later
And this brings us back to the $33 million Canada is spending to help Ukraine acquire air defense systems.
If you’ve read my website for a while, you know that I’ve long advocated for Canada to increase military spending. And not just by a bit, but by a substantial amount. We should be spending at least another $20 billion more per year on our national defense just to hit the bare minimum 2.0% of GDP NATO target.
As these charts from the Fraser Institute make clear, this is something we were once able to do as recently as the late 1980s, – even at times of significant economic hardship:
So, when people note that Canada is giving Ukraine a weapon system we need ourselves, the answer isn’t to not give Ukraine that system, it’s to give that system to Ukraine and buy some for ourselves.
And yes, this means that to respond to a more dangerous world we need to – at the very least – freeze government spending in most areas while increasing military spending. Yet, when we consider that the cost of running the government has risen by over $150 billion per year under Justin Trudeau, that is eminently achievable.
The Strategic Imperative to help Ukraine
And this is where strategic imperative to support Ukraine comes in.
Think for a moment about where Canada is most likely to use an air defense system.
Given that our top priority deployment is in Eastern Europe to shore up NATO’s Eastern flank against potential Russian aggression, it then follows that any Canadian air defense system is most likely to be used in Europe to defend from a Russian attack if Russia attacks a NATO member.
Where will Ukraine use that system?
Within Ukraine to defend from Russian attacks.
So, whatever missile, drone, fighter, tactical bomber, or strategic bomber Ukraine ends up shooting down with the air defense system we help them purchase is one less missile, drone, fighter, tactical bomber, or strategic bomber that Canada and our allies may have to face one day.
To take it a step further, if Russia is stopped in Ukraine and Ukraine is able to save their nation, the chance of a Russian invasion of a NATO country – and thus the chance of Canadian troops fighting in Europe – goes down substantially.
So, it makes strategic sense to support Ukraine now, as doing so degrades the military power of Russia – a country that is profoundly hostile towards our country, our allies, and our core Western values centered around individual rights, free expression, and free elections.
This is also an essential reminder that Canada is not fighting in Ukraine. No NATO country has troops in Ukraine at all. Ukraine is not asking for NATO troops. All Ukraine is asking for is military equipment to defend their territory, and financial aid to keep their economy functioning amid the pressures of total war mobilization.
The end result of all of this is that NATO’s main adversary is being weakened without any soldiers from NATO countries being killed or wounded. Of course, that means Ukrainians are paying the horrific price for the war launched by Putin. So, the least Canada and other NATO nations can do is provide Ukraine with financial assistance and military equipment to help them win that fight, restore their territory, and achieve peace on their terms.
The moral imperative
We also have to consider the moral imperative here.
Ukraine is an imperfect democracy. The country has had significant issues with corruption, and they still have some ways to go before they would be considered a truly free nation.
However, the country had been making substantial progress, and is light-years ahead of Russia in that regard.
In 2022, Freedom House gave Ukraine a 61/100 in their freedom index. Ukraine scored 26/40 on political rights, and 35/60 on civil liberties.
Both scores have declined in 2023, as the country has centralized power amid an existential war for national survival. The same thing took place in democracies like Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom during full-scale wars like World War Two, when civil liberties like freedom of speech and economic freedoms were severely curtailed. Ukraine is in an even more serious situation as they are fighting on their own territory against an enemy that is increasingly talking and acting in a genocidal manner.
Yet, even amid such horrific circumstances, Ukraine scores 50/100 on the freedom index, way ahead of Russia. Russia scores just 16/100.
In fact, Ukraine’s imperfect transition to being a full fledged free and democratic nation is part of why we have a moral imperative to support them.
Ukraine is trying, desperately, to escape from their history and make the same transition countries like Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania made.
Ukraine wants to escape from being in Russia’s orbit and wants to become a fully free and open society with all the prosperity and peace that can bring.
While it’s easy for Canadians and Americans to look down on the bureaucratic nature of the European Union since we already live on a massive landmass bounded by oceans, friendly borders, and within a federal structure, to Ukraine the European Union and NATO look like an escape into freedom and prosperity.
Further, the fact that Ukraine is fighting so hard for their survival as a nation, and for their ability to be free to continue the process of becoming a more successful democracy says it all about their commitment to that process and their commitment to democratic values.
