Michael Bociurkiw is a global affairs analyst and a former spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. A native of Canada, he has written for the Globe & Mail, the Winnipeg Free Press and frequently comments on Canadian television. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his; view more opinions on CNN.
(CNN)There was a jarring sense of déjà vu last week in Canada as images of yet another attack on innocent civilians in Toronto played out on newscasts. A reportedly mentally ill man went on a gun rampage on Sunday evening in Toronto’s popular Danforth neighborhood, killing two people and injuring 13 others. The attack occurred less than three months after a man drove a van into pedestrians in another busy part of Toronto, killing 10 people.
Canadian soldiers on NATO duty in Latvia June 11, 2018. Prime Minister Trudeau who visited prior to the NATO summit announced Canadian leadership of the multinational battle group is being extended The NATO group includes Albanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Czech, Polish, Italian and Spanish forces. (Combat Camera- Cpl J-R Chabot)
U.S President Trump once again ruffled some feathers at the NATO summit this week. Among other things he complained that other members were not meeting their financial obligations. His gruff talk however seems to have had some effect.
ListenWith the end of the Cold War, most countries took what they called a “peace dividend” and reduced their defence spending by a significant amount. Canada also cut its spending quite considerably.
In 2014 NATO countries agreed they would boost spending to two per cent of their gross domestic product,by 2024. Canada it seems has been among the countries lagging.
The U.S meanwhile has consistently spent far more than 2 two per cent. Both prior to, and during the summit, U.S President Trump said that the U.S was tired of footing as much as two-thirds of the NATO bill.
President Trump came in very unhappy, but after an emergency meeting earlier today, said he was happy that other nations had agreed to “pay more and pay more quickly”.
That may or may not be the case.
For example, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when asked by reporters afterward said only that he had agreed to move “toward” the two per cent goal by 2024, but made no mention of achieving the two per cent target. Italy and France also said they had agreed only to the same deal they had made in 2014.
Recently Canada announced a continued commitment to NATO in Latvia, an increased responsibility in Iraq, and has recently begun sending peacekeepers to Mali.
With Canada’s current defence spending at under one per cent, and moving toward the two percent goal of 2024, (actually heading toward 1.4 per cent), Robertson says with the expense and wear on already often well-worn equipment and personnel involved with the current military NATO and peacekeeping commitments abroad it will be interesting to see to what extent Canada will be able to continue to increase spending and meet present and future NATO spending.
The end result of President Trump’s rough tone, may have had some effect on boosting NATO funding, but although the now 29 member states may have understood a greater sense of urgency on spending, what Trump is claiming and what other states actually contribute and how quickly may not be quite the same thing.
Justin Trudeau adding more Canadian troops in Latvia, extending mission
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that Canada is extending its NATO commitment in Latvia by another four years to March 2023 and will boost the number of troops in the country to 540 from the current 455 in a show of ongoing solidarity with the alliance.
WATCH: Canada extending mission in Latvia; adding more troops
Trudeau made the announcement in Riga following a meeting with Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis and indicated that he hopes the increased Canadian commitment to Latvia gets the attention of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Canada is part of a NATO battle group in Latvia, which was established as the alliance’s response to Russia’s surprise annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its invasion of eastern Ukraine.
“We certainly hope that the message is passed clearly to President Putin that his actions in destabilizing and disregarding the international rules-based order that has been successfully underpinned by NATO amongst others over the past 75 years or so is extremely important,” said Trudeau.
“We certainly hope that Russia will choose to become a more positive actor in world affairs than it has chosen to be in the past.”
The Canadian-led group is one of four in the region, and includes troops from seven NATO allies. Germany leads a similar force in Lithuania, Britain leads one in Estonia and the U.S. leads in Poland.
WATCH: Trudeau reaffirms NATO commitment ahead of contentious meeting
Before leaving Canada on Monday, Trudeau spoke to NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg by telephone to stress the “importance of the alliance’s unity and solidarity on defence and security issues.”
Trudeau’s announcement comes a day ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels, where the stage is set for another confrontation between world leaders and Donald Trump, as Canada and other NATO allies prepare to counter the U.S. president’s complaint that they aren’t carrying their fair share of the burden of being part of the military alliance.
Trudeau also met in Riga Tuesday with Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis.
He also laid flowers at the monument of freedom and took part in a number of activities at a military base in Adazi. Trudeau also attended a candlelight vigil at a Latvian memorial to fallen soldiers, a vehicle display by multinational troops and spoke to Canadian military personnel.
Trudeau’s visit to Latvia comes as the stage is set for another confrontation between world leaders and Donald Trump, with Canada and other NATO allies preparing to counter the U.S. president’s persistent complaint that they aren’t carrying their fair share of the burden of being part of the 69-year-old military alliance.
LISTEN: Retired diplomat Colin Robertson looks at the history and importance of NATO
Trump’s ongoing efforts to portray Canada and other member states as pinching pennies when it comes to the military spending target of two per cent of GDP – a benchmark agreed to by allies at the 2014 summit in Wales.
Trump has threatened to pull out of the alliance entirely if other member nations don’t pony up.
WATCH: Canadian soldiers in Latvia send messages home for Canada Day 2017
The president acknowledged Monday on Twitter that other member states have increased their defence spending, but repeated his complaint that the U.S. contributes far more than other countries, which he said “is not fair nor is it acceptable.”
If the U.S. were to leave NATO, it would have a “huge and highly negative” affect on Canada, said David Perry, a senior defence analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
“If you take his rhetoric at full value … it would actually start to undermine the solidarity alliance, it would be hugely consequential for Canada because NATO has been so important to it.”
Having a forum in which Canada can engage in discussions about key security issues with the U.S. as part of a larger alliance of nations also offers Canada some counterweight that doesn’t exist in North America alone, where the United States is the “800-pound gorilla,” Perry added.
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Latvia visiting with Canadian troops stationed there
But given that Trump has followed through on other threats – including tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and the European Union, as well as a full-blown trade war with China – Perry said allies ought to be concerned about the possibility that Trump isn’t bluffing.
“He does seem to have a habit of doing what he says he’s going to do.”
Concerns about U.S. disengagement have also deepened given that Trump is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin just days after the summit.
