“We cannot allow this to be the end of the post-World-War-Two rules-based order,” Chrystia Freeland told reporters on Thursday. “It could be.”
Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister often talks about the rules-based order, and it can sound academic, but in this case it was an appropriately ominous warning.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has, at any rate, shattered norms that the world counted on to deter catastrophe, using great-power military might to invade a democracy.
Ukrainians now face bombs and bloody war, but Ms. Freeland’s point was that the threat is not only to Ukraine, but a challenge to the order that has protected democracies from domination by stronger powers. For a long time, autocrats didn’t dare do this, and if nothing is done now, someone – not necessarily just Mr. Putin – will do it again.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted, more than once, that Mr. Putin can’t be allowed to benefit from invasion – and it should be obvious that Canada has every interest in uniting with other democracies to make Mr. Putin pay.
Canada’s conundrum is that it doesn’t have a lot of ways to materially contribute to that effort, or means to exact costs. Mr. Trudeau admitted that Canada doesn’t have a lot of business with Russia to cut off, and even less since 2014, when Canada imposed sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The Canadian government’s role on Thursday was as cheerleader for global order and unity among allies, many of whom would have to sacrifice more. Canada’s sanctions, including a new round announced on Thursday, are mostly there so Russian entities can’t use Canada to skirt U.S. and European sanctions – and to symbolize the unity this country would like to see.
In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden was insisting the financial-sector sanctions will bite even though they don’t include expelling Russia from the SWIFT international payment system – which would make it very hard for Russian firms to do business abroad – because Germany opposed it. Germany and several other European countries rely on natural gas from Russia.
It is obvious that the threat of sanctions didn’t deter Mr. Putin from invasion, but Mr. Biden argued that the effects of the measures – especially over time – will so weaken Russia’s economy that Mr. Putin will face a difficult choice.
That logic takes the democratic world into a policy of exacting costs that can’t logically end with the kind of measures that have already been imposed, or with sanctions alone, or even if Russia withdraws – especially if Ms. Freeland is right that this is a larger test that will determine the future of the global order.
The costs must be so high that Mr. Putin will want Russian forces to withdraw even knowing that some measures will stay in place after they do, because business-as-usual can’t resume the moment an occupation ends. That will have to go beyond target measures to broader severing of economic ties. That will take a stiffer spine than has been seen in the past, and Canada can really only cheer for the cause.
Ms. Freeland’s statement that the post-Second-World-War order is at stake can face some academic quibbles – for a long time, the postwar order was a Cold War between two blocs, and Mr. Putin’s motivation now seems to be about getting Russia’s bloc back.
But there’s no doubt it is a test. Shuvaloy Majumdar, a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a former adviser to Conservative foreign-affairs ministers, argued that after the invasion of Ukraine, we can look back to see other tests. China imposed a heavy-handed national-security law on Hong Kong in 2020, and faced only modest sanctions. Russia had faced sanctions in 2014 for annexing Crimea. But the costs were not high.
“Democracies everywhere have not defined a common understanding of the strategic threat of the illiberal order that seeks to replace the liberal one,” he said. He argues democracies have to treat Russia and China as strategic adversaries that have to be countered with tools such as severing some economic ties, cyber-rivalry, and naval power to control shipping lanes. That amounts to embracing the new Cold War.
Right now, the world’s democracies have a more basic test – whether they are willing to bear the price of exacting a high cost from Mr. Putin. Ms. Freeland is quite right. A lot is riding on it.
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