Jeremy Kinsman is a distinguished fellow of the Canadian International Council. Ben Rowswell is its president.
The visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this week is one the most important diplomatic opportunities for a Canadian prime minister in years. Amid disruption to global norms as well as growing challenges to democracy, Canada and Germany have increasingly bonded in shared commitment to protecting and reinforcing both the rules-based order on which international security depends and on human rights.
On Feb. 24, Russia’s attempt to extinguish its neighbour’s burgeoning democracy by invasion and occupation threatened the obliteration of hard-won world norms against such aggression established amid the ashes of the Second World War. The stalemated, very costly, and destructive war of attrition in Ukraine has no end in sight. Its effect on the rest of the world is metastasizing, already buffeted by the burdens of coping with climate change, the pandemic, and other challenges.
War is the ultimate calamity. It is vital that Russia’s attempt to resurrect the dictum that “might makes right” fails.
Ukraine’s very existence is at stake. So are bedrock international principles without which the world would lurch back into the competitive militarized nationalism that destroyed tens of millions of lives in the 20th century.
While making plans to intensify bilateral energy cooperation to provide Germany with alternative sources of vital energy, Mr. Scholz and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will also discuss how our two countries can help to reinforce the broad-based but largely Western coalition against Russia’s attempt to revert to the law of the jungle.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin has got much wrong in his assumptions about Ukraine, and about the willingness and unity of democracies to stand firmly with it for the long run. He needs a defining lesson that the collective will of the rest of the world is stronger than he assumes.
It is important that this not be seen in the rest of the world as just a competitive issue between the West and the truculent Russian disruptor. What Russia threatens to disrupt is the global norm, which is in every nation’s interest, that protects national sovereignty against armed incursion. And yet, while few countries in the United Nations defended Russia, many in the UN’s “silent majority” sat on their hands when it came to sanctioning the clear aggressor. One reason is that they are too preoccupied by current financial and other burdens. Another is that they have grown skeptical of Western governments that have downplayed common interests, from fighting COVID-19 to combatting climate change.
Canada and Germany have been laying the groundwork for a much deeper solidarity that would enable collective action with democracies from all parts of the world. The foundation lies in the mutual respect between our two countries, and the mutual learning we have taken from one another.
We have a relationship built on the humility that we each have something to learn from others. In the face of unprecedented refugee flows from Syria in 2015, Germany adopted elements of Canada’s approach to welcoming and integrating newcomers. Similarly, Canada borrowed German-inspired EU regulations to protect the privacy of our citizens online, and to discourage willful disinformation. This approach of mutual learning offers a compelling basis for cooperation with likeminded countries far beyond the West.
A growing network of German and Canadian officials, scholars, civil society and thought leaders have been exploring how mutual learning can build solidarity. Led by the Canadian International Council, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, this network has grown to include partners in South Korea, India, South Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Our collaboration has confirmed that solidarity in security will only come when our countries demonstrate solidarity in health, as we take stock of the damage done by the uneven distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. We need to lead other countries in building wider solidarity in coping with unprecedented flows of refugees and migrants. We are zeroing in on ways in which the world can tackle anti-democratic, ubiquitous and under-prosecuted corruption.
Mr. Scholz’s predecessor, Angela Merkel, was criticized for her approach of “leading from the middle.” But in a polarized world, the middle is where the foundations for a more stable order will be built. Now that the West no longer dominates, it is time for our democracies to engage those in Asia, Latin America and Africa in mutual respect and through mutual learning. Only then can we secure again the rule of law for our planet.
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