Some see the controversial meeting as an undermining of the alliance itself, considering some of NATO’s active military missions – including the one in Latvia – were undertaken in direct response to Russia’s escalating aggression in the Baltic region.
“The Trump-Putin summit could potentially aggravate U.S. allies who want to isolate Putin,” said Jayson Derow, a research analyst at the NATO Association of Canada.
“However, while U.S. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric has surely shaken the confidence of U.S. allies and NATO members across the Atlantic, the alliance is still standing and the Trump administration has taken tangible steps to bolster the alliance and European security, while countering Moscow with the sales of military hardware and its own deployments in eastern Europe.”
Obnoxious he is, but when it comes to NATO burden-sharing, U.S. President Donald Trump has a point. With the United States shouldering almost two-thirds of defence expenditures by the alliance members, the other 28 members, including Canada, can do more.
At this week’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should commit to meet the NATO defence commitment guideline − 2 per cent of gross domestic product − by 2024. In doing so, he could also commit to increasing Canadian development assistance to 0.7 per cent of GDP, the target first recommended by former Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson. If the United Kingdom can manage these commitments for defence and development, so can Canada.
While these pledges will discombobulate some, it would further validate the Trudeau government’s declaration that “Canada is back” as a constructive internationalist.
In terms of readiness, Canadian Forces already have achieved significant interoperability on land, air and sea with U.S. forces. We do this through NATO as well as NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command), our 60-year-old binational aerospace and maritime surveillance agreement. We also achieve it through joint exercises and active operations in theatres such as Afghanistan and Libya and now in Latvia.
But we should do more.
This means spending more, not because Mr. Trump says so, but because Canadian sovereignty requires it. In their commendable, recently tabled report on NATO, the House of Commons National Defence Committee recommended that Canada meet the NATO target. They also encouraged developing quantitative and qualitative evaluations that better represent national contributions beyond the 2-per-cent metric.
There will be many opportunities for reinvestment. Three initiatives would immediately serve Canadian interests:
1) Increase the reserves: The Canadian Forces face recruitment and retention problems. This would bring in more young people as well as those who want to complement their current employment. They will learn a trade and serve their nation.
2) Assert our sovereignty, especially in the North. We need to pick up the pace for construction of icebreakers by using all of Canada’s shipyards and building more Arctic offshore patrol ships and supply ships for use in all three oceans. We should also invest now in the next generation of submarines – they are the ultimate stealth weapon to deter unwelcome intrusions into our maritime space. And why not build a pair of hospital ships to provide humanitarian relief in the increasing number of climate-related disasters that beset coastal nations?
3) Meet new threats. Canada should join the three NATO Centers for Excellence to address hybrid threats (Helsinki, Finland), cyber threats (Tallinn, Estonia) and strategic communications (Riga, Latvia). Their work would fit right into the government’s innovation agenda, while also bolstering the strategic partnership with the European Union.
The threats we face are real. These include a hostile Russia that has occupied Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine. Russia also actively undermines democratic institutions using chemical, hybrid and cyberweapons, tools that are also used for subversion, crime and terrorism. Terrorism, fuelled by failed and failing states and perverted ideologies requires constant vigilance. Nuclear proliferation requires ongoing containment.
For the democracies, NATO continues to be the best defence against threats, new and old. While the alliance is trans-Atlantic, its footprint is global, with partner nations including Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.
But like any institution that turns 70 next year, NATO can be improved.
A useful starting point is the recent report of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation initiative. To meet and master the many technology and affordability challenges from “hybrid warfare to hyperwar”, the authors recommend a strategic review for next year’s summit so that NATO is “prepared, fit and able to act across the seven domains of grand conflict: air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.”
Canada, like the rest of the Alliance, took the peace dividend after the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the Cold War. The Chretien government used the savings to pay down debt and put our financial house in order. Alas, the end of history did not arrive and the triumph of democracy was premature.
Now we need to reinvest in our collective security. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt, John F. Kennedy said, can we be certain, beyond doubt, that they will never be employed.
July 9, 2018
On today’s Global Exchange Podcast, we sit down with CGAI Fellow and Carleton University professor Dr. Elinor Sloan to discuss this week’s NATO Summit, and what it means for the future of the transatlantic alliance. Join Colin and Elinor as they consider Canada’s future within NATO, Donald Trump and NATO’s 2%-of-GDP defence funding bar, the alliance’s revamped command structure, and the role of NATO in a world of shifting power dynamics and growing nationalism.
- Colin Robertson (host): A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
- Dr. Elinor Sloan: A professor of international relations in the department of political science at Carleton University, a former defence analyst with Canada’s Department of National Defence and a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
- “One year of Strong, Secure, Engaged: a status report on concurrent operations” by Dr. Elinor Sloan (The Hill Times)
- “2017 NATO Series Papers“
- “Spring 2018 Issue of The Global Exchange Magazine“
- “Strong, Secure, Engaged So Far” by David Perry (CGAI Policy Update)
- “Growing the Defence Budget: What Would Two Percent of GDP Look Like?” by Craig Stone (CGAI Policy Update)
- “Canada and NATO: An Alliance Forged in Strength and Reliability” (House of Commons Defence Committee)
- Dr. Elinor Sloan: “The Economist Magazine”
- Colin Robertson: “Is the American Century Over? (Global Futures)” by Joseph Nye
by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice President and Fellow
Table of Contents
- What is NATO?
- NATO Today
- What has NATO done?
- President Trump and NATO
- Big Ticket Items
- What Results Can we Expect from the Brussels Summit?
- Canadian Involvement at the Summit?
- Does NATO Still Matter?
- Public Opinion and NATO
- Further Reading
- About the Author
- Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Presidents and prime ministers will meet in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday (July 11-12) in a summit meeting of the 29 partner nations. Initiatives on the table include increasing Alliance readiness to counter Russian aggression in NATO’s east; implementing military command structure reform; introducing a new training mission in Iraq; counterterrorism support to Afghanistan, Jordan and Tunisia; and a Black Sea regional security initiative.
But the elephant in the room will be U.S. President Donald Trump.
