NATO Secretary General visits Canada

Apr 4, 2018

The continuing deterioration in the West’s relationship with Russia was evidently a key topic of discussion between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during the latter’s visit to Ottawa April 4, the 69th anniversary of the alliance’s formation.

“Recent political instability, civil unrest and threats to democracy remind us of why NATO matters in the 21st century.,” Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill, noting the significance of the date. “It was on this day in 1949 that representatives of 12 allies, including Canada's Lester B. Pearson, came together in Washington to sign the treaty that created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

He said Canada remains “an unwavering member” of the alliance, as evidenced by its leadership of NATO's multinational battlegroup in Latvia, its involvement in North Atlantic aerial patrols, helping to rebuild capacity in Iraq, and confronting Russian aggression “in all its forms.”

Stoltenberg lauded Canada’s continued “vital contributions” to NATO’s share security, particularly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its aggression  in Eastern Ukraine. He went on to note that the world has become more unstable and more unpredictable in the past few years,  an issue he said will be tackled at the net NATO Summit, scheduled July 11-12 in Brussels. “We will take the next steps to further strengthen our deterrence and defence, project stability and fight terrorism beyond our borders and modernize our alliance for the challenges of the 21st century.”

The leaders were asked whether NATO might resort to its Article 5 on collective defence, last invoked in response to the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, to “strike back” against cyber attacks.

Decrying them as “a new realm of interference and pressure by various states on other states,” Trudeau replied that there have been “multiple discussions at the multilateral level, particularly around the NATO alliance: and that it will remain a concern in an increasingly digital world.

Stoltenberg agreed that cyber attacks “can be as damaging” as kinetic warfare, which is why NATO decided four years ago that an Article 5 response would be justified. “At the end of the day, that will be a political decision,” he added, stressing that “our response will always be measured, defensive and proportionate.”

He also said that a response might not axiomatically take place in cyberspace but did not go into detail, except to say that “there are other ways to respond.” Meanwhile, NATO members and other allies are working to improve their cyber defences.

Northern defence also was raised at the news conference when it was pointed out that Norway, which borders on Russia, has been pushing for a northern NATO command to be established by NATO. The question to Trudeau was whether Canada wants to see NATO assets in Canadian waters and when might a northern command become a reality.

“We had a very positive discussion on further engagement by NATO in the north,” the prime minister replied, citing the effect climate change is having in the region. “We need to be aware of this new area we have to be more engaged in and I very much look forward to working with NATO. As Canada has always been a strong NATO ally, we'll always continue to be, particularly in areas where there's a natural fit, like protecting our Arctic Ocean.”

Stoltenberg said that while a stronger NATO presence in the North, as well as in the Northern Atlantic, could mean more NATO surface vessels and submarines “and so on” could be a counter expansionism, “we should continue to strive for avoiding an arms race and higher tensions […] in a way which is proportionate.”

He said a proposed new NATO Atlantic Command would be responsible for the North Atlantic, and that he hoped that heads of state and government could make the necessary decisions at the July summit. He also said that Russia had underestimated NATO’s resolve, as manifest in “the biggest reinforcement of a collective defence since the end of the Cold War, including deploying combat-ready battlegroups in the Baltic countries, one of them led by Canada.  We have more forces, more ready forces and we also have increased defence spending across Europe and Canada for the first time in many, many years.”

– Ken Pole