Canada backs NATO with troops to deter Russia

Jun 30, 2016, 12:10 PM EDT
P.M. Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama.
(Source: Rob Petersen/flickr)

Canadian daily the Globe and Mail reported on Thursday that Ottawa is expected to announce within days it will deploy up to 1,000 special ops soldiers to Latvia. Along with counterparts from the U.K., U.S., and Germany, they will serve as part of a new 4,000-strong NATO force in Eastern Europe acting as a deterrent against Russian aggression.

This news comes just a day after President Obama spoke to Canada's parliament calling on Ottawa to contribute its full share to NATO, for the security of all. “Because the Canadian Armed Forces are really good, he said, adding "the world needs more Canada. NATO needs more Canada. We need you.” Canada currently spends less than 1% of its GDP on defense, although all NATO members have committed to spend at least 2% of GDP. Perhaps this is the turning point.

Russia tried in vain to dissuade Canada from participating in the new NATO battalion. “We believe that NATO build-up on Russia’s doorstep, which is reminiscent of Cold War sabre-rattling, is a complete waste of money and resources, diverting them from the real existential threat of international terrorism,” the Russian embassy in Ottawa said last week. But Canada sided with Obama’s appeal, that “when nations violate international rules and norms, such as Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the United States and Canada stand united, along with our allies, in defense of our collective security.”

In a further sign of growing military impact abroad, on Wednesday Canada indicated that it would be willing to contribute peacekeeping forces to Colombia, if Bogotá makes such a request. According to federal sources, defense planners have been examining various options for a peacekeeping mission in Colombia since the U.N. approved a request for an unarmed force last January. Canada has also stated that it will use its military training expertise to help Mexico establish itself as a reputable peacekeeping nation, establishing its own peacekeeping training center and participating in U.N. operations.

The fact that Canada is growing more assertive on the world stage is all the more interesting for occurring under the Liberal government of P.M. Justin Trudeau, compared to his bellicose Conservative predecessor Stephen Harper. The Liberals are trying to have it both ways with Russia – they want to maintain an open dialogue with Moscow because of shared interests, such as the Arctic, but they refuse to accept Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine.

In mid-June Russian President Valdimir Putin expressed a desire to improve relations with Canada, but only after “specific steps,” which he didn’t elaborate on. But as for Canada potentially joining the U.S.’s missile defense program, Putin – exasperated -- said “If Canada wants to join — join it! What else can I say? We could not dictate to you what to do. Do what you want. And we will do what we think is necessary to provide our security.”

Ottawa’s decision to send troops to Latvia certainly won’t improve ties with Russia, but it will boost Canada’s standing within NATO. The latter is clearly far more important.