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Philip Deck: Trump is right that NATO nations need to step up—especially Canada

Commentary

During his election campaign against Hillary Clinton, it was observed that Donald Trump should be taken seriously but not literally while the reverse applied to his opponent. It is still useful advice in assessing Trump’s plans for NATO. When Trump says he would encourage others to invade countries that fail to spend enough to defend themselves, the rule likely applies.

Concern over Trump’s statements has broken out across the West as Trump deploys his usual inflammatory and outrageous rhetoric in questioning whether the U.S. should defend those countries that don’t make the commitment to defend themselves. But he also, more astutely, asks why everyone seems to be content to rely on the U.S., who now shoulders about 70 percent of defence spending for the entire alliance. Of course, Barack Obama’s administration used to make the same points, but more diplomatically and privately, so they could be easily ignored. The results spoke for themselves.

The design of NATO has some pretty strong central tenets. By combining the forces of countries with similar attitudes towards democracy and human rights (let’s leave Turkey aside for simplicity), any adversary faces a united front. And by making an attack on one an attack on all, the deterrent becomes even stronger. But the assumption that seemed obvious at the time was that countries would still be responsible for defending themselves. When NATO was founded in 1949, that seemed like an obvious condition, with even Canada having played a major role in the Second World War. Back then, we had the world’s fourth-largest air force and third-largest navy. Now we use them to shovel snow.

The guarantee of mutual defence has caused non-U.S. NATO members to wind down spending in favour of reliance on the U.S., decrement defence spending to fund entitlement programs, turn their defence departments into either industrial development strategies, regional economic distribution strategies, or, most recently, a way to advance the woke agenda. All of these objectives detract from the essential objective of what defence needs to deliver: a lethal and cost-effective capability to defend from and deter aggression.

The questions that we should be asking are not what percentage of GDP we are spending or how we can justify the little that we do spend, but why a rich country like Canada does not fulfil its basic responsibility to itself and its allies to create a credible defence capability that could respond to the threats that are becoming clearer and clearer every day. With a territory as big as Canada’s, the cost to do so may be much higher than two percent, particularly given the military deficit we have created with years of neglect. Why should that be someone else’s problem?

It’s clear that our prime minister has little interest in defending the country. It shouldn’t be surprising that someone so busy denigrating the achievements of Western culture as oppressive and colonialist would deem them not worth defending. We know he always follows the science, and mainly it’s political science. He knows how to read the polls and they tell him that Canadians do not want to make the economic sacrifices that it would take to create the capability to defend ourselves. He is not the problem, it’s us. All the Canadians who would like to “give peace a chance” need to take Trotsky seriously when he said, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

The war in Gaza right now is not just about Zionism. It’s a fundamental battle between those who believe in Western rights and freedoms—political freedoms, freedom of speech, religious freedom, women’s rights, minority rights—and those who would like to eliminate them in favour of either religious dogma or authoritarian regimes. It’s a battle between Western liberal democracy and Hamas chaos. And to think it will be contained in the Middle East is wishful thinking, as evidenced by the shocking support shown for the latter in Canadian domestic demonstrations.

Minister of National Defence Bill Blair speaks during an announcement at Garrison Petawawa in Petawawa, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press.

We don’t know what a return of the Trump circus to Washington will bring, since unpredictability is one of his core tactics. But the video of Trump excoriating the Germans in front of the entire UN for the reckless dependency they were creating in building a pipeline to buy Russian gas should be suggestive. The German delegation could not contain their laughter. Maybe revisit the video of Trump practically coming over the table in a meeting with Merkel asking her why his country should defend Germany when they sign up for total energy dependency on Russia.

What the apoplectic Western politicians and commentators are saying in response to Trump’s criticism of NATO is that it would provoke such a crisis that they might have to spend more on their own defence. That is welcome. And they had better figure out how, as U.S. politicians can do political science as well. The voters who support Trump, which may turn out to be a majority of Americans, are tired of paying most of the bill for the protection of the Western world.

Two reliable observations about Trump remain. The first is that one of the most frustrating things about Trump is how often he turns out to be right. And the second is that it’s too bad someone like him has to be elected to get anything difficult done. But for anyone who cares about NATO and the general protection of Western enlightenment rights and freedoms, Trump could be our best friend.

Amal Attar-Guzman: The Taylor Swift deepfake porn scandal highlights how dangerous AI can be

Commentary

AI is both a gift and a curse. On one hand, it has opened up a new world of possibilities and helped make everyday life easier, faster, and more efficient. On the other hand, it’s opened up Pandora’s box, letting loose a variety of negative, complex social outcomes that are quickly becoming difficult to contain or mitigate.  

Early in March 2023 I wrote about some of the under-discussed issues women have been facing as the result of these new and emerging technologies. One such issue that stood out to me was the rise of non-consensual deepfake pornography. As of December, deepfakes have risen exponentially, with researchers now predicting that there will be over 5.2 million deepfakes in 2024. 

