It’s been 11 days since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Parliament that his government has “credible intelligence” linking India to the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil.
It has since been hard to know what was the most shocking part of that revelation: that India, a democratic country, might assassinate someone in another democratic country; or that Mr. Trudeau would go public with an allegation destined to incur the wrath of the Indian government while his Western allies averted their gaze the way people do when someone embarrasses themselves.
Eleven days later, Mr. Trudeau is somewhat less isolated. It is now apparent that key parts of the intelligence gathered by Canada came from the United States. What’s more, some of the intelligence involves communications between Indian officials, including Indian diplomats in Canada. It’s also now known that U.S. President Joe Biden privately raised the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in India this month.
And just this week, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he had been given classified access to the intelligence in Ottawa’s possession, and confirmed “there is credible information” about India’s participation in the plot.
But none of Canada’s major allies has voiced a strong condemnation of India in public, even if some found the intelligence credible enough to confront Mr. Modi with it in private.
If Mr. Trudeau has been caught off guard by this, one reason may be that his government – which always seems to be a few steps behind on major global developments – failed to realize that the world is once again reordering itself, and that there is a new cold war afoot.
Just as the newly elected Liberal government in 2015 came to power with rose-tinted fantasies about forging closer ties with Beijing, only to learn at its expense that the Communist Party of China had other ideas, so too must it now belatedly accept the fact that its main ally, the U.S., is locked in a competition with China for the title of world superpower, and it desperately needs India on its side.
This is not the capitalized Cold War of the past, which pitted the liberal democratic ideology of the West against the Stalinist totalitarianism of a commercially isolated Soviet Union. China has a strong economy and is a major global trading partner.
But China is clearly asserting itself, through its aggression in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, its takeover of Hong Kong, its Belt and Road initiative to pull small countries into its orbit, and its sheer audacity, best exemplified by the political hostage-taking of the two Michaels.
The battle for global dominance is on again, and the U.S. sees closer ties with India as its best option for keeping China in check. So, where once it denied Mr. Modi a diplomatic visa because of the atrocities committed against Muslims he allowed to take place when he was chief minister of Gujarat state, this summer the Biden administration welcomed Prime Minister Modi to the White House with open arms, invited him to address Congress, and pledged to build stronger trade, technology and defence ties with his country.
And the morning after Mr. Trudeau’s bombshell announcement, Mr. Biden made a speech at the United Nations in which he mentioned closer ties with India but said nothing about the allegation.
The U.S. is clearly prepared to swallow Mr. Modi’s well-documented assaults on liberal democratic values in his country and possibly elsewhere, because it needs him on its side if it hopes to contain China.
As one expert on U.S.-India relations, Ashley Tellis, said in an interview this month, India’s slide into something less than a full democracy enjoys a “quite remarkable measure of immunity today.”
Which means America’s national interests are going to trump its values in India. Ottawa, though, isn’t up to speed on this new world order. In its Indo-Pacific Strategy released just this summer, it said, “Canada and India have a shared tradition of democracy and pluralism [and] a common commitment to a rules-based international system.”
As long as the Modi government is in power in India, and the U.S. has its back, that analysis is naive. So too is any belief that, if Mr. Modi’s government bullies a middle power like Canada, its allies will speak up. There’s a new cold war in town, and the Trudeau Liberals need to wake up to it.