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Armed pro-Russian activists seize the Ukrainian regional administration building in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk, Ukraine, Monday, April 14, 2014.

Evgeniy Maloletka/The Associated Press

This week collective diplomacy gets its shot at the Ukrainian crisis when ministers from the Ukraine, Russia, USA, and European Union meet in Geneva.

We face another moment of testing for the international order that "we have worked for generations to build" President Obama told European youth. Prime Minister Harper was more blunt, yesterday describing Russia's actions as "aggresive, militaristic and imperialistic."

But is the U.S. Administration and the NATO Alliance prepared to draw red lines? And then follow through with collective defence?

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For collective diplomacy to be successful Russia must commit to troop pull-back, removal of agitators, non-interference in the May 26 Ukrainian elections and then recognition of its new government. Ukrainian authorities must guarantee the rights of its Russian-speaking minority.

The USA and EU must define, clearly articulate and then act on a calibrated set of sanctions. Demonstrating military muscle is essential. NATO exercises on land, air and sea is 'language' that Mr. Putin will understand.

Strong actions will also reconfirm the West's commitment to international order.

That there is public fatigue with what many see as unsatisfactory foreign adventures is understandable. Iraq was an unnecessary war and the long campaign in Afghanistan has not had a satisfactory conclusion.

The recession and continuing joblessness obliged governments to concentrate on domestic recovery and now restraint in operations.

Defence budgets have suffered. Less than a handful of the 28 NATO members meet their commitment to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence.

Has the tilt to domestic preoccupations and defence cuts inadvertently encouraged the rogues and those who don't like the western international order?

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Alliance strength and solidarity will send a message to those – Iran, North Korea and China – who are currently testing those limits.

The Ukrainian crisis reminds us that collective security, the purpose of NATO, is an enduring priority that requires real commitment. Words alone don't defend principles or deter aggression.

For Canada this means a recommitment to our own defence establishment. We currently spend 1.5 per cent of GDP on defence.

We point, with justice, to our contributions in Afghanistan and Libya. We argue, with reason, that results and output are more important than numbers, But we can do more. Our promised procurement of ships, planes and land vehicles is behind schedule and already Inflation is eating away at the new kit.

Our defence policy puts 'Canada First'.

A clever piece of political phraseology, our investment is as much in collective security through NATO and NORAD. These alliances have insured the long peace on which depends our prosperity.

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A strategic alliance of democratic and sovereign states; the adjectives are both its strength and its shortcoming. NATO's faults – sclerotic decision-making, unequal burden-sharing, lack of readiness – are much discussed, notably by then-US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates.

Yet, after sixty-five years, the Alliance continues to be the most successful collective defence partnership the world has known. With a combined four million under arms, NATO collectively accounts for nearly 70 per cent of all military spending NATO is the effective cop on the global beat, the go-to organization when muscle is required to manage chaos and restore order.

The three core principles of NATO's Strategic Concept – co-operative security, crisis response and collective defence – have enabled partnerships and operations beyond its original theatre.

Ultimately, collective security depends on two factors.

Political will is the most important. History suggests it takes a crisis, like the Crimean invasion, to arouse the Alliance to action.

The second is economic strength. We focus on NATO's Article V: in the case of an attack we are all for one and one for all. Yet we pay relatively little attention to Article II with its emphasis on the development of free institutions and encouraging economic collaboration.

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Acknowledged as the Canadian contribution in drafting the NATO charter, the economic value of Article II is overlooked. Yet as a formula for economic regeneration, freer trade is without rival.

Bringing the Atlantic economies into closer integration is good for business and strategically smart.

This strategic dimension has been missing from the debate on the US-Europe Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA). Achieving CETA and TTIP would be the economic match to the security alliance we created in 1949.

It's collective security, but with an economic edge.

Representative institutions, bolstered by free trade and the market economy, are the best means to underwrite our security and defence. They enable us to deal with the world as we find it, even as we work collectively towards the world we wish.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP. He is an Honorary Captain in the Royal Canadian Navy.

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