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Bundle up.

SUNNY WAYS AND sunny days: isn't that what the forecast called for? Well yes, but no one ever promised it would be warm. Which might explain that cold breeze blowing up your backside in the middle of summer. It's a change in temperature Canadians might want to pay attention to, particularly given that it doesn't involve weather, but a political frostbite few voters would have imagined a year ago. That the forecasters got it wrong is nothing new; that we keep falling for it isn't either.

Though few want to say it out loud, the Cold War, version 2.0, is icing up nicely. Whether the first chill started with the rise of Vladimir Putin or NATO's reneging on a promise to keep its distance after the fall of the Soviet Union is up for debate. What isn't is the clear statement formalized at July's NATO summit that the alliance feels a need to puff up its chest and blow some frosty air across Eastern Europe. It will be expanding its military presence by deploying battle groups in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia, flying fighter jets all over Europe, and getting all naval and nasty in the Mediterranean. No doubt Vlad's coffee has already gone cold.

So there's a lot of sword sharpening, grunting, and foot stomping amongst nations that could as easily drop a nuclear bomb as an ice cube on their respective countries, and you're asked to join the fun: what do you do? Duck and cover? Try to calm things down with a quick game of cribbage? Or perhaps break out a case of vodka and hope everyone gets so suitably smashed they forget about the whole bother in the first place?

If you're Justin "Elbows" Trudeau, newly elected prime minister short on memory but big on photo ops, you express how "extremely enthusiastic" you are to help NATO, and that contrary to popular opinion or election rhetoric, you've always seen Canada taking the lead role in Latvia "as an opportunity for Canada to contribute security and stability, defence and deterrence at a time where that's very much necessary." In other words, put up your dukes Vlad. Let's get it on!

First off, anyone who is "enthusiastic" about putting soldiers in harm's way has no business making such a decision. Be that as it may, Team Justin[TM] has committed Canada to not just an exercise in diplomatic sabre rattling on a nuclear scale, but an all-in bet on an alliance that hasn't looked all that healthy since the last Cold War, its raison d'etre. Since the Berlin Wall fell, NATO has had a shoddy resume at best, with hundreds of thousands of casualties as a footnote while it's travelled the world looking for a new identity and reason for being. And it shows no sign of stopping.

Now let's be clear: Vladimir Putin, the bare-chested, testosterone stud that he is, is a megalomaniac, and by reputable accounts, has sucked his own country dry to the tune of billions of dollars for his own personal gain. He's a crook, in other words, and a dangerous one. He's also in many ways the product of not so much NATO neglect, but the lack of support on the part of Western countries that turned a blind eye and pocket book to a country going through the wrenching transition from planned to market economy. Oligarchs were the result.

If memory serves, Canadians voted for peacekeeping and the re-opening of dialogue with Russia. All very sunny and idealistic, but the Liberal campaign platform all the same. Yet with a well-orchestrated play of statesmanship that only looks contemptible in hindsight, the fix was already in. NATO was looking for a fourth partner some time ago, and for reasons Canadians never voted for, the agreement was made. All that was left was the cleanup, with suggestions of possible peacekeeping missions, somewhere, sometime. Though NATO's legacy has left no shortage of options to try and make peace, if not necessarily keep it.

That anyone can be enthusiastic about NATO's chances of doing so now is absurd, unless you're Justin Trudeau with a brand to build. So do keep a jacket handy, because it's going to get very cold.

Michael Nickerson has been a columnist for Esprit de Corps since 2005. He can be reached at: Michael.Nickerson@primus.ca

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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY; Canadian policy on NATO, Russia
Author:Nickerson, Michael
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Aug 1, 2016
Words:736
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