Wednesday, September 3, 2014

If You Think Harper Is Two-Faced About NATO ...

If You Think Harper Is Two-Faced About NATO, you might be right.  We should not be surprised to see Canada blocking any effort to commit to higher defense spending for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, the most important priority for the Harper government is to balance the budget (despite the fact that is fiscal situation is perhaps the best in the OECD).  So, cutting defense spending is the order of the day, not doubling it.  Second, as I wrote yesterday, it is what you do, not how much you buy that should matter.  Third, as David Pugliese documents quite well, this government has not been a huge fan of all NATO efforts.

Harper has dropped Canada from a series of NATO programs, including the AWACS program (one of the few truly NATO assets staffed by personnel from throughout the alliance) and the Alliance Ground Surveillance Program (shared drones).  Harper's stance on NATO becoming more involved in Arctic Security has been "no thanks."  This has led to the word on the street in Ottawa and at NATO headquarters that Harper is hostile to NATO. 

Yet Canada participates when the stakes are high: Afghanistan, Libya, and the reassurance effort this summer in Romania, Poland and the Baltics.  So, you should be confused about Harper's stance on NATO.  I am.  It is not so simple as: spending no; doing yes.   Because the doing is costly.  Afghanistan was incredibly costly although the government did manage to get out of the Kandahar commitment three years or so earlier than most NATO members.  Libya's mission was sold as being cheap but turned out to be more than $100 million.  The reassurance package is not expensive--but does cost more money than basing the troops/planes in Canada.  Participation in any longer-term basing would cost more money.  It simply is more expensive to put a battalion in Eastern Europe than keep it in Quebec or Alberta.  However, the costs of more reassurance to Eastern Europe are much less than Afghanistan.

On Ukraine, it is clear that Harper is quite committed, given his pro-Ukraine, anti-Russian rhetoric.  But on supporting a multilateral institution that was part of the Liberal body of work, not so much.  NATO is a product of past governments, mostly Liberal ones, from Harper's point of view, and his attempts to erase Liberal legacies from all over the Canadian landscape means an ambivalent attitude towards the organization.

The thing is, the US wants to keep NATO going, and it is the one way Canada can remain engaged and relevant in European security.  So, Harper rails and cuts, but ultimately he has discovered the same thing we find in our book: that NATO is the worst form of multilateral military cooperation except for all the others.  So, he will resist when he can and buy in entirely when it is really important. So, expect Canada to commit to the Rapid Reaction Force and/or basing in East Europe.  But don't expect him to fall in love with Brussels and all that it represents.

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