Originally posted on CIPS blog here.
Throughout the Cold War, the amount of military violence worldwide grew steadily, reaching a peak in 1992. A major reason was interference by the superpowers in local conflicts. The proxy wars that resulted when the United States and the Soviet Union backed one side or the other in any given country dragged wars out longer and killed an ever-increasing number of people. When the Cold War came to an end, these proxy wars ended too, and the magnitude of worldwide conflict plummeted. Bad relations between the major powers are bad for everybody.
Sadly, proxy wars are now making a minor comeback. The most notable example is Syria, where Iran has backed one side (the Syrian government) and Saudi Arabia and Qatar have backed the other (the rebels). As if that weren’t bad enough, Russia and the United States have also gotten involved. Rather than co-operating against a common enemy, the former is backing the government, and the latter is backing some of the rebel groups. As a result, the Syrian civil war is proving to be prolonged and bloody. Once again, the lesson is clear — disagreement between the USA and the Russian Federation is bad for everyone.
This might seem obvious, but it apparently isn’t. Donald Trump’s desire to mend fences with Russia has made him a target of abuse from his political enemies and from the security studies commentariat. But in this regard, Trump is far more sensible than his numerous critics. In response to their complaints, Trump said on Twitter that, “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think it is bad!” He is entirely right.
Meanwhile, there are forces pushing the Canadian government to use whatever influence it has in Washington to try to sabotage Trump’s attempts to seek rapprochement with Russia. Following Chrystia Freeland’s appointment as Canadian Foreign Minister, the Latvian and Ukrainian ambassadors to Canada publicly urged her “to encourage the incoming Trump administration not to become too cozy with the Kremlin.” According to the Canadian Press, “The envoys also say new Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland can deliver that message to Washington because of her strong network of contacts in the U.S., as well as her past experience as a journalist who reported extensively from Ukraine and Russia.”
Just what benefit Canada would derive from pressing the Trump administration in this way is not clear. Relations with the new American government are likely to prove tricky enough without adding any extra complications. In any case, a better relationship between Russia and the United States is something we ought to be encouraging, not trying to prevent. Better relations between Russia and Canada would also be useful, and ought to be a priority for the new Foreign Minister. Here’s hoping that Ms. Freeland has the good sense to see the bigger picture and to ignore the ambassadors’ appeal.