Around 2004 or so, I helped clean out the old air cadet hall in North Battleford. I was the training officer and a reservist lieutenant in what has since been renamed the Royal Canadian Air Force. Our cadet squadron was moving to a new home, after over 60 years in a building meant to last the war.

The last big war.

The Second World War.

In cleaning it, I came across a yellow booklet called 11 Steps to Survival. It was printed in 1961, and the foreword was signed by Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker.

It wasn’t about surviving when your car hits the ditch, or flooding hits the Lower Mainland. It was how to survive a nuclear attack. And that included getting in a ditch, if bombs go off while you are in your car.

I kept it as something of a souvenir. This week, I pulled it out, handed it to my kids and wife (who was also a reservist officer), and told them to read it.

Last night our time, at about 5 a.m. Ukraine time, the world just took a hard reset back to 1983, and perhaps 1962, the two most dangerous points of the Cold War. In November, 1983, the Soviets thought a NATO war game called “Able Archer 1983” was a cover to launch a first strike. The night of Nov. 8, 1983, the Soviet Union went to its highest war footing, with the leadership spending the night expecting to have to push the button.

Of course, we all know of the Cuban missile crisis in October, 1962. Well, last night, we just reset the clock.

History has not ended. There will be new dates to remember for future students. Today is one of them.

And that booklet, a relic from 61 years prior, became a lot more relevant to a family whose home is precisely 50.0 kilometres northwest of the closest Minuteman III nuclear missile silo, according to Google Earth. And for the next 200 kilometres in that general direction, the United States has one of its last remaining intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM fields). There are 150 remaining 1970s era missiles spread across three squadrons, each with five flights of 10 missiles. Each missile can potentially carry up to three nuclear warheads, and each of those can be up to 20 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.

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Those silos are situated in an wide arc surrounding one of the last remaining nuclear missile and bomber bases, Minot Air Force Base. Whereas there used to be B-52 bases by the dozen across the entire continental United States, now there are only two. Minot, 200 kilometres from Estevan, is one of them. If a nuclear war were to occur, at least 10 per cent of Russia’s remaining nuclear stockpiles would be expended on western North Dakota. Southeast Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba would be a heavily radiated fallout dead zone for decades.

Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base, home to a similar Minuteman field, would catch another 10 per cent. That would make southwest Saskatchewan and all of southern Alberta a dead zone, too.

This graph doesn’t show recent years, where nuclear stockpiles on both sides have fallen to under 2,000 warheads each. Created by User:Fastfission first by mapping the lines using OpenOffice.org’s Calc program, then exporting a graph to SVG, and the performing substantial aesthetic modifications in Inkscape. – Own workSource data from: Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Global nuclear stockpiles, 1945-2006,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 62, no. 4 (July/August 2006), 64-66. Online at http://thebulletin.metapress.com/content/c4120650912x74k7/fulltext.pdf, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1514245

 

As scary as that is, it is precisely because nuclear stockpiles have been reduced by over 95 per cent compared to their Cold War heights, that today’s war of Russia against Ukraine is possible. The United States peaked at around 31,000 nuclear warheads in the mid-1960s. The Soviet Union hit 40,000 in the late 1980s. Under the New START Treaty, signed in 2010 and renewed in 2021, the Americans and Russians are now limited to just 1,550 warheads apiece, with just 700 missiles and bombers each.

And because the delivery systems are so much more accurate now, bombs are smaller than the multi-megaton city-flatteners they once were. All of a sudden, fewer, smaller, more accurate bombs has become less safe than tens of thousands of big bombs which would have eradicated most life on earth.

Putin bets no one will use nukes

Certainly, Russian President-For-Life Vladimir Putin has made the calculation that no matter what he does right now in Ukraine, or what he might do afterwards, no one will use the nuclear trump card. And even if they did, it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as our collective Cold War fears would imply. After all, the arms reduction treaties initiated by Ronald Reagan after the Able Archer 83 scare have resulted in most of the nukes being dismantled. Now, for the first time since the early 1950s, a nuclear war could even be something akin to winnable, or at least survivable.

In his assault on Ukraine, Putin has affirmed he doesn’t think this will go nuclear. So if it stays conventional, he’s going to run the table.

And his initial moves, from what I’ve seen on Thursday morning, are precisely what I had predicted. The Red Army is performing a massive pincers movement, sweeping down from Belarus and northwest from Crimea. There may have also been an amphibious assault on Ukraine’s only major port, Odessa, which would cut them off from the world’s sea lanes. Those pincers are going to close in Western Ukraine and take three quarters of the nation, perhaps in a few days. And from there, it’s a short distance to Poland, which, if they had any sense, should be mobilizing their entire military right now.

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Former Warsaw Pact member Poland has been the most enthusiastic new member of NATO since it joined. Now you know why. And if Poland, or Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia are attacked, we are treaty-bound to respond.

And I have a daughter whose military age, and a son who will be in a few years. And the military is no longer a boys-only club.

Hard men, weak men

Author G. Michael Hopf came up with a proverb that goes like this:

Hard times create strong men.

Strong men create good times.

Good times create weak men.

Weak men create hard times.

For the last decade, specifically, we have been living in that last phrase. We have become weak, not just in Canada, but across the Western World.

Our naval-gazing society has been more concerned about issues of gender, climate change and every other liberal cause under the sun, and forgotten about what really matters. Putin has not.

A prime example is the two most recent officers we’ve appointed as Chief of Defence Staff, our top general of the Canadian Armed Forces. In each of their inaugural speeches as CDS they have spoken about how their primary concern was addressing sexual harassment in our military. Their focus wasn’t readiness, or Russia, or China. It was #MeToo. Now, sexual harassment may be bad, but war is a lot worse.