The conference takes place against unsettled and unsettling times: divisions within the NATO Alliance and threats on its eastern and southern flanks. The recent G7 Charlevoix summit was upset by Mr. Trump’s belligerence, especially towards his host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Trump-inspired trade war with China has begun. Mr. Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum have met with retaliatory tariffs from Canada, the Europeans and Mexico. In the European Union there are deep divisions within and between member countries challenging EU unity on issues of migration and the Eurozone. Then there are the Brexit negotiations that have now splitBritish Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet. While southern allies are focused on migration and border concerns, northern and eastern allies are concerned about Russia.
Russia continues to occupy parts of Ukraine and meddle in Syria and the Middle East. The death of a Briton from Soviet-made Novichok toxin will only exacerbate the strain caused by the Sergei Skripal affair and Ms. May will continue to press for sanctions on Russia. Meanwhile, Russia continues to apply the techniques of hybrid warfare against NATO members – cyber-, fake news and interference in elections – while reinvesting in its military capacity and conducting exercises with the Chinese. The North Korean puzzle is more complicated in the wake of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit. He described it as “productive” while North Korea’s Foreign Ministry accused the Trump administration of pushing a “gangster-like demand for denuclearization”.
Attention will be focused on Mr. Trump: will he disrupt the meeting? And amid concerns about what concessions he may offer the Russian leader, will he share his plans for his July 16 summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin? Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland observes that these back-to-back summits “will either restore American global leadership or kill it off, depending on how he plays our hand.”
NATO is a military and political alliance constructed around the principles of collective security, democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. It has 29 members including Canada, the United States and most European nations, as well as a host of Euro-Atlantic partner nations. NATO represents half of the world’s economic and military power. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg observes, “no other superpower has ever had such a strategic advantage.”
In the wake of the Second World War, the victors set up a series of international institutions. The foremost was the United Nations, with universal membership designed to advance human progress and prevent the “scourge of war”. Responding to what Sir Winston Churchill described as the “iron curtain” descending “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic”, the western alliance set up a collective security agreement called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
In the words of its first secretary general, Lord Ismay, NATO was to “keep the Russians out, the Germans down, and the Americans in”. Most importantly, it’s a collective security agreement – an attack on one would be considered an attack on all (Article 5). NATO was also designed, at Canadian insistence, to have an economic dimension to promote trade, investment and commerce among its members (Article 2).
The agreement was signed in Washington on April 2, 1949. Its original membership included 12 countries – the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. In signing the agreement then-Canadian External Affairs minister Lester Pearson said that Canadians “feel deeply and instinctively” that the treaty is “a pledge for peace and progress”.
The Alliance expanded: Turkey and Greece joined in 1952, West Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982. France left the military alliance in 1967 but rejoined in 2009. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, NATO membership is now 29 countries – including Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
NATO is headquartered in Brussels, where Mr. Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, leads its Secretariat with Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, a former U.S. undersecretary for arms control and international security
NATO military operations are headed by two commanders: the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) based in Brussels is currently U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti; and the Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation (SACT) based in Norfolk, Virginia is currently French General Denis Mercier.
Member nations are represented in both the NATO council and military committee. A Canadian has never held the post of secretary general but Canadians have twice served as chair of the Military Committee; General Ray Henault, a former chief of defence staff, was chair from 2005-2008. The current chair is Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach.
Legislators from NATO nations meet annually in the NATO parliamentary assembly and in November Canada will host the assembly in Halifax. Ontario MP Leona Alleslev, a former RCAF officer, chairs the Canadian NATO interparliamentary delegation.
Defence Expenditure as a Share of GDP (%)
(based on 2010 prices and exchange rates)
NATO is the classic defensive alliance with Article 5 of its charter declaring that “an attack on one is an attack on all.” Arguably the world’s most successful military alliance, alliance unity and its deterrence capacity contributed significantly to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany and the demise of the communist threat in Europe.
NATO has three core tasks: collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security. For its first 40 years NATO’s purpose was to deter Soviet aggression. With the end of the Cold War, NATO shifted to help the former Soviet bloc countries embrace democracy and the market economy. Today, it deters Russian aggression.
NATO forces were involved in bringing peace to the Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo) in operations that continue today. NATO forces, under the umbrella of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), have been present in Afghanistan since 2003. There have been operations around Iraq (1990-1991) and a training mission (2004-2011). In 2005, NATO assisted in the relief efforts following the Pakistan earthquake. In recent years, NATO has also provided support to African Union peacekeeping missions in the Sudan and Somalia. NATO led the UN-sanctioned Libyan campaign (Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR in 2011), maintaining a no-fly zone and conducting air strikes against the Gadhafi regime. Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard directed the air campaign.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2014 presented NATO with a renewed challenge. Conflicts within and between states have created failing states and mass migration on its southern flank – in North Africa and the Middle East – that require ongoing attention.
Since 1989, NATO has also become involved in a series of out-of-theatre missions. Over 150,000 troops served under NATO command in six different operations on three continents, including counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
Attention once again will be focused on President Trump as he attends his second NATO summit. There is no denying that the U.S. provides the muscle for NATO. At a South Carolina rally last month, Mr. Trump said that America is “the piggy bank that (NATO) likes to take from” and at the Charlevoix summit he is said to have called it “as bad as NAFTA”.
Mr. Trump subsequently wrote letters to Prime Minister Trudeau and other NATO leaders from Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Germany telling them that the U.S. was losing patience with them for investing too little in their militaries and not meeting their collective security obligations. He concluded that it will “become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries continue to fail to meet our shared collective security commitments.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has also written to his British counterpart, Gavin Williamson, warning that British influence is “at risk of erosion … A global nation like the U.K., with interests and commitments around the world, will require a level of defence spending beyond what we would expect from allies with only regional interests. Absent a vibrant military arm, world peace and stability would be further at risk”. And, “… it is in the best interest of both our nations for the U.K. to remain the partner of choice. In that spirit, the U.K. will need to invest and maintain robust military capability”.
The Washington Post also reported that, surprised at the size and cost of the U.S. presence in Germany, Mr. Trump is considering withdrawing its 35,000 troops although the White House has since denied that this is in the works.
During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Mr. Trump called NATO “obsolete” and while he has relented somewhat and confirmed that his administration would honour Article 5, he has consistently declared that “NATO members meet their financial obligations and pay what they owe”. While his manner is obnoxious, when it comes to burden-sharing within the Alliance, Mr. Trump does have a point.
