Russian invasion of Ukraine boosted NATO engagement in Canadian Arctic, Justin Trudeau says

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a changing « geopolitical situation » is driving Canada’s openness to NATO engagement in the High North, a move the country has discouraged in the past .

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, as well as Moscow’s increased military presence in the Arctic, « it is timely for us to share with the Secretary General and with NATO all that Canada is doing through from NORAD, » Trudeau told reporters Friday from the 4th Cold Lake Fighter Wing in Alberta.

« It is, of course, perfectly appropriate to invite the Secretary General and to highlight the work we are doing as NATO partners to protect this region », he said, « but there is no there is no profound change in Canadian politics. »

The Prime Minister’s comments came on the final day of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s visit to Canada, which marked the first time a leader of the intergovernmental military alliance has landed in Canada’s Arctic.

Stoltenberg called Canada’s expertise in the region « unparalleled » and said his first trip to the Far North – including a meeting with local indigenous leaders in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut – was an « excellent one ». personal experience.

The NATO chief spent the first day of his visit in the northern hamlet, stopping at the Cambridge Bay North Warning System site, a US and Canadian radar station within the America’s Aerospace Defense Command North (NORAD). Stoltenberg also received briefings from the Canadian Army and visited the Canadian High Arctic Research Station.

On Friday, Stoltenberg, Trudeau and several cabinet ministers traveled to 4 Wing Cold Lake, a Royal Canadian Air Force base that supports NORAD operations.

It was there that the Secretary General underscored Canada’s usefulness in the 30-member alliance, telling reporters that knowing the country of the Far North is « important for North America, but…also important for the ‘Europe and all NATO allies’.

“It’s about the fact that the shortest route for Russian missiles, for Russian bombers, is through the North Pole of the Polar Sea. Therefore, what happens here matters not only to Canada, but to the entire alliance,” Stoltenberg said.

Trudeau’s enthusiasm for what the leaders called a « historic » visit signals a shift from Canada’s earlier reluctance about whether NATO should have a presence in Canada’s Arctic.

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Arctic security and defense experts had argued that the country’s Far North did not warrant NATO intervention.

Part of that reasoning included the belief that the region was not yet sufficiently threatened to warrant an alliance presence, as well as fears that conducting NATO exercises there could provoke Russia.

“One might wonder why Canada would choose to talk about Arctic issues – which Canada sees primarily in the context of continental defense and North American homeland defense – in the context of an alliance with so many of European states, » said Stefanie von Hlatky. , Associate Professor at Queen’s University and Fellow of the Center for International and Advocacy Policy.

In the past, it made more sense for Canada to work on non-security issues through the Arctic Council and focus on continental and Arctic defense through the United States and NORAD, said said the NATO expert.

« Of course, things have changed quite dramatically now, because the Arctic Council is at a standstill, with Russia being a member of the council, » von Hlatky said.

Trudeau was also asked on Friday if he had discussed defense spending with the secretary general, given that Canada has not spent at least 2% of its GDP on defense, as demanded by members of the NATO.

The Prime Minister said Canada would « continue to deepen and increase its investments », adding that after « decades of unprecedented peace, Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine compels us all to further increase plus our defense spending.

He cited the advanced presence of the Canadian-led battle group in Latvia and recent promises to upgrade aging NORAD infrastructure as evidence of the country’s commitment to the military alliance. Ottawa has pledged to spend $4.9 billion over the next six years, as part of a $40 billion envelope over the next two decades, to modernize Canada’s continental defenses.

Von Hlatky said that these financial commitments, along with the military exercises in Canada’s North, indicate that the country « is a contributor to the security of the NATO alliance, even if it does not achieve this objective of 2%.

« I think countries that don’t meet this (target), what they will generally try to do – and Canada is no exception – is to highlight the material and tangible contributions that they are making, and then to link these investments to broader NATO goals,” she said.

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa journalist who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel


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