Updated: May 31, 2022
Richard Sandbrook is professor emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toronto and President of Science for Peace.
President Putin is responding to Ukraine just as President Biden would under similar circumstances. NATO needs to find a face-saving formula expressing the reality that Ukraine will not be joining NATO, thereby avoiding a devastating war.
In the 19th century and today great powers have spheres of influence. Russia no more “deserves” or “has a right to” a sphere of influence than the United States does in Latin America or China does (or aspires to) in countries on its borders and further afield.
In the 1990s NATO could have reconciled with Russia by admitting it to NATO. But alliances need an enemy: Russia was cast in that role. Allowing former republics of the Soviet Union to join NATO was a provocation as well as an abrogation of promises made after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. NATO and the United States blundered badly.
The extent of this provocation can be illustrated by conjuring a simple scenario. How would the US react if a Russian-centred alliance found a new Mexican government, having ousted a pro-American administration, interested in joining the Russian alliance? The US government would react in the same way that Putin is acting vis-à-vis Ukraine. Latin America is regarded as within the US sphere of influence. The Monroe Doctrine – which has never been disavowed — asserts this relationship.
Geopolitics still rules. NATO overextended itself and must now withdraw. As tensions in relations between Russia and NATO over Ukraine are rising precipitously, with potential for a major military flare-up that could have devastating consequences, Science for Peace appeals to the Trudeau government to show political maturity, vision and responsibility by taking immediate steps to de-escalate the crisis.
We stress the relevance of the United Nations’ Charter, which in Articles 1 and 2 affirms the need “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace” and emphasizes Member States’ obligation “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principles of equal rights…”
We therefore call on the Trudeau government to stop arming Ukraine and engaging irresponsibly in Operation Unifier and Operation Reassurance and to withdraw from any efforts under the aegis of NATO that may lead to military collision between Russia and Ukraine. Canada must stop meandering into this explosive and complex crisis.
The Trudeau government must instead work within NATO to promote restraint and a settlement through peaceful means. Eventually, Canada should withdraw from this nuclear-armed alliance, which long ago lost its raison d’être. And let’s get back to solving the real problems of our age: negotiating nuclear disarmament, dealing with global warming, and addressing the absurd levels of inequality at a national and global level.