Editor’s Note: This op-ed was published by Macdonald-Laurier Institute. It is republished here with permission.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced the extension and expansion of Operation UNIFIER, the Canadian Armed Forces’ military training and capacity-building mission in Ukraine. With the mission now running until March 2025, 60 troops will be deployed in the coming days to join 200 members of the Canadian Armed Forces already in Ukraine, with the ability to increase the total number on the ground to 400. In addition, Canada will be providing $50 million to Ukraine in development and humanitarian assistance.
Yet for Operation UNIFIER to last for three more years requires that Ukraine remain an independent country and that the Ukrainian Armed Forces – that welcome the mission – remain as the defenders of Ukrainian sovereignty.
However, Ukraine’s independence and its Armed Forces are under imminent threat of a further military invasion by a much better equipped Russian army that has stationed some 100,000 troops on the borders of Ukraine.
To be counted at this time when democracy is at stake, Canada will need to immediately join other NATO member states in providing Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons. These weapons are crucial to help Ukraine protect its territorial integrity and ultimately, to deter any eventual military incursion by Russia against a NATO member state.
According to a survey by Abacus Data, 75% of Canadians support or could accept it if Canada was to provide weapons to Ukraine to defend itself.
Ottawa has suggested that it is focusing on diplomacy rather than sending the much-needed arms and munitions to Ukraine. Providing lethal defensive weapons would not put an end to diplomacy, as demonstrated by the continued diplomatic relations between Russia and the NATO member states that have already delivered such weapons to Ukraine. Sending weapons is in fact a key part of the diplomatic toolkit.
Tactically, these weapons increase Ukraine’s defensive capabilities and are a serious deterrent to Russian invasion. By contrast, failing to contribute to Ukraine’s ability to defend itself only makes it an easier target for Russia, rendering a diplomatic solution less likely. That is why Canada’s package to Ukraine to ensure peace is missing a crucial piece, namely lethal defensive weapons.
In this volatile situation, halfway measures are perhaps the most dangerous; they provoke Russia without giving Ukraine the tools necessary to defend itself or prevent Russian aggression.
History has taught us the bitter lesson that a policy of appeasement with a ruthless, expansionist authoritarian leader simply does not work. Such policies are perceived by authoritarians as a sign of weakness to be fully exploited.
Indeed, UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to appease another belligerent dictator that ended with tragic consequences. On 30 September 1938, when Chamberlain returned home after signing the Munich Agreement with Hitler, he stated reassuringly to his people “I believe it is peace for our time. [!em!/]
for an independent Ukraine