So when it was time to make The Hub’s 2024 predictions, I decided to raise the alarm once again, predicting that deepfakes and AI technology would soon move to the forefront of Canadian public policy. With its exponential rise threatening democracy and its institutions and the recent case of deepfake child pornography of teenage girls in Winnipeg, the evidence now seems clear. Not only is this fast becoming a major technology story, it is now becoming a gender-based and societal issue at large.

What I did not expect was for my prediction to come true so soon, just a few weeks into 2024. Nor did I expect to see non-consensual deepfake pornography of Taylor Swift on my X feed. 

Now, I am not much of a Swiftie. But not only did I feel disgusted seeing those images on my social media account, I also felt a deep-seated rage seeing people immediately target and harass her. This visceral anger only got worse when I saw the alleged Canadian creator of these images starting to gloat and revel in his newfound online fame. What was even more heartbreaking was that as the backdrop to all this, Taylor Swift was dealing with a recent stalking case

Thankfully, fellow Swifties quickly rallied together to push X to take down these images. The company complied. Both X and Meta have put regulations in place to deal with these deepfake cases, and while they are not perfect, at least something is now there to deal with the issue head-on. 

Seeing this happen to Taylor Swift really puts things into perspective. If this A-list, worldwide celebrity and billionaire, who won multiple Grammys, accolades and sold billions of dollars in concert tickets, can be a target of non-consensual deepfake pornography, what about the rest of us women? 

Sadly, this is fast becoming a reality. Between 2022 and 2023 there was a notable 1,740 percent deepfake surge in North America, one of the highest reported around the world. Women are disproportionately affected. According to a 2023 study by Amsterdam-based company Sensity, 96 percent of deepfakes were non-consensual pornography depicting women.

This is fast becoming a fear for women from all backgrounds. Deepfakes are used to silence and shame women in the public eye and even in the private sphere. If they say what they think, stand up for themselves, or even go against the societal grain, one way or another, they can get punished by anyone, whether they know them or not, without remorse or recourse. No one is safe from this new form of sexual harassment, defamation, and public humiliation. 

While many on my X feed shared these same concerns, one perspective caught my attention. Jesse Brown, journalist and publisher of Canadaland, posted on X that while the situation was gross, policymakers need to be careful about legislating on these issues. As he put it: “[While Canada] need[s] laws against deepfake porn that tells convincing lies,” Swift’s case amounted to “horny fanfic” that “should not be a crime.” 

Brown’s comments attracted a negative reaction, including from me. I decided to listen to the Canadaland episode to see if there was a perspective I might be missing. After listening to the conversation, a couple of thoughts came to mind. 

First, with all due respect, I disagree with the notion that what happened to Taylor Swift was just “horny fanfic.” There is a huge difference between creating fanfiction of fictional characters and celebrities that are meant to celebrate them, versus creating degrading deepfake pornographic images. 

Intent is key. Generating deep fake porn of Taylor Swift wasn’t done to celebrate or even idolize her. It was done to humiliate and degrade her, encouraging people to harass her. If the same thing happened to politicians, journalists, or ordinary citizens, it would still be wrong and some sort of regulation and legal recourse would be needed. 

I also disagreed with the notion that because the deepfake pornographic images looked fake and not realistic—that it’s not a “convincing lie”— it’s not as big of a deal as realistic-looking deepfake pornography that might actually convince people that it’s real. Here’s the thing: even if someone is not completely recognizable, harm is still there. Deepfake porn is the modern-day pornographic drawing of a girl in a boy’s bathroom. It is a form of sexual harassment even if it “looks fake.” 

However, there was one point that Brown raised that was worthwhile. When it comes to regulating or even criminalizing deepfakes, we must be cognizant of the effects on freedom of expression. What about in cases of political satire, or even political messaging or advertising? How should we think about that? 

In such circumstances, a complete ban or extreme restriction of deepfakes would be an overstep. Already, we’ve seen some backlash to Meta’s policy regarding deepfakes, which saw its oversight board acknowledge that in some cases where media is manipulated for humour, parody, or satire, it “should be protected.” As Brown rightly asked, “If you cannot draw rude pictures of the elite, then are you truly free?” 

This screenshot made on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024, shows a Taylor Swift search error on social media platform X. X has blocked some searches for Swift as pornographic deepfake images of the singer have circulated online. (AP Photo)

In terms of Canadian policy and law, if future legislation does not strike the right chord, it could lead to a constitutional challenge. AI experts, policymakers, and legal scholars will need to ask themselves this question: how can public policy provide regulations on deepfakes that, if brought to a court of law, could survive a Charter challenge in terms of “reasonable limits”?

Perhaps the answer lies within current law regarding sexual harassment, defamation, and copyright law. Deepfakes and other AI-manipulated content that provide misinformation and disinformation with criminal and defamatory intent will need to be captured, while explicitly ensuring that cases of political commentary, advertisement, and satire aren’t subject to restrictions. Maybe in the latter’s case providing disclaimers will be needed to allow its promotion. 

These are not easy solutions. Which responsibilities and obligations should fall under the realm of social media platforms or the government needs to be explored and debated. And, no doubt about it, mistakes will be made. 

But regardless, it is clear that there needs to be some explicit public policy and legal recourse to deal with the issue head-on—one where freedom of expression is preserved, but as importantly, people are prioritized and protected.