1. NATO Readiness to Reinforce Collective Defence (including investing in capabilities)
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and intervention in Syria underline the need for NATO readiness. In practical terms this means a rapid combat-ready expeditionary force with attention to cyber-defence and maritime security. As NATO scholar Julian Lindley-French and Admiral (ret’d.) James Stavridis, former SACEUR, argue: “Article 5 collective defence must be modernized and re-organized around cyber-defence, missile defence and the advanced deployable forces vital to contemporary defence.”
Recent military exercises have demonstrated shortcomings in NATO’s ability to move forces across Europe, because of bureaucracy (customs officials asking to see passports at borders) and inadequate infrastructure (the bridges, roads and railways that have to handle military transports). In June, NATO defence ministers agreed to the “Four Thirties” initiative, a military readiness plan that would see the Alliance have — by 2020 — 30 land battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 navy vessels, ready for deployment in 30 days or less.
Assuming it is adopted, NATO allies will need to designate troops, establish a reporting mechanism and plan for readiness exercises. There are also plans to create two new commands — one in Norfolk, Virginia to ensure U.S. maritime access across the Atlantic and the other in Ulm, Germany, focused on logistics in Europe.
2. Defence Spending
The United States shoulders nearly three-quarters of the Alliance’s operating budget. U.S. presidents and cabinet secretaries have consistently encouraged NATO members to spend more.
Defence spending in 2000 for eight of the 18 NATO members was two per cent of GDP but it steadily declined. At their Wales summit (2014) allies agreed to meet two per cent of GDP spending on defence “within a decade.” According to NATO figures (March 2018), only five of the 28 members meet NATO’s target of spending at least two per cent of GDP on defence – the U.S., the U.K., Poland, Greece and Estonia. The U.S. spends 3.57 per cent on defence and the U.K. 2.12 per cent, while Canada spends 1.29 per cent, Germany spends 1.24 per cent, France 1.79 per cent, Italy 1.12 per cent and Spain 0.92 per cent.
The combined defence budget of NATO nations has grown by US$14.4 billion since the Wales summit (2016) with all but one of 28 allies increasing spending, and 26 sending more troops for NATO missions. Sixteen – but not Canada – are on track to spend the NATO target of two per cent of their gross domestic product on defence by 2024. Those allocating at least 20 per cent of their defence budget to major equipment (another pledge from a summit in Wales in 2014) have risen from 14 to 24 (including Canada).
The U.S expects more from its allies. Mr. Mattis has said, “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defence.” The U.S. argument was best expressed in the valedictory remarks to NATO (June 10, 2011) of former U.S. defence secretary Robert Gates who warned, “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”
3. Relations with Russia
With the end of the Cold War, there was some expectation that Russia would eventually become a NATO partner. In 2009, NATO and Russia signed an accord to “build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and co-operative security.” The NATO-Russia Council, created in 2002 and suspended in 2014 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has resumed with seven meetings over the past two years.
President Putin’s objectives are clear: he wants an end to sanctions and an end to U.S. military exercises in Europe and the scaling back of U.S. forces there. Mr. Putin is also seeking to create a sphere of influence on his frontiers and, through the creation of his Eurasian Union (a free-trade customs union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus), a counter-weight to NATO. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continuing incursions into Ukraine violate the UN charter, the Helsinki Final Act and Russia’s own commitment “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine”. Ukraine is not Mr. Putin’s first incursion into a neighbour’s territory. In 2008, at his instruction, Russian forces occupied southern Georgia.
Russia also retains a “longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order” and is acting on it, according to a declassified report from U.S intelligence agencies on hacking during the U.S. election.
4. NATO Partners and NATO Expansion
NATO’s partnerships, born out of its 1990 London summit, focused first on the former Soviet bloc nations (many of whom are now full members), then on crisis management in the Balkans, and, since 9/11, on wider partnerships now including more than 40 nations around the world – Australia, New Zealand and, as the latest addition, Mongolia. At its peak, the ISAF mission in Afghanistan included 22 partner nations. Partnership does not include the security guarantee of Article 5.
Ukraine and Georgia want membership in NATO and, at the Bucharest summit in 2008, NATO encouraged this. But NATO enlargement is controversial and there is discussion of different architecture to guarantee security. With the name dispute over Macedonia resolved, Mr. Stoltenberg expects Macedonia will soon join NATO.
A wise persons’ report (2016) commissioned by the Finnish government concluded that Finland and Sweden should stick together, whatever the decision, but that membership would provoke Russia. It described Russia as an “unsatisfied power” that “has made unpredictability a strategic and tactical virtue, underpinned by an impressive degree of political and military agility.”
NATO continues to lead a non-combat mission – Resolute Support – involving 13,576 troops and 39 nations (but not Canada) to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions. NATO and its partners are already committed to providing financial support to sustain the Afghan forces until the end of 2020.
NATO has been involved in Afghanistan since the UN Security Council authorized the NATO-led ISAF that operated from August 2003 to December 2014. ISAF is NATO’s longest mission, employing more than 130,000 troops from 51 NATO and partner nations, including Canada.
6. Countering Terrorism
Mr. Stoltenberg says NATO will do even more to combat terrorism, with continued commitments to Afghanistan and a new training mission in Iraq. NATO is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and supports it through AWACS intelligence flights. Its Counter-Terrorism Policy Guidelines focus Alliance efforts on three main areas: awareness, capabilities and engagement.
NATO and the EU are working together on migration, seeking to tackle the root causes and to help stabilize the source countries, including training local forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO is also assisting in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, and providing help to the EU’s Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean, with 10 ships and maritime surveillance aircraft currently in the region.
President Trump wants the Allies to meet the NATO norm, originally set by NATO in 2002, of two per cent of GDP spending on national defence. While the Allies are spending more and more on equipment, the pace of increase is slower than Mr. Trump wants.
Rather than spend their time debating defence spending, leaders should focus on actual capability requirements and how quickly these resources can be made available for combat. The Afghan and Libyan missions were handicapped by the caveats some NATO members imposed on use of their personnel and equipment.
