To help Ukraine, Canada should prioritize diplomacy over arms shipments: researcher

Providing lethal military equipment to Ukraine could have unintended long-term consequences, says a researcher with a leading Canadian peace institute.

Canada has sent rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons, machine guns, rifles, pistols, hand grenades, and ammunition to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

These weapons will likely help the country in the short-term, but what happens when the fighting stops?

“Once this conflict is over, whatever that looks like, these weapons don’t just disappear,” said Kelsey Gallagher, who tracks Canadian military exports for Project Ploughshares.

“The volume of this military aid is, to our understanding, unprecedented in recent Canadian history,” he said. “We need to be certain that Canada has assessed all of the potential risks of surging huge amounts of weapons systems into Ukraine.”

One of those potential risks is having the weapons fall into the hands of unsanctioned fighters.

“There is right now a constellation of paramilitary groups that are operating in Ukraine and I’m uncertain how many of them are deemed to be legitimate by the government,” Gallagher said.

Another possible issue is the diversion of the donated weapons to the black market, which would make them available to criminal elements in Ukrainian society.

“This very well could be destabilizing to Ukraine in the long run, and may act as a disservice to the Ukrainian people,” he said.

Rather than prioritizing weapons shipments, Gallagher would like to see the federal government focus on diplomacy instead.

“The Canadian government has to keep pushing for dialogue,” he said. “What should be paramount is trying to find non-violent resolutions to this conflict. Some people are going to think that’s ridiculous, but that’s one of the avenues that needs to be sought right now.”

Voices like Gallagher’s are not being heard nearly as often as those of the retired generals who have been featured so prominently on Canadian television networks since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Retired general and former chief of the defence staff Rick Hillier received significant airtime to call for a no-fly zone in Ukraine. But as Gallagher points out, such a move could “very possibly” lead to nuclear escalation.

“I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating because it’s almost to be expected,” he said about the relative lack of media interest in the opinions of peace scholars and anti-war activists. “But I absolutely think it’s important to explore and highlight more critical voices when it comes to things like peace and conflict.”

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its seemingly deliberate targeting of civilians are “horrific” acts of “unbridled aggression,” its concerns about NATO expansion need to be considered, Gallagher said.

“I would find it hard to disagree with Russia that they would feel NATO is on their doorstep,” he said. “We have to understand where they’re coming from if we want to meet the next potential conflict with dialogue as opposed to with weapons.”

(Photo: Canadian Forces Combat Camera)