Martin Regg Cohn: In a nuclear faceoff with Russia, international locations like Canada will should be nimble

What started as a brutal recreation of chess over Ukraine is right now a deadlier recreation of rooster.

Now, the fruits of Russia’s “particular navy operation” is nuclear escalation.

What can Canada do to rein in Vladimir Putin’s adventurism?

There are clearly limits to what a center energy like Canada can obtain. Simply as there are limits to what a nuclear energy like Russia can attain on the bottom.

Nuclear blackmail, by threatening to lob bombs past one’s borders, sounds empowering. In the end, it’s an empty menace.

If Putin want solely threaten nuclear assaults anyplace in Europe, he might conquer all the continent with out firing a shot. And embolden different members of the nuclear membership to emulate his instance.

That’s why the West has no different however to face its floor. However when each side find yourself enjoying a recreation of rooster, how will it play out?

Chilly Conflict playbooks from the Sixties period are being dusted off for refresher programs. Within the nuclear recreation of rooster, two drivers on a collision course speed up to see who will flip away first.

However the extra chilling recreation principle is that one driver throws away the wheel, casting himself as a loopy man who received’t — can’t — flip again. Which forces his opponent to blink first and capitulate.

That’s primarily Putin’s play right now. As a substitute of the supposedly secure paradigm of MAD — mutual assured destruction — the Russian chief is recasting himself as a madman who have to be accommodated.

First annexing after which escalating, he goals of checkmating the West. However Putin is on shaky floor.

Right this moment’s nuclear gamesmanship will not be what it was in World Conflict II and even the Chilly Conflict. Past the strategic intercontinental missiles that wipe out complete cities, nuclear weapons have been downsized, in their very own lethal means, to tactical weapons deployed on the battlefield with extra restricted influence and fallout.

Tempting is it could be for Putin to terrorize his enemies with an illustration bomb, he can’t be allowed to cross that threshold. Which explains the West’s publicly acknowledged willpower to retaliate with devastating penalties, albeit in a non-nuclear means.

Whereas fashionable nuclear weapons have been “rightsized” for restricted strikes, standard weapons haven’t stood nonetheless. They’re extra exact and highly effective than ever earlier than, and absolutely able to overwhelming enemy targets with out resorting to nuclear fallout.

The result’s that nukes should not the trump card they as soon as had been. They usually come at nice price — not solely in huge navy retaliation however political isolation.

Putin has already been given combined indicators from his in any other case dependable allies in China and India for sowing instability militarily, politically and economically. If he goes additional by breaking the nuclear taboo, he dangers being disowned solely by Beijing and New Delhi.

Which brings us again to Canada and the West.

Diplomacy has failed totally so far. The choice to confrontation is triangulation — which means we should act with resolve on Russia, whereas appearing with restraint on China.

To her credit score, International Minister Mélanie Joly publicly embraced Ukraine’s bid final week to fast-track its utility to NATO, within the wake of Russian annexation of its territories. In Washington along with her U.S. counterpart Antony Blinken, who was extra measured publicly, Joly reiterated Canadian assist.

As Joly famous this summer season in the course of the Democracy Forum at Toronto Metropolitan College, Canada has boosted its navy deployment to the Baltics from 700 troops to about 1,300. Center powers solely have middling influence on their very own, however by supporting NATO and sending weaponry to Ukraine, Canada has been a pressure multiplier — together with Sweden and Finland becoming a member of the alliance.

Joly additionally mentioned her strategic evaluation of relations with Asia, due later this 12 months. Canada has clear considerations over China, and its more and more belligerent conduct after the detention of profession diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor (the “Two Michaels”).

However the floor has shifted in latest months. Simply as China has selections to make about Russia and the West, so does Canada.

The problem is to drive Beijing and Moscow additional aside, not nearer collectively. Regardless of its ambivalent rhetoric, China has to this point been cautious to keep away from resupplying Russia militarily, bowing to American stress.

Regardless of the comprehensible want to push again towards China, the wiser course is to bide our time and bid our allies to do the identical. Canada has maintained solidarity with Taiwan — a Canadian frigate joined a U.S. destroyer in navigating the Taiwan straits final month regardless of Beijing’s harsh rhetoric — however it’s an more and more delicate balancing act.

Simply as Canadian diplomacy is outlined by triangulation between Taiwan and Beijing (we solely preserve an embassy within the latter, out of nationwide curiosity), so too our overseas coverage should take account of the peril going through Ukraine from a Russian invasion — whereas doing all the pieces doable to keep away from nudging Beijing into Moscow’s orbit.

Timing is all the pieces in life, and likewise in wartime. Of their hour of best want, Ukrainians want all the assistance they will get — which suggests contributing to the battle effort, but additionally retaining Chinese language weaponry out of the way in which lest it empower and embolden Russia.

That doesn’t imply forsaking our friendship with Taiwan. It simply requires nimble statesmanship in each Europe and Asia, at one and the identical time, in troubled occasions.

Martin Regg Cohn is a Toronto-based columnist specializing in Ontario politics and worldwide affairs for the Star. Comply with him on Twitter: @reggcohn

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