As a founding member of NATO, Canada has stood with its NATO Allies since 1949. Mr. Trudeau will be pressed on Canada’s financial commitment to NATO. The government’s Strong, Secure, Engaged defence policy (2017) commits Canada to increasing its defence spending to 1.4 per cent of GDP by 2026-2027, well short of the NATO two per cent norm. But as Mr. Trudeau has said, “there are many ways of evaluating one’s contribution to NATO”, noting that Canada has “always been amongst the strongest actors in NATO.”
This includes Canada’s leadership of a multinational NATO mission in Latvia (and Mr. Trudeau will visit Latvia before going to the NATO summit). The 450-strong Canadian Forces contingent represents the commitment Mr. Trudeau made at the Warsaw summit in 2016, as part of broader Canadian support to Operation REASSURANCE, and notes the “significant procurement projects” – especially the ongoing construction of new warships and the purchase of fighter jets – and Canada’s renewed activist internationalism.
As part of Canada’s commitment to NATO’s Operation REASSURANCE, Canadian fighter jets patrol the Baltic skies. Since April 2014, Canada has deployed our Halifax-class frigates, most recently HMCS Charlottetown and HMCS St. John’s, in support of NATO reassurance measures. HMCS Windsor, one of our Victoria-class submarines, recently returned from five months in the Mediterranean where its mission included tracking Russian submarines. Canada is providing humanitarian and Special Forces support to a U.S.-led multinational effort to support pro-Iraq forces battling the Islamic state.
In terms of readiness, Canadian forces already have achieved significant interoperability on land, air and sea with the U.S. through NORAD, our bi-national aerospace and maritime surveillance agreement, and through both joint exercises and active operations in theatres like Afghanistan, Libya and now in Latvia. Mr. Trudeau can also point to Canada’s new mission, as part of the UN peacekeeping operation in Mali, involving 250 Canadian soldiers and eight helicopters.
But we could do more. That means spending more, not because Mr. Trump says so, but because Canadian sovereignty requires it.
The Canadian Forces are having trouble with recruitment, so why not increase the reserves and bring in more young people who will learn a trade and, inevitably, be involved in useful community work around natural disasters?
We could also do much more to assert our Arctic sovereignty – picking up the pace for construction of the icebreakers by using all of Canada’s shipyards and building more Arctic offshore patrol ships and supply ships. We should also invest now in the next generation of submarines – they are the ultimate stealth weapon to deter unwelcome intrusions. And why not invest in a hospital ship to provide humanitarian relief in the increasing number of climate-related disasters that beset coastal nations?
Given the changing nature of threats, Canada should seek membership in the EU/NATO Centres for Excellence:
- hybrid threats in Helsinki, Finland (current membership is Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Italy, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S.)
- cyber-threats in Tallinn, Estonia (current membership includes Austria, Belgium, the Czechia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States)
- strategic communications in Riga, Latvia (current membership includes Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Finland and Sweden have become partners. France and Canada have seconded staff)
Yes. But collective security means collective contributions. Despite his bullying manner, Mr. Trump is right – the Allies do need to share the burdens. As former president Barack Obama repeatedly told Canada’s Parliament: “NATO needs more Canada”.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland gets this, telling a Washington audience recently (June 2018) that:
Since the end of the Second World War, we have built a system that championed freedom and democracy and prevented regional conflicts from turning into total war. Canada for one is going to stand up in defence of that system … America has been the leader of the free world. We Canadians have been proud to stand at your side and to have your back. As your closest friend, ally and neighbour, we also understand that many Americans today are no longer certain that the rules-based international order of which you were the principal architect and for which you did write the biggest cheques still benefits America.
At the centre of that defence arrangement, as Ms. Freeland told parliamentarians (June 2017) in laying out the Trudeau foreign policy: “NATO and Article 5 are at the heart of Canada’s national security policy.” We now need to up our defence contribution.
NATO still matters. As the New York Times recently editorialized:
Born after World War II, NATO linked America and Europe not just in a mutual defense pledge but in advancing democratic governance, the rule of law, civil and human rights, and an increasingly open international economy. The alliance was the core of an American-led liberal world order that extended to Asia and relied on a web of international institutions, including the United Nations and the World Bank. It remains the most successful military alliance in history, the anchor of an American-led and American-financed peace that fostered Western prosperity and prevented new world wars. No one has proposed anything credible to improve upon it.
But NATO also needs to be continuously improving to adapt to changing world conditions.
A good starting point is the recommendations of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative, led by General John Allen and including CGAI Fellow Julian Lindley-French. In the spirit of the Harmel Report (1967) and “to better prepare NATO not only to meet the many technology and affordability challenges but to master them – from hybrid warfare to hyperwar” they recommend a strategic review in time for the 70th anniversary summit so that NATO is “prepared, fit and able to act across the seven domains of grand conflict: air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.”
Defence Expenditure as a Share of GDP (%)
(based on 2010 prices and exchange rates)
In a spring 2017 Pew Research Center survey of six EU nations (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom), the U.S. and Canada find positive views of the military alliance.
Asked whether their own country should militarily defend a NATO ally (i.e., Article 5) if embroiled in an armed conflict with Russia, there is strong support in the Netherlands (72 per cent), Poland (62 per cent), United States (62 per cent), Canada (58 per cent) and France (53 per cent) for living up to their country’s mutual defence commitment as a member of NATO.
Two-thirds of Canadians hold NATO in high esteem, a rise of 10 per cent since 2015, with rising support across demographic groups and with strong support among the major parties: Liberal Party (75 per cent), Conservative Party (74 per cent) and New Democratic Party (65 per cent).
Germany has the fourth largest defence budget in NATO, but only 40 per cent of Germans believe they should come to the aid of an ally. More than half (53 per cent) do not support such aid.
A Gallup survey in February 2017 revealed 80 per cent of Americans support the Alliance. When Gallup first asked Americans about their views on NATO in July 1989, 75 per cent thought the alliance should be maintained. This percentage dropped to 62 per cent in 1991, months before the Soviet Union’s formal collapse, staying at that level during NATO’s 1995 intervention in the Bosnian War.
NATO has a comprehensive website. The Canadian Global Affairs Institute produced a series of papers on NATO in advance of parliamentary hearings by the House of Commons National Defence Committee into NATO that recently tabled its report Canada and NATO: An Alliance Forged in Strength and Durability. See also the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative report, One Alliance: The Future Tasks of the Adapted Alliance.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 4, 2018. Stoltenberg says recent Russian missile tests do not pose any direct threat to the Canadians or their allies, but they underscore the importance of a strong NATO presence in Latvia and the rest of Eastern Europe.
