Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
Please consider inaugurating a nuclear armament program. Please begin this process now.
I never imagined writing something like this. American by birth, but now also a Canadian citizen, I’ve always regarded the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a stain on my birth nation’s honour. But the time has come to face reality, and the foreign minister’s June speech reasserting Canadian sovereignty is only the beginning of the reckoning.
We are in many ways living through a replay of the 1930s: a world struggling in the wake of economic cataclysm, fascists rising across Europe and an authoritarian in power (this time in the United States) cultivates support from the radical right.
Tyranny is on the march, and there is no clear end-point in sight. We can no longer assume that our country’s safety is assured, and even proposals for anti-missile defence don’t go far enough because they assume a democratic U.S. – the very thing that is now in question.
Alarmist? Maybe. But the consequences of a misstep now — the 21st-century equivalent of 1933, the year of Hitler’s ascendance — are dire, and we can’t regain later the time that we lose now. Nuclear programs take time to initiate, and in order to be prepared for our version of 1939 (the start of the Second World War), we cannot allow these to be “the locust years,” as Winston Churchill described the time wasted between 1933 and 1939.
So this is 1933. Start the countdown.
America is on a quest to demonize Muslims, round up Mexican immigrants, restrict trade, break up NATO and help Vladimir Putin divvy up the world. If you want to understand Donald Trump’s foreign policy, think “Mafia Protection Racket.” Just change the little shop-owners, forced to pay up, into little nations across the globe.
To understand what it’s like being beside a bully in today’s world, look at Ukraine. Perhaps the greatest mistake that country made after the breakup of the USSR was to get rid of its nuclear weapons. The consequences? Russia seizes Crimea and effectively invades eastern Ukraine by arming Russian secessionists there. This could also happen to Latvia and the Baltic states.
Could it happen here? For more than a century, Canadian policy could assume that, while the U.S. might be an 800-lbs gorilla on our doorstep, at least the gorilla played by the rules. But Trump has said the old rules won’t apply, and his selection of white nationalists and conspiracy theorists to powerful roles in his administration indicates he is not kidding.
Most troublingly, recent Congressional Republican capitulation on “L’Affaire Russe” shows us that the famed “checks and balances” of the U.S. Constitution mean little, and that the path to American authoritarianism is wide open.
To plan for the day when the U.S. is more like Putin’s aggressive bear, Canada must be able to protect itself without anyone’s assistance. A conventional military buildup is nonsensical, given the size disparity between the U.S., Russia, and ourselves.
But as Israel, Pakistan and North Korea have shown, nuclear arms are a pragmatic deterrent for small nations adjacent to populous neighbours of uncertain motives.
Yes, this might provoke the ire of Trump or Putin, and hasten the conflict it means to stave off. That risk must be carefully weighed. But what do you think Ukraine would do, given the chance to go back and keep its nukes?
Was Ukrainian disarmament rewarded with Russian pacifism? Who, other than Putin, is Trump’s model for strong leadership? And, speaking of Putin, who is looking to contest Canada’s future Arctic claims? If you think Trump will support us against Russia’s coming provocations, think again.
Rather than trigger a crisis, I expect this strategy would preserve the peace, by forcing potential aggressors to acknowledge a far more potent Canadian response.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that America is our enemy. Canada just needs to prepare to ensure its own security in an uncertain world, which requires having the resources to face any potential future conflict.
Starting a nuclear program is not easy. It takes time and research to determine the most practical options for Canada. It will also require withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, a step with major ramifications that requires careful consideration.
Importantly, however, we should not think that such a program would be inherently “un-Canadian.” For two decades, during the Cold War, we had up to 450 nuclear warheads permanently stationed on Canadian bases (though these were not under exclusive Canadian control). We need to trust in ourselves even more now, and stop relying on others to protect us.
Maybe I’m being alarmist. Maybe. But at what point does alarmism become prudence? Not when an aggressor makes the first overt threats – by then it’s too late. If 1933 (i.e. now) is too soon, then when? At some point we must be ready to start the discussion about protecting ourselves, and three years’ grace is about the best we can hope for.
After that we have to rely on the United Kingdom or United States to bail us out … Oh, wait.
Stefan Dolgert is an associate professor in the department of Political Science at Brock University in St. Catharines, and can be found on Twitter @PosthumanProf.