Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inspects the troops as he visits Adazi Military Base in Kadaga, Latvia, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Trudeau says he hopes the upcoming NATO summit will send a message of broad support for unity and solidarity but acknowledges that there will "no doubt be calls for greater investments in defense spending", a key issue that is badly dividing the military alliance. (Roman Koksarov/AP Photo)

Canada extends and boosts its contribution to NATO mission in Latvia

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, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday at the conclusion of his visit to the tiny Baltic state.

Trudeau made the announcement in Riga following a meeting with Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis, saying Canada is “absolutely committed to the protection of our allies and to global peace and security.”

“Canadians always have and always will stand up for a better and a more just world,” Trudeau said.

Canada commands a multinational NATO battle group in Latvia, part of the alliance’s beefed up presence in neighbouring Estonia, Lithuania and Poland set up following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its meddling in eastern Ukraine.

In addition to bolstering its land forces in Latvia, Canada will also add greater flexibility to its contribution to NATO maritime forces, as well as continue deploying Canadian fighter jets in Eastern and Central Europe to help with the alliance’s air policing of the region.

A message to Putin and Trump

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to Slovenian soldiers as he inspects the troops while visiting Adazi Military Base in Kadaga, Latvia, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Roman Koksarov/AP Photo)

Trudeau said he hopes the increased Canadian commitment to Latvia gets the attention of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“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.”

But many analysts believe Trudeau’s announcement, on the eve of the NATO summit in Brussels, was also meant to send a message to Donald Trump and blunt some of the U.S. president’s criticism of NATO states, including Canada, that do not meet the alliance’s defence spending goal of 2 per cent of the GDP agreed to the 2014 summit in Wales.

U.S. frustration with NATO allies

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) meets with U.S. President Donald Trump during the G7 Summit in the Charlevoix town of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 8, 2018. Photo taken June 8, 2018. (Christinne Muschi/REUTERS)

In a letter addressed to Trudeau in June Trump said there is “growing frustration” in the United States with NATO allies like Canada that have not increased defence spending as promised.

“This frustration is not confined to our executive branch. The United States Congress has taken note and is concerned as well,” read the letter, first reported by iPolitics and confirmed by The Canadian Press.

“The United States is increasingly unwilling to ignore this Alliance’s failure to meet shared security challenges,” Trump wrote.

The position of successive Canadian governments both Liberal and Conservative has been that while Canada doesn’t meet the NATO spending benchmark, it has proven with its deployments of combat troops in Afghanistan, in northern Iraq and Eastern Europe that it is always ready to contribute when asked by the allies.

The Liberals promised last year to increase spending on the military by 70 per cent over the next 10 years, but that will still leave Canada short of NATO’s target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence.

Looking ahead to the upcoming NATO summit in Brussels, Trump said in his letter to Trudeau he appreciates Canada’s defence contributions around the world, including in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and on United Nations peacekeeping missions.

But these contributions “do not excuse any of us from our commitments to ensure NATO has the resources it needs,” Trump added.

“As one of our most capable allies and a leader in worldwide security, Canada’s continued defence spending of less than two per cent undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also are not meeting their defence spending commitments,” the letter said.

“At the summit, we must ensure alliance credibility by living up to our agreed commitments. I expect to see a strong recommitment by Canada to meet the goals to which we have all agreed in the defence investment pledge.”

As one of the founding members of NATO, Canada remains committed to the alliance, Trudeau said in a statement.

“NATO is a cornerstone of Canada’s international security policy, and an important alliance as we look for more stability in a world going through rapid change,” Trudeau said. “I look forward to meeting with leaders from NATO member states in Belgium to deepen our already strong relationships, and to discuss what more we can and must do to advance peace and security for our citizens and people around the world.”

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