Matthew Fisher: Trudeau insists there are other ways to help NATO rather than just simply spending money

WARSAW, Poland — Although he did not single out any country by name, U.S. Barack Obama made it clear Saturday that he expected much more of countries such as Canada, which spend less than two per cent of GDP on national defence.

After listing the few NATO countries that met the longstanding two per cent pledge, Obama told the rest: “Everybody has got to step up. Everybody has got to do better.”

Canada is by far the worst offender in the alliance, ranking 23rd out of 28 countries. Its spending on defence dipped below one per cent according to statistics published by NATO last week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s reply Saturday in Poland to constant questions about how little Canada spends on defence was to insist that there were other ways to assist NATO than simply spending money. Canada made quality contributions to NATO and was always there for the alliance when it really mattered, he said.

Trudeau had a much easier time of it when he met on Saturday with President Raimonds Vejonis to discuss Canada’s intention to lead a early next year in the Baltic country.

“We can organize some ice hockey games,” Vejonis joked to Trudeau when the two leaders met for the first time, alluding to the two countries’ shared passion for Canada’s national pastime.

“You might regret that, you might regret that,” Trudeau said with a laugh. “We’re quite good. But I know you are, too.”

Such bonhomie will matter. Canada’s commitment to keep battle-ready troops in Latvia is open-ended and is likely to last for many years and perhaps decades.

Canada is to contribute 450 troops to the 1,000-strong battalion. It is to have a commander, headquarters and rifle company, and act as a tripwire to discourage Russian President Vladimir Putin from sending his troops across a neighbouring border as he did when he annexed Crimea from Ukraine two years.

AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski
AP Photo/Czarek SokolowskiCanadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for a working session at the NATO in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, July 9, 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama and other NATO leaders have begun the second day of a in Warsaw that's expected to lead to decisions about , the central Mediterranean and Iraq.

The U.S., Britain and Germany quickly signed on to similar leadership roles in neighbouring countries, but negotiations to get Canada on board took much longer. Canada only confirmed its participation one day after Obama told Parliament three times that he hoped Canada would do more for the alliance.

After the two-day summit ended Saturday, Trudeau deflected a question about whether this was because Canada had been reluctant to undertake the mission.

“We have consistently demonstrated a willingness to contribute, to deploy our troops in various places, and the opportunity to be part of the multinational framework by the leading efforts in Latvia was exactly something we saw as an opportunity for Canada to contribute security and stability,” Trudeau said. “We have been very positive about this from the very beginning.”

Canada has been sharply criticized by some in Ukraine for the Trudeau government’s willingness to discuss security issues with Russia.

A day before he is to arrive in Kyiv for a two day visit, Trudeau said that although his government was open to discussing the West’s many security differences with Russia, “Canada stands strongly with the people of Ukraine against the illegitimate actions of Russia.”

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis(left) jokes about hockey with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the start of a meeting between sessions at the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland Saturday July 9, 2016.

Much of the summit looked at serious present and future challenges such as Russian adventurism and the Islamic State’s long, vicious tentacles and cyber warfare. It continued to wrestle with Afghanistan, where it has had combat forces for more than a decade and where 158 Canadian soldiers died.

Canada had troops in Afghanistan between late 2001 and 2013. Since then it has continued to provide tens of millions of dollars in aid.

In a shift of priorities, Canada Saturday that will put more money into development programs in the future and would spend less on Afghanistan’s beleaguered national security forces.

Canada announced $465 million in additional aid to Afghanistan Saturday at the NATO leader’s summit. About $270 million of the money, to be distributed over three years, will provide and social assistance to Afghans. The rest of the money will assist Afghanistan’s armed forces and police who remain locked in a bloody fight with the .

The Canadian money comes at the same time as Obama is committing 8,000 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan next year. NATO has also agreed to commit to provide further assistance to Kabul until 2020.

The shift in emphasis was not surprising, said Stephen Saideman of Carleton University, given Trudeau’s priorities. But it was important to keep supporting Afghan security forces, he said.

“Putting money in security is an investment in what we’ve already invested in,” the political science professor said.  While the Taliban was resurgent, Afghan forces were better than they had been, he said.

“The improvement is that the Afghans are sustaining the fight mostly on their own,” Saideman said.

Senior officials with the European Union suggested last week that ratifying Canada’s trade deal with the Europeans was not going to be given priority because the organization had many decisions to make regarding Britain’s decision to leave it. Nevertheless, Canada continued to aggressively promote the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement accord with European leaders gathered at the NATO meeting and remained “optimistic” that the EU would do so.

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