And in that sense, Ukraine is fighting and sacrificing for the same values we claim to hold in Canada. And again, they are doing all of this without asking for even one Canadian soldier to put their boots on the ground in Ukraine. All they ask is for financial assistance and military equipment.
The countries of ‘The West’ – a grouping that is increasingly about ideas and values rather than region (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan could all be considered ‘Western’ in their own way), is the most free and prosperous region of the world.
So, what would it say about us if we couldn’t muster up some expanded military production and financial assistance to help Ukraine survive against Russia?
What would it say if we let ignorant domestic politics get in the way of standing up to Russia and China’s attempts to strip tens of millions of people of their rights and freedoms?
And would would it say if we were forced to re-learn the lessons of World War Two: That appeasing ruthless dictators only emboldens them and leads to far more violence and bloodshed down the road?
It is time for Canada and the West to rediscover our confidence in our own core values, the same values that Ukraine is fighting for, and the same values that Russia and China are so desperate to crush.
Dispelling myths on aid to Ukraine
To close out this column, I want to include the following information from the Hudson Institute, which dispels many of the myths surrounding aid to Ukraine. This can be a useful resource the next time you hear someone echoing a falsehood on the issue. While it directed at an American audience, the core points hold up here in Canada as well:
“Since Russia invaded Ukraine for the second time in eight years, Russian troops have ravaged Ukraine’s cities, raped its women, and stolen its children. Russian missiles and Iranian drones strike Ukrainian cities daily, often hitting civilian targets. Russia is the aggressor. Ukraine is the victim.
For Americans who believe in respect for national borders, the primacy of national sovereignty, and the right to self-defense, support for Ukraine is natural. Ukrainians are not asking for, nor do they want, US troops to help them fight Russia. All they ask for are the material resources that give them a fighting chance. Meanwhile, Russia is America’s top geopolitical adversary.
As Congress debates additional support for Ukraine, the anti-Ukraine echo chamber will peddle myths and half-truths, including these four:
Myth: Washington is writing Kyiv “blank checks” that Americans cannot afford.
Reality: Every dollar spent in support of Ukraine is authorized by Congress and used for a specific purpose. There has never been a “blank check” to Ukraine. As of September 2023, the US has provided Ukraine with $101 billion, or about 0.43 percent of America’s GDP. Since February 2022, this averages out to 68 cents per day for each American adult. The vast majority of this money never leaves the US and instead supports American jobs. For this modest amount, the US helps Ukraine dismantle Russia’s military without a single American firing a shot or being shot at. The US can easily afford to support Ukraine, but it cannot afford not to.
Myth: There is not enough oversight of US aid to Ukraine.
Reality: There has likely never been more accountability in place for US foreign assistance than what is available for Ukraine aid. Soon after Russia’s invasion, the US government established the Ukraine Oversight Interagency Working Group. More than 160 officials across 20 federal oversight agencies monitor US aid to Ukraine. To date, Congress has allocated $50 million for the Inspectors General of the Department of Defense, Department of State, and USAID to increase oversight through the working group. Dozens of reports have been completed with dozens more in the works. According to the working group, “Investigations related to the Ukraine response have not yet substantiated significant waste, fraud, or abuse.”
Myth: America is exponentially the largest donor to Ukraine.
Reality: According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine aid tracker, total European commitments are now more than double those of the US. After totaling all aid (military, economic, humanitarian, and refugee), 20 European countries have given more to Ukraine than the US as a percentage of GDP. Europe can do more, but that is no reason for the US to stop supporting Ukraine.
Myth: Russia is a distraction. The US must focus on China.
Reality: Russia is China’s junior partner. A defeated Russia means a weaker China. Beijing is watching Western support for Kyiv, so a victorious Ukraine would strengthen Taiwan and deter China. It’s no coincidence that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Ukraine while Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Russia. During this visit, Xi told Vladimir Putin, “Now there are changes that haven’t happened in 100 years. When we are together, we drive these changes.” The choice between security in Europe and security in the Indo-Pacific is a false dichotomy. In terms of US national interests, these two regions are intimately linked. In the words of Kishida, “The security of the Indo-Pacific region cannot be separated from European security.”
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