And war is now upon us.

And that same military has dithered for literally decades on buying a new fighter plane. We still have not made a decision, even though the Harper government had made what, in reality, turned out to be the only choice, and the right choice, in 2009. So now, when we might actually be going to war, the Australians and Brits have new F-35s, but we have 40-year old CF-18As, supplemented by Australia’s flea market leftover F-18As.

Similarly, our navy has been a mess. Our entire destroyer force has rusted out and had to be retired. Our national shipbuilding strategy has yet to deliver one new surface combatant. Our new arctic patrol vessels are essentially unarmed. We had to lease a merchant tanker to have just one mobile fuel station for our navy. And our submarines have hardly spent any time at sea since we bought them second-hand from the UK. Our soldiers carry pistols that were made for and during the Second World War. We’ve totally forgot how to procure pretty much anything for our military over the last 30 years.

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The only successes we have had in military procurement has been when the chips were down for our extremely limited involvement in Afghanistan. A war in Europe will make Afghanistan look like a tea party.

I wish I could say Canada was the only case like this, but it’s really been all of Western society. Nearly every government, every military, has become soft. Our prime minister is the shining example. Biden is the same. Instead of his nation’s energy security being his primary consideration, the first thing he did as president was cancel Keystone XL. Then, less than a year later, he was begging the world (including Russia) to increase oil production. I wonder if, later this week, he might be regretting that choice, as that pipeline would have been half-built by now.

I listened to a podcast this week interviewing the commanding general of the United States Air Force Air Combat Command, Gen. Mark “Grace” Kelly. He pointed out that as a young pilot, he would get 18 flight hours of training per month. Now, American pilots are getting nine hours a month. Thirty years ago, the USAF had 8,000 fighters which were on average eight years old. Now, they have around 2,000 fighter planes that average 28 years old.

 

As I said, Putin has noticed. The West has collectively become soft. Weak. And COVID-19 made us even softer over the last two years. And so now, he has chosen to strike.

Ukraine will fall

The reality is Ukraine will likely fall within days, and no one will send troops to help. I anticipate an insurgency that will bleed them white, like Afghanistan did to both the Soviets and NATO, and Iraq did to the U.S.

But before that happens, what will Putin do next? He could consolidate his win, and stand put. Or he could move against Poland before they fully mobilize, cutting off the all-but-helpless Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. And then NATO will have to decide if they will sacrifice New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, and, as mentioned above, half of North Dakota for Warsaw and Vilnius. Most Americans don’t even know Vilnius exists, never mind could place it on a map. They certainly wouldn’t trade their lives for it in a nuclear holocaust.

If you think it can’t happen, Germany took the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Luxemburg, Norway and France in a few weeks in 1940.

So if Russia does follow Hitler’s example and capture a number of weak, small states in a matter of days, we could be in for a long, conventional war, at a time when Canada is nearly toothless. Nearly all of NATO is in the same boat.

Our response

And even if that doesn’t happen, should Europe ever trust Putin again, for anything? Just wait until he starts turning off pipelines, and central Europeans start freezing to death.

Overnight, European nations are realizing they can no longer rely on Russia, for anything, for at least 10 years, maybe longer.

Let me be clear on this: Russia’s principal exports are oil and gas. Last year it produced 10.5 million barrels per day on average, over 10 per cent of the global market, and much of that was bought by Europe.

You do not give someone money which they will then use to build the tanks to invade and conquer you, or your allies.

The rest of the world has to replace that oil, and freeze Russia out of the market.

We, Canada, must step up and support our European allies. We can’t accomplish much with our military, but we can with our resources. We need to keep the lights on in Europe, not just now, but perhaps for the next generation. Even when the shooting stops, this will not be over.

That means we need to build multiple liquified natural gas plants, and the pipelines to support them, right now. Quebec’s concept of pipelines being “socially unacceptable” just went out the window. That means that this week Trudeau should be calling up Energie Saguenay and telling them, “Start construction now.” To hell with what Quebec says. He should tell Pieridae Energy it should build the Nova Scotia Goldboro LNG facility. And, perhaps most painfully for him, Trudeau should order TC Energy to build Energy East, today, and get Irving Oil building their export terminal.

We might even need to build a pipeline to Churchill. And the Tech Frontier oilsands project, cancelled last year, should go ahead, too, to provide additional barrels to fill those pipelines. Every drilling rig in Saskatchewan and Alberta should start punching holes now.

It also means Saskatchewan needs to replace all of Belarus’ potash. They are our major competitor, and they have been complicit with allowing Russia to attack via their land. Some reports have mentioned the involvement of Belorussian troops. Anticipate crippling sanctions to be applied to Belarus, as well. We need to build the rail cars and export facilities, on the east coast, to handle the export of our potash to the Atlantic. Perhaps some capacity at Thunder Bay and the St. Lawrence Seaway could be used to that end.

President Joe Biden should similarly get Keystone XL built, now, surely a bitter pill for him.

These are things we can do. We must do. The time of governing our society with pixie dust has come to an end. Can’tada needs to end. Decisions need to be made, and action needs to be expedited. We need to start living in the real world, where the weak get trampled, and the decisive survive.

It’s time for the West, and Canada to grow up again. Putin has given us no choice.

 

 

Brian Zinchuk is owner and editor of Pipeline Online. His grandfather and great-grandparents left the Polish controlled area of Ukraine in 1930, two years before Stalin decided Ukrainians didn’t need to eat, and millions died. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

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Brian Zinchuk: Canada’s energy weapon is an empty holster in dealing with Russia with regards to Ukraine

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