By Joe Fernandez
Although I support a foreign policy that generally follows George Washington’s Farewell Address, which is to say avoiding foreign wars altogether, I argue that a case can be made for defending the Baltics.
In Between The Giants: The Battle For the Baltics In World War II, Dr. Prit Buttar details how the Germans in the Baltics, with only 146 tanks and 150 planes, and with “infantry divisions weak in terms of mobility and anti-tank firepower” fought against 650 Soviet tanks and 1,250 Soviet planes. The Germans not only managed to fight the Red Army in the region from January 1944 to May 1945, but to also attrite the Red Army so that, by September 1944, the Soviet divisions in the area only had 3,000 to 7,000 troops apiece instead of their nominal strengths of 12,000. This was at a time when the Red Army was 2 million strong.
In contrast, according to renowned Russia expert Dr. Mark Galeotti’s The Modern Russian Army 1992-2016, the Russian military in 2016 had only 766,000 troops, with the elite 4th Guards Kantemirovsk Tank Division and 2nd Guards Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division of the First Tank Army of the Western Military District (which borders the Baltics) each only having 6,000–7,000 troops.
Galeotti’s report of his conversations with Russian flag rank officers in the January 19, 2018 Guardian article “Forget Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent: Here Is What Russia Is Really Afraid Of” is as important. One Russian officer told Galeotti, “Britain has always had the best light infantry in the world and the bastards get places faster than we would like.” A Russian naval officer told him that Britain’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, “would make a great missile target,” which can be interpreted as a nuanced allusion to Russia’s access to China’s carrier-killing DF-21D missiles. Russian naval officers also told Galeotti that they were more concerned with the Royal Navy’s submarines and frigates and Britain’s ability to keep enough ships deployed at any one time. Lastly, another soldier told Galeotti, “these days, the Europeans have armies but no soldiers, while the British have always had warriors (‘boets’).”
The sum of the previous two paragraphs is that British and Canadian troops and ships in the Baltics could plausibly deter a Russia of only 144 million people (in contrast to America’s over 300 million) from getting bogged down in a drawn-out war for the region. The question then becomes, “Why defend the Baltics and not Ukraine?” My answer is that there are material Canadian interests in the Baltics and only a free trade treaty with Ukraine.
That specific material Canadian interest in the Baltics is Alimentation Couche-Tard, which operates 2,225 stores in Canada (each store employing multiple Canadian taxpayers), and which is also a leader in convenience store and road transportation fuel retail in the Baltics. Couche-Tard also has operations in Russia, which constitute another argument against the anti-Russian jingoism of habitual letter-writers. However, given Russia’s treatment of Anglo-American investor Bill Browder, it is in Canada’s interest that Alimentation Couche-Tard’s Baltic operations do not fall under Russian control as well.
Some would say that I am arguing for the exploitation of the Canadian Armed Forces as taxpayer-subsidised guarantors of a private multinational. This is based on the popular, and false, dichotomy of interests between “the rich” and the working class/“the poor.” If one looks at the holdings of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and of the Canada Pension Plan, one readily sees that union members and ordinary pensioners also benefit when corporations do well. The CPP also holds equity in Alimentation Couche-Tard, whose other shareholders include the Jarislowsky Fraser Canadian Equity Fund, Scotia Bank, TD Bank and the Bank of Montreal (BMO). In turn, Québec’s Desjardins Insurance is an investor in Jarislowsky Fraser, while Scotia Bank runs several funds, which can be used as retirement funds. BMO runs a Group Retirement Savings Plan and TD works with the Canada Pension Plan.
Furthermore, Alimentation Couche-Tard paid taxes in the amounts of $383 million in 2017, $398 million in 2016, and $306 million in 2015. Taxes pay for things like military salaries and veterans’ benefits.
I still personally oppose CAF deployment to the Baltics or anywhere else that would push Russia further into what Douglas Schoen and Melik Kaylan call The Russia-China Axis. That being said, I must acknowledge that there are tangible Canadian interests in the Baltics where there are none in Ukraine.