Canada should leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization because the alliance has outlived its mandate, undermines international peace and cooperation, and is a major contributor to climate change.
That was the message from panelists during an April 3 webinar hosted by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute.
“Yes, Canada should leave NATO,” American author and activist Margaret Kimberley told participants. “Everyone should leave NATO.”
“NATO literally has no reason to exist,” she said, referring to the alliance’s original role as a bulwark against feared Soviet expansionism. “Or rather, I should say, its reason for existing is not what we have been told for the past 72 years.”
Citing the devastation and turmoil Libya continues to experience due to NATO’s 2011 intervention, Kimberley said the 30-member organization is “little more than a cartel carrying out acts of aggression around the world.”
Tamara Lorincz of Canadian Voice of Women for Peace told webinar participants the alliance is an impediment to reaching carbon emission and sustainable development goals.
“We simply cannot sustain NATO’s costly and carbon-intensive militarism over the next decade and achieve these goals,” she said. “NATO is one of the greatest threats to the climate and one of the biggest obstacles to the Paris Agreement.”
Lorincz lamented the fact defence spending in Canada – $30.8 billion last year, according to NATO estimates – greatly exceeds investments in things like diplomacy, the environment and Indigenous communities.
And that defence spending is focused less and less on UN peacekeeping and more and more on “NATO war-fighting,” she said.
Paul Robinson, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa and a former member of both the British and Canadian armed forces, questioned the relevance of NATO in the 21st century.
While it may have been “logical” for Canada to join in 1949, he said the country’s participation in the alliance makes far less sense today.
“I think one needs to balance (the) desire for influence and status with some sort of more utilitarian understanding of whether what you are doing is actually doing any good, either to yourself or to the broader community,” he said.
The NATO-led war in Afghanistan – which claimed the lives of 165 Canadians and more than 43,000 civilians – achieved “absolutely nothing,” Robinson said.
The alliance’s recent provocations toward Russia, such as in Syria and Ukraine, undermine international cooperation rather than promote it, he said. “NATO is not actually helping to provide security in Europe, because it is institutionalizing conflict between Europe and Russia.”
But progressives aren’t the only ones calling on Canada to leave NATO.
Many right-leaning think tanks, defence commentators, and military historians are recommending the same course of action, albeit for strategic military reasons rather than humanitarian and environmental purposes.
And their vision is of an even deeper security arrangement with the United States.
In a 2013 policy paper for the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute (now known as the Canadian Global Affairs Institute), Jack Granatstein wrote: “Perhaps it might have been better if NATO had wound itself up at the end of the Cold War. The alliance instead sought a new role and found it out of area. It conducted operations in Former Yugoslavia, war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and later still an air campaign that brought down Gaddafi in Libya. None of these operations were notable successes.”
NATO offers little to Canada in terms of its own defence, he said, yet it demands plenty from Canada in terms of European security.
“Instead of pledging fealty to NATO’s hollow shell, it is time for Canadians to produce a strategy for the next twenty years,” Granatstein wrote. “Any such review will give primacy to Canada’s alliance with the United States.”
Robinson seemed to agree in part with the latter conclusion.
“It would be somewhat unrealistic to imagine that, outside of NATO, Canada could sever all military relationships with the United States,” he told webinar participants. “There’s going to be a military relationship with the United States, come what may.”
But Lorincz suggested Canada can and should sever all military ties with the U.S., including leaving NORAD.
“We need to demilitarize our understanding of security,” she said. “Security means affordable housing, safe drinking water in this country, free education, free health care, vaccines (for) everyone, public transit and action on climate change.”
Canada can do its part for “human security” through global cooperation efforts at the UN, Lorincz said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office did not respond to a request for comment from the Sidebar.
The Global Affairs Canada website describes NATO as “an active and leading contributor to peace and security on the international stage.”
“(NATO) promotes democratic values and is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes,” the GAC site says. “However, if diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military capacity needed to undertake crisis-management operations, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organizations.”
The CFPI webinar, which can be seen here, was co-sponsored by World BEYOND War and supported by Canadian Voice of Women for Peace and the Regina Peace Council.