Saturday, July 31, 2010

Russian roulette

As has been mentioned before on this blog, the waltz between Russian bombers and Canadian fighters is a carefully orchestrated and choreographed dance. The show up just outside our air space, we intercept, they go home. This happens so often it's usually barely mentioned in the press. The well established predictability of the thing is key to avoiding some sort of mistake. It is a game, yes, but a very serious one with clearly defined boundaries. The Russians do not enter our airspace, and we don't shoot them down. And some serious international stupid doesn't happen. Safe enough provided everyone still plays out of the same rule book.

Furthermore, this dance is better described as a NATO/NORAD-Russia event, not a Canada thing. European allies play the same game with Russian bombers.

However, the Conservatives have now established a pattern of making great hay out of this routine event for domestic political strategy. While this does not mean the tactical rules of the game have changed, it may indicate to the Russians that a strategic deviation from the established rules has occurred on our end. It would be easy enough for the Russian thinkers to look at this and read it as domestic political manoeuvring and simply ignore the inane utterings from our current government.

On the other hand, they are also watching this government make utterly insane ideological moves like cancel the long form census and its hoople-headed ministers play dress-up soldier. Russian strategic planners might (rightly in my view) think we've gone off our meds and that their old dance partner has stopped hearing the music. This makes us unpredictable and increases the risk of something going pear-shaped at 40 000 feet.

Our NATO partners might wonder the same. The Harper government has turned Canada into the obnoxious drunk at the dance, and our actions also may reflect on Russia's perception of NATO and NORAD. The collective defence nature of those organisation means that any mishap between Canada and Russia is also a problem between our allies and Russia... I wonder if any of them have mentioned this to the Harper government.

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