Writing in Postmedia papers, MLI Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley draws lessons from the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe for the West’s ongoing disputes with Russia.

He says the June 6, 1944 attacks that helped liberate Europe from the grip of the Nazis, and the subsequent challenge by the Soviet Union, remind us of the moral courage that’s needed to defend the West’s interests in the future.

“Russia is once again posing to the West the issue of the sacrifices we can and should be prepared to make to protect fundamental values like freedom, democracy and the rule of law”, he writes.

The column appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, the Calgary Herald, Vancouver's The Province, the Vancouver Sun, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and the Edmonton Journal.

Brian Lee Crowley, June 6, 2014

A great confluence of events should be focusing our attention on Europe today.

First, there is the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France, in which Britain, America, Canada and other Western powers launched the single greatest amphibious landing in history, beginning a long march to liberate Europe from the horrors of Nazism. America, Canada, Australia and others didn’t need to come, but we came regardless for fundamental values whose defence is part of our national interests.

Second, there is the re-emergence of Russia, not as a Communist power, but as a self-conscious re-invention of itself as a polar opposite to America. Russia has been deeply offended by its loss of prestige in the world, and especially in the eyes of its old adversary, the United States. When President Obama told Russians that he regarded them as a mere “regional power,” they realized that they were now humiliatingly seen as a kind of Brazil with ageing nukes.

President Vladimir Putin has, with infinite cunning and forethought, used Russians’ deep patriotism as the foundation of a military and diplomatic resurgence. Unrestrained by mere considerations of democracy or the rule of law, he has used America’s current weakness and vacillation against it by bold and imaginative strokes: seizing the initiative in Syria, frightening NATO from extending itself to Georgia and Ukraine, grabbing Crimea, igniting an explosive regional conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and using its natural gas as a bludgeon against countries unwise enough to become dependent on it.

Nor do they have just America in their sights. They continue to occupy pieces of Georgia and Moldova, and while they may not actually annex parts of Eastern Ukraine, they have effectively guaranteed that a country that had been about to move firmly into the Western orbit will now spend years as a conflict-riven disaster zone. The pressure on former member-states of the USSR to join Russian-dominated clubs like the Commonwealth of Independent States is relentless.

The reason I juxtapose these two European stories is because Russia is once again posing to the West the issue of the sacrifices we can and should be prepared to make to protect fundamental values like freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It doesn’t matter that Moldova and Ukraine and Georgia are places many of us would be hard-pressed to find on the map. The point is that every success for Russia in its aggressive expansionist policies is an incitement for them to up the pressure.

We’ve been here before, and the West rose magnificently to the challenge. When the old Soviet Union threatened all the values I’ve described that link the two sides of the Atlantic, politicians throughout the West convinced their voters that they needed to sacrifice, through higher defence spending, a nuclear deterrent and membership in NATO.

Canada and America put military bases in Germany for the sole purpose of guaranteeing that if Soviet tanks rolled into Western Europe, they could not advance without attacking our two countries as well. We put ourselves intentionally in harm’s way as a sacrifice to protect shared values.

In the teeth of the opposition of the anti-nuclear movement, courageous European leaders accepted American cruise missiles in order to help turn up the heat on the USSR. Those policies of shared sacrifice in support of shared values ultimately resulted in the failure of that society and a vast expansion of human freedom.

Note this was not the “military solution” that Barack Obama so reviles. But it was a solution that depended unequivocally on a demonstrated willingness to use the military solution when all else fails.

Can the West summon up this level of moral courage today in defence of its values and interests? On the answer to this question, much depends. The answer is not yet no, but neither is it clearly yes. It is a resounding maybe.

Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

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