OTTAWA—U2 frontman Bono might think the world needs more Canada but he’s singing the praises of his Irish homeland now as Ireland launches a bid for a spot on the UN Security Council — marking a formidable competitor to Ottawa’s own aspirations for a council seat.
Ireland rolled out Bono’s star power as it kicked off its campaign in New York on Monday to win a seat on the influential body for the 2021-22 term.
Ireland’s attempts to win over the UN crowd began the night before when U2 played to a packed house at New York’s Madison Square Garden — with more than 150 UN diplomats invited as special guests.
Bono pointedly took a few minutes during the performance to lavish praise on the United Nations.
“If the United Nations didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. That is the truth. It’s the one place we can all meet. It’s the one place that puts peace on the negotiating table first,” he said.
The next day, Bono was at UN headquarters to join Irish politicians for the launch of the country’s campaign.
The Irish rocker said that at a time when international institutions are under attack, the United Nations is needed more than ever and his country — with its history of conflict and violence — is well-suited to help.
“If you look at the agenda of what the Security Council will be called on to address over the coming years, doesn’t it look a lot like us? We’d like to think Ireland’s experience of colonialism, conflict, famine and mass migration give us a kind of hard-earned expertise in these problems. And, I hope, an empathy and I hope humility,” Bono said.
The singer acknowledged that UN diplomats could vote for Canada and its “truly remarkable leader … That Canada is nice is the worst thing I can say about them.”
Bono has sung Canada’s praises in the past.
But now Canada finds itself in a tough competition with what Bono calls a “tiny rock in the Atlantic Ocean” and Norway, too, in a three-way race for the two seats that will come open on the 15-member council.
Justin Trudeau declared in 2016 that Canada would seek a Security Council seat, part of the Liberals’ vow to “restore Canadian leadership in the world.”
Democracy, inclusive governance, human rights, development and international peace and security were the among the priorities highlighted at the time.
“We are determined to help the UN make even greater strides in support of its goals for all humanity,” Trudeau saidduring a visit to UN headquarters that year.
Canada has served six times on the Security Council, the last time ending in 2000. The vote will be held in June 2020, after the October 2019 federal election.
The council has five permanent members — China, United States, France, United Kingdom and Russia — and 10 elected members. Each year, the general assembly elects five of the 10 spots for a two-year term.
Canada’s own campaign has been low-key so far. Cabinet ministers raise the topic in their meetings with politicians from other countries. And foreign affairs officials are plotting now how best to officially launch its bid.
But the campaign carries risks.
Losing would be humiliating for the Liberals — if they are still in power after the 2019 election.
The Liberals castigated Stephen Harper’s Conservatives for their failure to win a Security Council seat in 2010. At the time Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff called it a “clear condemnation” of the Conservatives’ foreign policy priorities.
But winning carries risks, too.
Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, cautions “be careful what you wish for,” noting that a spot on the Security Council would put Canada in the hot seat for the world’s most difficult crises.
“Being on the Security Council there are going to come a whole pile of complications,” said Robertson, a vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
That could include being at loggerheads with the U.S., one of the council’s permanent members, and President Donald Trump, if he seeks and wins re-election in 2020.
“It’s going to require an awful lot of effort. Is that effort worth it?” he said.
Robertson speculates that with Ireland and Norway in the running, Canada is unlikely to garner many European votes. So it will have to look for support in other parts of the world — the Asia-Pacific region, the Caribbean, the Americas and Africa.
“I think we’ll run as a constructive middle power but there aren’t enough middle-power votes to carry the day so we have to appeal to smaller places,” he said.
Canada has the advantage of being a G7 and G20 country but otherwise, he said, the three countries in the running are almost “interchangeable” in terms of their priorities and vision for the world.
“It’s like campaigning against mirrors of yourself,” he said.
Indeed, at the campaign launch, Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Taoiseach or prime minister, highlighted themes that could easily be Canada’s own goals.
“We support a rules-based order in international affairs. We have acted as a voice for the disadvantaged and defenceless, promoting freedom and defending human rights,” Varadkar said.
“In areas such as peacekeeping, disarmament, sustainable development, human rights and humanitarian assistance we have matched our words with our actions,” he said.
NDP MP Hélène Laverdière predicts the campaign will be “very difficult.
Canada already has a lot of strikes against its bid,” said Laverdière (Laurier-Sainte-Marie).
She noted Canada lags behind Norway and Ireland in foreign aid. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada’s aid spending in 2016 was 0.26 per cent of gross national income, compared to 0.32 for Ireland and 1.12 per cent for Norway.
Canada also lags behind both countries in military personnel deployed on UN peace missions. According to UN data to May 31, Canada had just 40 personnel assigned to peace missions compared to 542 for Ireland and 66 for Norway. But Canada’s numbers are set to rise as it deploys 250 military personnel to Mali on a yearlong mission to provide helicopters to support the UN mission there.
Conservative MP Erin O’Toole said Canada’s priority should be to help reform UN institutions, such as peace operations, even if it means forgoing a seat on the Security Council.
“We should never sacrifice taking principled positions at the UN for the sake of garnering votes. That becomes the challenge,” O’Toole said.
He said Ireland will be a challenge and will likely win the support of other European nations. “I’m not sure we can compete with Bono … He’s a hard brand to compete with so the Irish are certainly going for it,” O’Toole said.
“Maybe we should trot out Drake,” he said, referring to the Canadian superstar rapper.
Last week’s G7 summit was eclipsed by the president—and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
It was supposed to be the summit where gender became a permanent issue on world leaders’ agenda, the way that climate change did at the 1988 Toronto G7. That was the personal goal of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as the World Bank reported that 130 million girls worldwide never get the opportunity to go to school. And while gender did get both attention and money at last week’s G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec, it was mostly obscured by Donald Trump and growing concerns about a global trade war.
The G7 met amidst what the IMF assesses to be continuing strong economic performance in the Euro area and in Japan, China, the United States, and Canada, all of which grew beyond expectations last year. Still, there are plenty of challenges. G7 countries face aging populations, falling rates of labor force participation, and low productivity growth. They’re unlikely to regain the per capita growth rates that they enjoyed before the global financial crisis of 2008. All of that underscores the importance of the G7 as an institution. Now in its 44th year, the organization—consisting of America, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom—functions as a management board for the big liberal democracies.
