03/05/2014 12:33 EST | Updated 05/05/2014 05:59 EDT

As a Prospective MP, I Want to Discuss the Crisis in Crimea

One of the primary duties of Members of Parliament, regardless of the political party to which they belong, is to debate issues of importance to Canada. Social media allows for the enhancement of our democratic process, in my opinion, as it permits Canadians to interact directly with their parliamentarians.

One way that MPs (save for cabinet ministers, of course) can further this deepening of democracy is by sharing their reflections publicly through social media. This gives Canadians the ability to assist their legislators with answering some questions that they may encounter over the course of their reflections, and also to express a differing point of view when they have one. In short, we get a better, fuller democratic discussion.

The issues that have been on my mind the most over the course of my involvement in politics have been national unity and foreign policy. As a prospective MP, I believe that it is my responsibility to share the conclusions I've reached and the questions I still have concerning the current crisis in Crimea.

Doing so may not be the most politically expedient thing for me to do, but then again I'm not running for Parliament so I can do nothing more than tell people what they want to hear. A free exchange of ideas leads to better policy. Moreover, the Ukraine case is of such great long-term importance to Canada that we cannot afford to allow it to fade into the background without having had a serious conversation about how it could affect our foreign policy.

I understand we're dealing with a sensitive topic here. I personally am of Ukrainian, Russian and Polish stock. My job is to put that aside as much as I can and deliver an intellectually honest account that will help enhance Canadian public policy. So here's what I've come up with so far:

To begin, Russia's response to the European Union attempting to pry Ukraine out of Moscow's orbit was predictable. Russia is the world's quintessential land power, and has therefore viewed forward defense as being the key to its security for centuries. Put differently, from Moscow's perspective (and St. Petersburg's before it), endless expansion is the key to preventing perpetual disturbances at the extremities of the empire.

Russia today is surrounded. China is making important geostrategic advances in Central Asia and Siberia. Former Warsaw Pact states have been incorporated into NATO and the EU. Discussions concerning ballistic missile defense revealed Moscow's resulting intransigence when it comes to the Russian "Near Abroad."

It is difficult to view the EU's Association Agreement gambit with Ukraine as anything other than one last attempt to pry Kyiv away from the Russians before the West's relative geopolitical decline is completed. If Winston Churchill's presiding over the dismantling of the British Empire and the beginning of the Cold War is any indication, then this was not the best course of action. When power is set to shift, one forms new alliances. One does not make desperate attempts to seize what may or may not be up for grabs. Maintaining a global balance of power must remain the priority.

Forward defense is not a novelty in the global system. The American "Global War on Terror" is premised on a "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" mentality. Israel's past occupation of the Sinai Peninsula and its continued control over parts of the West Bank is based on a similar idea. Pakistan's policy of "strategic depth" was designed to combat encirclement by Communist-friendly Afghanistan and India by aiding terrorist groups to operate on enemy soil.

If forward defense is going to remain a constant in the global system and in Russian foreign policy, then there are some important questions concerning our long-term global outlook that we need to ask. I have identified four such questions so far:

1) One of the principal challenges of a more integrated world is the need to fit humanitarianism in with the existing global collective security framework. Mass atrocities now threaten our security unlike in times past due to resulting health-related and terrorism concerns, which can easily spread beyond borders.

Presumably, rising powers will have more of a stake in preventing such incidences as time goes on, as the likelihood of their direct interests being threatened will naturally increase along with the global power and reach these states accumulate. Is the Russian invasion of Crimea a catalyst for or an hindrance against enacting the necessary reform of the world's collective security framework? Does this Crimean campaign entrench or alleviate Russian intransigence and insecurity when it comes to negotiating with other powers?

2) Canada's two vital interests in the 21st century will be Arctic sovereignty and helping preserve a global balance of power to prevent direct military conflict between the world's major powers. Foreign policy is a game of choosing between lesser evils, and ultimately the freest possible world is a balanced one, as the English geographer Halford Mackinder noted.

Has Russia's Crimean invasion restored or upset the existing balance of power? How will it affect the smoothness of the long term transition of power away from the United States and toward other countries? Will Russia's renewed aggressiveness in Eastern Europe translate into more erratic or more relaxed behaviour on other fronts (e.g., the Arctic)?

3) If it wasn't already known, North America and Europe are now essentially two separate geopolitical blocs. Europe is too dependent upon Russian investment and trade to be able even to impose sanctions against Russia, let alone use military force. What does this mean for the future of NATO?

If it means that the ties that bind NATO states together are now weaker than before, then must Canada become more or less dependent on the United States to ensure its own security? (That is to say, will Washington respond to the decline of NATO with retrenchment and pseudo-isolationism or with attempts to solidify the few alliances on which it can count?)

4) Evidently, Western states have gotten into the habit of preaching support for international human rights on a regular basis without actually doing anything to protect them in times of crisis. Some have drawn a parallel with the dying days of the Soviet Union, during which it stopped believing in communism even while it continued to advocate for the collectivist model.

Is it time for Western states to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if they actually believe in international human rights? As early American thinkers pondered, is our role to fight actively for international human rights or simply to be a light unto the nations, an example for all to follow? If we continue to talk big without acting, will this breed further public mistrust of our governments? Are we prepared to acknowledge that in a multipolar world order, we may be forced to sideline some of our campaigns designed to advance our values in order to protect our vital interests?

I don't have the answers to any of these questions. I would be grateful if my readers could help me tackle them by providing their thoughts.


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