On January 26, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland commented on the stand-off between NATO and Russia regarding Ukraine, stating:
“This is a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. This is a direct challenge to the rules-based international order and an attempt to replace it with a world in which might makes right, and where the great powers, the nuclear-armed powers, have the authority to redraw the borders, dictate the foreign policies, and even rewrite the constitutions of sovereign democracies whose only fault is that they are smaller and their militaries are not as powerful.”
This statement is hollow reification of the Cold War binary – democracy versus authoritarianism, good versus evil. As part of the NATO alliance, Canada is doing precisely what Freeland condemns.
NATO is an aggressive, expansionist force. America, its most powerful member, has been at war perpetually since the Second World War. It has also participated in 70 foreign coups and has been involved in assassination plots on at least 30 foreign leaders. Its drone strike program of targeted killings has solidified assassination as a legitimate contemporary practice. Though these strikes have not yet targeted world leaders, the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was very close.
Canada’s complicity in violence is no secret. It is not shy about arms trade, colonial dispossession, or imperialism. From the Middle East to Latin America to the Indigenous nations of this continent, it is a country that has always practiced the principle of “might makes right.”
Canada has also been meddling in Ukrainian politics for decades. Like the United States, it supported the coup in 2014. Canada has spent huge amounts of money to promote “democracy” in the country, supporting Western-friendly organizations, and $700 million dollars on military aid since 2014. It has promised $120 million more.
Freeland’s talk of anti-authoritarianism ignores that Canada and the United States have been actively training and supporting Ukrainian neo-Nazi militants – a particularly sickening decision as over 1.2 million Jewish people were murdered by Nazis in Ukraine during the Holocaust, something that Freeland should be well aware of.
In May 2014, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi militia called Azov Battalion formed to combat Russian separatists. In November 2014, Azov Battalion was incorporated into the National Guard, making it an official part of the military. This was done with the knowledge that it was a neo-Nazi group.
Azov’s Nazism is explicit. Its members are adorned with Nazi emblems and its leader wrote a manifesto stating that the “the historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the white nations of the world in a final crusade for their survival, a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”
An investigation by Time in 2021 demonstrated that Azov has become an influential part of global neo-Nazism since its incorporation into Ukraine’s National Guard. It has a political party, recruits internationally, and communicates with neo-Nazi terrorist groups such as Atomwaffen Division.
Azov’s main recruitment center is located in a building owned by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. During a tour of the facility, Time reporters were told that Azov’s mission is “to form a coalition of far-right groups across the Western world, with the ultimate aim of taking power throughout Europe.”
In 2018, Canadian military officials specifically met with Azov. When they did, they expressed concern not because of its explicit Nazism but due to potential exposure in the media. American officials have also been photographed meeting with the unit.
In 2020, the UN passed a resolution condemning Nazism. Two countries voted against it – Ukraine and the United States. Canada abstained. Right now, NATO is contributing to the militarized resurgence of Nazism in a region that saw some of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust for the sake of its power struggle with Russia.
Russian natural gas pipelines seem to lie behind much of NATO’s increased interest in the region. Like America, Canada is an extraction empire. Successive governments have shown that policy must always focus on expanding the market for oil and gas, and expanding into the alleged $1.2-trillion EU market has the duplicitous value of undermining Russian power.
Russia’s military presence is imperialist but not unprovoked. NATO was specifically designed to combat the USSR in Europe. When the Cold War ‘ended,’ NATO promised not to expand further. But, since 1999, 14 Eastern European countries have joined the organization, causing bases to spread towards Russian borders. Today’s posturing is a continuation of the Cold War.
The Cold War is not reducible to a power struggle between two competing pan-European blocs. It was an “afterlife” of European colonialism, a struggle over regions of extraction. It was also a struggle between colonized peoples and colonial powers – a time of revolution. More than proxy war, there was imperialism. The false binary erases those who felt its impacts most severely.
The Cold War began when the Second World War ended and America found itself in a position of global power. Former powers were in ruins but America’s industrial production had quadrupled. Its military presence extended into occupied nations globally – a presence maintained to the present day, making the Department of Defence the largest employer and landholder in the world.
In 1948, George Kennan, architect of the Cold War containment strategy, authored a report stating that:
“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”
America suddenly controlled the extraction empire, the collective pool of colonial wealth. Its only major threats at this time were the USSR and China – states which opposed the very economic system that American power relied upon, which seemed more benevolent to many decolonizing peoples across the globe.
After the war, European countries restructured via the Marshall Plan. Though the Marshall Plan is commonly understood as an aid program intended to bail out countries devastated by war, it primarily served to solidify America’s newfound position of dominance. At the time, the State Department explicitly referred to it as a means of “political warfare.”
In order to receive Marshall Plan funds, European countries were required to join the Organisation of European Economic Cooperation and take structural measures to ensure compatibility with American capitalism. These measures enabled American control over European markets and their chains of extraction.
In the post-war world, liberalism became the ideology of American expansion and NATO its bulwark in Europe. Liberalism is not a vague ideology of support for freedom, as its proponents suggest, but a political practice compatible with specific social structures. In its American form, liberalism naturalizes the state’s dominant socio-political structures and its predominant form of domination: capitalism.
The corrupt genius of American liberalism was melding capitalism to democracy. The spread of democracy became the spread of liberalism, the spread of capitalism, the spread of societies beholden to American extraction.
As a post-war wave of decolonization took hold, liberalism gave postcolonial states the semblance of independence while upholding the relationship of extraction. Regions of extraction that threatened legitimate independence were met with physical intervention.
This is not abstract theoretical musing draped across history. When America launched its Guatemalan Coup in 1954, a democratically elected government was removed from power specifically to further American economic interests. The coup included lists of officials to be assassinated and communists to be executed in the aftermath.
The previous year in Iran, the elected government was toppled following the nationalisation of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Britain’s largest overseas concern. An American-British collaborative operation code-named TPAJAX removed Prime Minister Mosaddeq from office and replaced him. The recent overthrow of Evo Morales demonstrates that this is ongoing.
The Cold War has not ended. For America, Cold War involved fostering an environment conducive to the solidification and expansion of its position of dominance in the post-war world, facilitating the transfer of imperial power. States like Canada accepted their position of privilege within this sphere and accumulated wealth as a result.
NATO’s interest in Ukraine is not benevolent. It is about maintaining a position of control over the transatlantic sphere. Likewise, its condemnation of Russia is not due to the state’s repressive nature but due to its unwillingness to submit to American authority, its incompatibility with American interests, and its threat to American power.
Canada’s media will always support its wars – or, it has done so in 98 per cent of cases, historically speaking – but people on the ground need to question the narrative, curtail warmongering, and bring the Cold War to an end.
Luke Beirne is a freelance writer who lives in Saint John, on unsurrendered and unceded Wolastoqey land. His debut novel, Foxhunt, will be released by Baraka Books in April 2022.