Finance ministers before the summit were already expressing “concerns…that the tariffs imposed by the United States on its friends and allies, on the grounds of national security, undermine open trade and confidence in the global economy” and warning that G7 “collaboration and cooperation has been put at risk by trade actions against other members.”
That was in anticipation of Donald Trump, who managed to deliver on expectations. Arriving late and leaving early, he effectively set the real agenda of the Charlevoix summit through a series of tweets, pre-and post-summit, about “unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries.”
That led Trudeau to remark at the conclusion of the G7 that “Canadians did not take it lightly that the United States has moved forward with significant tariffs on our steel and aluminum industry…. For Canadians who…stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far-off lands and conflicts from the First World War onward…it’s kind of insulting.” Canada, Trudeau said, would “move forward with retaliatory measures on July 1, applying equivalent tariffs to the ones that Americans have unjustly applied to us.” He also observed that “if the expectation was that a weekend in beautiful Charlevoix…was going to transform the president’s outlook on trade and the world, then we didn’t quite reach that bar.”
All of this annoyed Trump who had left to fly to his Singapore session with Kim Jong-un. In a fit of pique, he characterized Trudeau on Twitter as “meek and mild…dishonest & weak” and rescinded America’s signature to the traditional communique that ends the conference.
Senior advisors Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro then doubled down on the president’s remarks. Kudlow told CNN that Trudeau “really kind of stabbed us in the back,” while Navarro, who later sort of apologized, told “Fox News Sunday” that “there’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump.”
For Canadians, President Trump’s “blame Canada” campaign is curious.
According to the president’s annual Economic Report from 2018, the United States enjoys an $8.4 billion surplus with Canada. Canadians buy more American agricultural exports ($24 billion) than any other nation. Our steel trade—we are each others’ biggest customers—is in virtual balance ($7 billion both ways). Canada supports its dairy farmers through supply management that restricts the milk supply but neither gives direct subsidies nor competes with the United States. In fact, Canada is one the few countries where America runs a substantial manufacturing surplus, with the U.S. importing energy—less than the global benchmark price—and other Canadian resources.
Trump also created G7 controversy with his comment that Russia, booted out of the group after its invasion of Ukraine in 2014, should be reinstated: “They should let Russia come back in,” he said, “because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
European Union Council President Donald Tusk spoke for the other leaders when he rejected the readmission of Russia because it would upset the “rules-based international order.” British Prime Minister Theresa May underlined the “unified” G7 response, pointing to the new “rapid response unit” that will counter hostile activity by states such as Russia that are aimed at the democratic process.
But it was Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland who issued the most concise and clarion call for the United States not to abandon the rules-based international order for a “might makes right” approach. Accepting the Foreign Policy Forum’s “Diplomat of the Year” award, she said: “You may feel today that your size allows you to go mano-a-mano with your traditional adversaries and be guaranteed to win. But if history tells us one thing, it is that no one nation’s pre-eminence is eternal…the far wiser path—and the more enduring one—is to strengthen our existing alliance of liberal democracies.” As the West’s relative might inevitably declines, Freeland said that “now is the time for us to plant our flag on the rule of law—so that the rising powers are induced to play by these rules, too.”
The G7 is admittedly Eurocentric. It probably needs to be enlarged to include other democracies—India, Indonesia, Korea, Australia, and Mexico would be obvious candidates and their inclusion would give more weight to the Indo-Pacific. But for over 40 years, its summits have been a rare forum for frank discussions and informal diplomacy. Its members sustain the rules-based system and its multilateral institutions.
As the top table of the leading democracies, the G7 visibly demonstrates that talk on the big issues—protectionism, populism, extremism, climate, and gender—continues to be essential. Winston Churchill popularized the word “summitry.” He also reflected that “jaw-jaw” among leaders is better than “war-war.” Churchill had learned well what happens when major world powers don’t sit down with each other and engage in dialogue.
Summits usually culminate in a consensus communique. Weeks in preparation—it probably has more drafters than readers—it is part record of decisions and part declaration of intent.
The Charlevoix communique, one of the more concise at slightly over 4,000 words, still covered the urgent and the important: artificial intelligence, global trade, middle-class growth, innovation, girls’ education, and defending democracies from foreign intrusions. But it was impossible to miss that the leaders also underlined the “crucial role of a rules-based international trading system” and their pledge to “continue to fight protectionism.” That this was a rare shot at a fellow G7 member should need no explaining.
Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat and vice president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
After the diplomatic disaster of the Group of Seven summit in Charlevoix, Que., it is now clear that for Mr. Trump it is not about leading – the traditional role of the U.S. President – but about winning at any cost. Relationships are not for cultivating, but only for using to Trumpian advantage.
Canada and like-minded countries need to stick together, act in tandem and push back against Trumpist protectionism. It means taking it to him where it hurts and targeting his base: in particular the farm community. At the same time, we need to tell Americans, who will suffer job loss and higher prices, that they have only their president to blame.
For more than 500 days now, Justin Trudeau has made nice to Mr. Trump. The advice from former prime minister Brian Mulroney was correct – that the relationship with the president is the most important relationship for a prime minister and that Canada-U.S. relations, alongside national unity and national security, are the files that require a prime minister’s constant attention.
Among liberal democratic leaders, Mr. Trudeau was seen as the one who had the best relationship with Mr. Trump. He was the Trump whisperer. But Mr. Trump’s behaviour at Charlevoix, Que., was abominable.
The tweets before Charlevoix, Que., took personal shots at both Mr. Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, the other leader who has cultivated Mr. Trump. The tweets afterward, insulting Mr. Trudeau, are beyond the pale. As Mr. Trudeau said, we are a polite people but we are not pushovers.
Canadians are justly outraged, but we have deep interests at stake, so we need to proceed with care and planning.
First, we need to get our act together domestically. Mr. Trudeau needs to consult with the premiers and business to get their advice on our retaliation list. What is their assessment of increased protectionism on their province and industries? What about life after the North American free-trade agreement? We will be hurt. We will need to provide adjustment assistance for the afflicted. But how would Americans like it if Canadians began to spontaneously boycott American goods, especially U.S. farm produce, and stopped travelling south for holidays?
