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500 Days of Russia’s War: NATO, Europe, and the New Great Power Competition

Edited By:
Written By:
This volume is published as part of IPD’s project, European Security in a Shifting World Order: Debating Canada’s Role.


By Zachary Paikin

The short essays in this collection might all, to some degree, be classified under the category of “realism”, a policymaking perspective that privileges considerations of power and national interests over values or ideology. Yet realism is a broad church — a fact made apparent by the diverse range of opinions featured in these pages.

For Patrick Porter, meeting the challenge of a rising China will eventually require the United States to reorient away from Europe — and European countries to pick up the slack and increase their defence spending to deter Russia and uphold continental order increasingly on their own. Conversely, Andrew A. Michta makes the case that admitting Ukraine to NATO as a full member is not only the more reliable and credible guarantee, but also the most cost-effective, given the gargantuan task of continually supplying Ukraine’s military to deter a future Russian attack. Paul Robinson, for his part, articulates a view which falls more within the tradition of “restraint”, questioning whether the international order is in crisis and thus casting doubt on whether a militarized Western response is most appropriate to respond to present-day challenges.

That such wide-ranging sets of policy recommendations can exist within the rubric of an interests-based analytical framework serves to demonstrate the complexity of the challenges that NATO faces today.

The asymmetrical nature of great power competition in Europe today — pitting a mammoth transatlantic alliance against a relatively weaker Russia — provides incentives for Moscow to eschew forms of cooperation as a means of keeping the West off balance. This suggests, contra the formulation of former EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, that selective engagement with Russia presents an unlikely path toward a more stable and predictable European security order. Absent a more fundamental transformation of Russia-West relations toward a more fully cooperative paradigm, a model of deterrence — paired with a modicum of dialogue, reassurance and restraint to avoid escalation — selects itself by default. The degree to which this model must account for Moscow’s declared red lines, including Kyiv’s future as a member of the Western institutional community, will be a question of utmost delicateness.

Absent a more fundamental transformation of Russia-West relations toward a more fully cooperative paradigm, a model of deterrence – paired with a modicum of dialogue, reassurance and restraint to avoid escalation – selects itself by default.

Today, Western tensions with China are mounting, threatening a spiral of mutual recriminations and security competition which may be difficult to control. However, Beijing’s aims appear mostly geared toward undermining US hegemony and reshaping certain contours of the international order to better reflect its preferences, rather than overturning the entirety of the global normative and institutional architecture writ large.

By contrast, whatever the nuances of Russia’s post-Cold War foreign policy up until 2022, Moscow now appears increasingly intent on running roughshod over cardinal norms of the post-1945 international order, including respect for sovereignty and state borders. With the cat of Russian imperialism now out of the proverbial bag, it is uncertain whether Western countries will have the wherewithal to confront Moscow over the long term, while also pivoting resources to the increasingly economically and strategically central “Indo-Pacific” theatre. For Canada, there is also a third theatre competing for attention, namely the defence of North America. The political questions of the hour, such as whether or how quickly to support Ukraine’s accession to NATO, must be considered against this broader backdrop.

The present situation may have been partially birthed by Washington’s decision to jettison aspects of the great power concert and normative pluralism which constituted the post-1945 order — exemplified by the UN Security Council and respect for state sovereignty — in favour of a post-1991 approach rooted in unilateralism, interventionism and global military primacy. But irrespective of the cause, as realists would naturally intuit, NATO allies must address the world as it is, rather than as they would like it to be.

Published in advance of NATO’s pivotal July 2023 summit in Vilnius, this brief compendium analyzes the varied — and complex — policy imperatives and shifting landscapes that transatlantic partners face in the new great power competition.

The Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) would like to acknowledge the generous support of the Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program of the Department of National Defence of Canada*, whose contributions have helped to fund IPD’s ongoing research on Europe’s evolving security order.

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of the Department of National Defence or the Government of Canada.

Edited By:
Zachary Paikin
Dr. Zachary Paikin is a Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy and a Researcher in EU foreign policy at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels.
Written By:
Patrick Porter
Patrick Porter is a professor of international security and strategy at the University of Birmingham, a Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, a Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute, and a Senior Research Fellow at RAND Europe.
Andrew A. Michta
Andrew A. Michta is Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany and a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Scowcroft Strategy Initiative in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.*
*The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
Paul Robinson
Paul Robinson is a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy
Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor