Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:
cc. MP Gord Johns 11th of May, 2020
Re: Canada’s membership in NATO
First, I want to thank you for our government’s clear and compassionate leadership during this COVID crisis. As well, I know I am not alone in appreciating your proactivity in allocating significant funds to the cleanup of fossil fuel-damaged sites, focusing on workers, and research in renewables rather than a bailout for major oil and gas interests.
This current crisis is demanding the expenditure of massive amounts of money on a world-wide scale. We are in a time unlike any other in history. As always, in crisis, there is both danger and opportunity. I am writing to encourage you to seize the opportunity, reconsider our membership in NATO, and reallocate monies formerly spent pursuant to our NATO obligations toward a major reset of our economy. The enormity of change in our world could justify a revisit of Canada’s strategic plans for the Armed Forces. My proposal is that Canada move to a civil-based defense strategy.
We now have a petroleum energy sector in freefall. The military is by far the largest consumer of fossil fuels worldwide. So far, we have failed to make the connection between war-preparation/war-making and the climate crisis. COVID presents the opportunity to do so. The end of COVID will not be the time to “get back to normal”. It will be the time to include Canadian civil society in what must be a massive undertaking to go forward in sustainable ways. Withdrawing from NATO is one viable way to allocate taxpayer money to this major reset of our economy.
NATO enters the picture as an obsolete, militaristic alliance in which Canada no longer needs to participate. As the first Secretary General of NATO, Lord Hastings Lionel Ismay, once stated: NATO was established “to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”. The Soviet Union no longer exists, Germany has no territorial or war-making agendas, and surely the U.S. does not need Canada’s military to support its endeavours. NATO has been characterized as an arms-trading co-op. As evidence, we see the pressure that President Trump is placing on Canada as per his letter of November 2019, demanding we increase our military spending to 2% of our GDP from its current 1.3%. That would mean an extra $11 billion for this year alone. Why do we spend $32 billion/year on the military and less than $2 billion on our environment? In truth, there are no longer any good reasons to remain in NATO.
When your father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, was Prime Minister, he managed to reduce our NATO troops in Europe by ½. Diplomatically! When the Cold War ended, the time was ripe to disband NATO completely. That didn’t happen. Instead, NATO broke its promises to Russia and expanded to Eastern Europe after the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact. Now we have Canadians engaged in war exercises close to Russia’s borders (and the recent, unnecessary deaths of 6 of our military personnel in a helicopter accident.) How does that make us any more secure? Surely the European Union can be responsible for its own defense.
NATO has also embraced nuclear weapons advocacy as part of its strategy, and this is an area where civil society in Canada has clearly stated its opposition. Further, NATO has expanded beyond the North Atlantic, its original mandate, and Canadians have been part of war-making in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya. While a majority of Canadians have always approved of our membership in NATO, the average Canadian falsely imagines our military as performing a “peace-keeping” role in the world. The strong demand from civil society for a return of Canadian NATO troops from Afghanistan was a major factor in accomplishing that return.
As NATO is indeed an arms-trading co-op, we know that the primary beneficiaries are those NATO members most heavily invested in the sales side of the arms trade. Instead of encouraging an arms trade economy, we need to wholeheartedly encourage investment in civil society and a peace-making economy. This realignment toward real security is truly in the best interests of us all; it would be in our enlightened collective interest as a nation.
There is a disconnect between NATO’s current policies and Canadians’ view of the appropriate role of our military. Addressing this disconnect could be a significant step in putting Canada more in tune with Canadians’ stated values respecting their country – a democratic, pluralistic, non-aggressive country that cares for all its people and connects with the rest of the world in peaceful and productive ways. In other words, we need to recognize our privilege, steward our resources wisely, and show adaptive leadership in addressing the climate crisis instead of being part of the problem; Canada could then become a model and an inspiration for others.
Such a bold undertaking begins with our government’s understanding of what our true priorities need to be – a healthy economy that works to urgently address the climate crisis, zero tolerance for increased emissions, an economy directed toward addressing the inequities in our society and the root causes of poverty. Then, development of policy backed up by legislation, to set us on the path to reach those goals. Prior to COVID, grass roots civil society, in 2019, made clear that the climate crisis is at the forefront of their interests. This became undeniable after the last election. Urgent attention to climate crisis is the mandate; funds are needed to support a period of transition from our dependency on fossil fuels. Marketplace economics demand major investment in research, development, clean-up, retraining and incentives for people to make the shift to renewables. This leadership has to come through policy and legislation – such as we have seen in countries like Germany, for example. Decades ago, German government created policy and laws which led to production of the first zero net energy housing in the world. The change was rapid because of leadership from government.
This is an area where your government could show progressive and creative leadership, Mr. Prime Minister. (Thank you for still reading, by the way!) We need a “Peace Corps” of residents of Canada, working within Canada. If Canada’s military could undergo a conversion to a civil peace-keeping force, including such functions as those of the Coast Guard, but also those involving on-the-ground service to Canada – be it the repair of infrastructure, the reclamation of land and water from fossil fuel and uranium mining damage, the handling of our own waste, assuring clean air and clean water for remote Indigenous communities, or any number of other services – our population as a whole would benefit. Instead of a fight or war against the climate crisis, it could be described as: “Canadians Surge Toward sustainability” or “Interconnected Canada” or “COVID Response: Canadians connect over Climate Crisis”. “Canadians Reset”. Mr. Prime Minister, history is offering you an invitation. Are you willing to fully accept it?” Thank you for listening.