As European armies prepare for war, allies call on Canada and other countries to catch up

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In Estonia, there are plans to build more public bomb shelters and make them mandatory in all newly built houses.

In neighboring Latvia, the government is currently considering a second draft law on compulsory military service. Next door, in Lithuania, we are talking about universal conscription.

“I understand that when we talk about the Baltic point of view, it may seem somewhat dramatic and shocking,” Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, speaker of the Seimas, Lithuania’s legislative assembly, told CBC News on Monday in Ottawa.

“It is obvious that today democracy itself, democratic countries, democracies around the world are under pressure from Russia and its autocratic allies.”

Since the start of 2024, security warnings in Europe about Russia’s future intentions have grown fast and furious.

And they have come in different forms and from different officials – many of whom are known for their discretion and lack of hysteria.

These warnings are driven in part by Russia’s stated plans to put defense and munitions production on a war footing – something Western countries, and Canada in particular, have struggled to achieve in their efforts. aimed at strengthening Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion.

Many observers question whether the security warnings are actually being heeded by Ukraine’s allies, including Canada and the United States.

Two weeks ago in Sweden, a political debate erupted after the country’s two top defense officials warned that war could be on the horizon. Sweden’s Civil Defense Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin and his military commander-in-chief, General Micael Biden, said people should mentally prepare for the eventuality – and start stocking up.

A land war in Western Europe?

The head of the British army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, said in a recent speech that the United Kingdom should form a “citizen army” and be prepared to fight a war on land in the future.

Three presidents of parliaments from the Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are the latest to issue fresh warnings about Western nations’ preparedness for the prospect of even greater conflict in Europe.

They traveled to Ottawa on Monday and met with senior government officials before heading to Washington for more meetings.

Two women and a man stand in front of flags.
Lauri Hussar (left), Speaker of the Estonian Parliament; Daiga Mierina, Speaker of the Latvian Parliament, and Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen (right), Speaker of the Lithuanian Legislative Assembly, traveled to Ottawa on Monday, January 29, 2024 to meet with senior Canadian government officials. (CBC News)

Daiga Mierina, Speaker of the Latvian Parliament, said that having been occupied by the Soviet Union, the Baltics have a much more visceral approach to the threat posed by the Kremlin and can “see very clearly what we can expect from the Russia.

“We understand Russia differently.”

The Speaker of the Estonian Parliament said that building public resilience in Western countries begins with understanding that an information war is already underway.

“It’s really important right now because this is a large-scale war and (that’s what) underlies the online attacks on social media and elsewhere,” Lauri Hussar said. .

Whether these warnings are heeded in Western countries is debatable. Swedish opposition politicians described the defense chief’s warning as alarmist.

Former Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told Swedish television that although the global security situation is serious, “it’s not like war is right outside the door.”

Since many defense experts claim that the professional Russian army that started the war in Ukraine has been virtually destroyed, Andersson’s argument contains some truth.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with military personnel involved in the war in Ukraine, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, January 1, 2024.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with military personnel involved in Russia’s war against Ukraine at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence near Moscow January 1, 2024. (Kristina Kormilitsyna/Reuters)

But Moscow has an ambitious reconstruction plan. Russia’s military spending in 2024 will reach 7.1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) and account for 35 percent of total government spending, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

What is needed in the West, apart from an acceleration of production, is a change of mentality, said Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer, chairman of the NATO Military Council.

“I think a nation has to understand that when it comes to war, as we see in Ukraine, it’s an event that concerns the whole of society,” Bauer recently told the from a meeting of NATO Chiefs of Defense.

Women work on drones on an assembly line.
Ukrainian women assemble military drones at drone manufacturer Atlas Aerospace in the capital Riga, Latvia, Wednesday, February 1, 2023. (Sergei Grits/AP)

The West, he said, has worked for decades with the belief that “the professional military… would solve the security problems we faced in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

This approach is no longer sufficient, he said.

“It will take more people from society to support the army in terms of manpower,” he said. “The industry needs to have enough munitions to produce new tanks, new ships, new planes, new artillery. It’s all part of this discussion about a pan-societal event.

“I think more people need to understand that it’s not just about the military and money. We need to be more ready across the entire spectrum.”

Asked about recent comments in Sweden during an interview with CBC News last week, Defense Minister Bill Blair said the growing concern in Europe is entirely understandable, given the proximity of the threat.

He insisted that Canadians understand that their way of life and the rules by which Western countries have operated for decades are at stake.

Two military planes fly close to each other.
In this photo provided by the British Ministry of Defense, British and German air force fighter jets rush to intercept a Russian plane flying near Estonian airspace, Tuesday March 14, 2023. (Department of Defense via AP)

“We have always been a country that has stood for these rules and these principles and we will continue to do so,” Blair said.

But do Canadian leaders really share this sense of urgency felt in much of Europe?

Last fall, a House of Commons committee heard about a critical shortage of artillery ammunition, including 155-millimeter shells that meet NATO standards. Unlike its allies, Canada has not signed an agreement with munitions manufacturers to radically increase their production.

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