Second, we need to take advantage of the free-trade deals that we already have in place and put real effort into matchmaking; business with business. As a matter of our national security (two can play this game), we should quickly pass the implementing legislation to bring the new Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership into effect. With Canada’s implementation, the agreement would immediately come into force.
If this means keeping parliamentarians at work into July so be it. Provincial legislatures may also have to be recalled. While they are at it they should pass their enabling legislation for the Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. This is a matter of grave national economic urgency. Canadians need to see that their legislators are acting in the national interest.
Third, we need to act in tandem with our G7 partners and like-minded countries, such as Mexico, as we collectively retaliate to the recently imposed steel and aluminium tariffs. Canada and Mexico learned the value of acting collectively when they worked together to persuade the U.S. Congress to rescind its protectionist country-of-origin labelling requirement in 2015.
American legislators respond to local pressure. They need to feel the heat of retaliation. Canada has a lot of allies, especially in the Republican congressional caucus. They don’t like Mr. Trump’s direction and are already moving to curb the trade powers that were ceded to the executive branch during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. Hopefully, we will see then the beauty of the checks and balances at work. The U.S. founding fathers designed their system to prevent a president from becoming a king.
The more Mr. Trump attacks his fellow G7 and fellow democratically elected leaders the more difficult it makes it for them to go along with him when it counts. That includes, however unlikely, a deal with North Korea.
The road that Mr. Trump is going down makes no economic sense. George W. Bush reluctantly imposed limited steel tariffs in 2002 (Canada was exempt) and lifted them a year later because it was costing American jobs, not creating them.
Canadians are used to compromise and consensus, especially in how we handle the relationship with Uncle Sam. Manage it well and we can tell them when their breath is bad. Mr. Trump has a bad case of halitosis. We need to tell him so and serve him the bitter medicine he has brought on himself.
Canadian diplomats are scrambling to mend a deteriorating relationship with its largest trading partner after senior US officials maintained the rhetorical barrage first unleashed by Donald Trump at the G7 meeting in Quebec.
Foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland will travel to Washington this week for a visit which will focus on trade talks – but also attempt to reset relations between the two countries, which have been pushed to their lowest point in recent memory amid an increasingly bitter row over trade.
In television appearances over the weekend, two senior Trump advisors said that Justin Trudeau “stabbed the US in the back” after the prime minister spoke out against the US president’s aggressive trade policies.
In an appearance on Fox News on Sunday, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro said: “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”
The sharp escalation has shocked experts and fuelled worries of a devastating trade war, one which Canada, a middling economic power, would likely lose.
“There have been moments of tension in various times in the history of Canada-US relations, but I’ve never seen or heard of anything like the type of language the US administration has used towards Canada,” said Roland Paris, an international affairs scholar and former advisor to Trudeau.
Canadian officials hoped the G7 summit in Quebec over the weekend would be an opportunity to reset discussions around trade after Trump imposed punitive tariffs on the EU and Canada.
But the gathering concluded on a sour note after Trudeau told reporters Canada “will not be pushed around”. Trump responded via social media calling the prime minister “very dishonest and weak”.
“We have to prepare for the worst now,” said Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and head of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “There’s a lot of damage control going on today and for the next few days,” he said.
The US remains Canada’s largest trading partner, a relationship valued at $673.9bn, but Trump has claimed Canada has a trade surplus with the US, a statement not backed up by any evidence.
A recent report from the CD Howe Institute finds that the tariffs will cause significant economic pain in both countries: Canada could lose as many as 6,000 jobs and a 0.33% GDP reduction, whereas the US would lose 22,700 jobs, but only a 0.02% disruption to the GDP.
Last week, Canada introduced more than $16bn in retaliatory tariffs against the United States, meant to inflict targeted pain on politically vulnerable industries, such as whisky, orange juice, frozen pizzas and soy beans.
“There are plenty of people in the United States, including in positions of influence, who were just as outraged at those remarks as Canadians were,” said Paris.
Although there is little to suggest that his aggressive trade policy has spirited support within his party, analysts say Trump has seized on the duties as a weapon he can wield without needing congressional approval.
“He’s discovered these weapons and he’s using them for maximum effect to further his ‘American First’ bellicose trade and political agenda,” said Lawrence Herman, a former diplomat and international trade lawyer. “I think the lesson has come home that as a strategic objective: be less dependent on the unreliability of the United States … What Trump is showing is that the United States is an unreliable treaty partner.”
The recent spat has backed Canada into an uncomfortable position: while attempting to remain steadfast against a belligerent trade partner, it must also reckon with the fact that much of its economic productivity is tied to seamless free trade with its southern neighbour.
Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, famously likened the relationship with the United States to a mouse next to a sleeping elephant. “No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt,” the former prime minister said.
Justin Trudeau amended his father’s metaphor at a gathering of American governors last year. “While you, my American friends, may be an elephant, Canada is no mouse. More like a moose: strong and peaceable – but still massively outweighed.”
Trudeau’s firm stance towards the US administration has resulted in a rare unified front amongst current and former political leaders.
Over the weekend, his conservative predecessor Stephen Harper appeared on Fox News to appeal for calm. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer tweeted his support for the prime minister.
Even Doug Ford, the newly-elected populist premier of Ontario – who has pledged to fight Trudeau on a number of policy initiatives – backed the prime minister’s position.
That support reflects a cold economic reality: Ontario is particularly vulnerable to America’s protectionist policies as more than 80% of the province’s exports are sent south of the border, said Robertson.
More recently, Trump has reiterated his threat to impose a 25% tariff on Canadian-made automobiles – a move that would devastate the $80bn industry.
Experts say that as discussions enter uncharted territory, it’s critical that the issues of trade remain the central of focus.
“Trudeau will not personalize this with Trump – and he will not let any of his cabinet or caucus do so. He’ll let public opinion do that for him,” added Robertson.
Meanwhile, Canada should push to ensure two large trade deals – the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement – are finalized in the coming months to hedge against further uncertainty.
“We’ve got these open doors to Europe and the Trans Pacific Partnership. We’ve some housekeeping to do to show we’re serious,” said Robertson.