Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Politics Over Humility: Canada Trains Ukrainians

There are at least two ways to look at the decision by the Canadian government to train Ukrainian soldiers:
  1. Canada always joins Anglo-American efforts to foster stability and confront aggression (the Iraq 2003 was, um, something else).  
  2. Never say that this government has not leaved any stones unturned in its efforts to pander to a Canadian diasporic segment.
Both are correct.  One can pitch this new training mission as something that is quite typical of Canada--doing it what it can as part of a coalition effort.  The CF has learned, at great cost, how to deal with landmines/improvised explosive devices, and has other expertise that they can impart to the Ukrainians.  Of course, two hundred trainers can only do so much (as Canada is learning in Iraq with a lesser number), but the Ukrainians could certainly perform better.  This will not give the Ukrainians the chance to win their war with Russia,* but it might raise the costs that Russia incurs.  It might also help to limit how far Russia advances.  To be clear, the effect here can only be a limited one, but still might have some impact.

* I am not a big fan of the fiction that this conflict is between Ukraine and a band of separatists--Russian soldiers are dying in Ukraine, and Russian equipment is killing Ukrainians as well as the passengers of a Malaysian airliner.
The impact at home might be a bit clearer.   Stephen Harper and his dual hat-ed Minister of National Defence and Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney have been making sure to be in front of most of NATO in speaking fervently for helping Ukraine.  The passion here has a domestic component, aimed at one of the larger diasporas in Canada.  While Harper may have some animus towards Putin (something that we share), the Ministry of Multiculturalism has been mostly focused the past few years on playing towards different ethnic communities in advance of the next election.  Sending a small number of troops to Ukraine about six months ahead of the election is a happy coincidence?

Up to now, most of Canada's efforts in this area have been in support of NATO's reassurance missions--flying planes over Romania and the Baltics, small units of troops taking part in training exercises in the region.  This is a significant step forward, as most of NATO is not doing this, and it does mean that Canada will have troops in a country that is at war.  To be clear, the training effort is on the other side of the country, so there is little risk to the troops or of escalation.  Still, it is not something to be done lightly.

There may be other dynamics involved in this, but the combination of Anglo-American-Canadian cooperation AND ethnic politics at home makes this move almost inevitable.

No comments: