In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, critical threat expert Frederick Kagan said Putin’s use of unconventional methods such as information warfare and trying to leverage positions in international bodies to assert his views make Canada well-placed to call them out.
“I think Canada can play a really important role. This is not right now a conflict in which you can only play if you’ve got big conventional forces. There’s a place where that’s important but this is a conflict where soft power really does matter,” said Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.
“It matters to Putin how his information operations are perceived, it matters to him how the legality of his undertakings is perceived, and these are things that Canada can challenge as well or better than the United States or other countries.”
Kagan was among several military experts who spoke at the CDA Institute’s conference on security and defence in Ottawa last week.
During a panel about the threat posed by Russia, he made the case that Canada and allies are already in conflict with Russia because of Putin’s ongoing efforts to dismantle the rules-based international order established after the end of the Second World War.
“This is not an interwar period. The war is on,” he said on the panel.
“The principal challenge is our own failure to recognize we are involved in a great-scale conflict with Russia.”
Kagan called Putin’s goals “antithetical” to Canadian and Western interests, which rely heavily on the rules and order laid out by established international institutions, and told Stephenson that he thinks efforts to dismantle them are the most critical threat facing the world right now.
“The single biggest global threat is the erosion and possible collapse of the rules-based international order that is being fuelled by a lot of different malign actors but that poses an incredible danger to countries like the United States and Canada that benefit from that order more than any others,” he said.
And while countering Russia in conventional warfare might not be an option for all countries, he said that shouldn’t be seen as the only way to push back.
“We tend to be a bit too focused in my opinion about the risk of conventional conflict with Russia,” Kagan said.
“We are not actually seeing that (Putin is) achieving his goals without conventional conflict in the current environment.”