Canada is playing a “leading role” in NATO’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the head of the alliance said Wednesday, while urging all allies to step up, including by increasing defence spending.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also reiterated that a cyberattack against a NATO member could trigger the requirement that all NATO members retaliate.
Stoltenberg was virtually addressing the Ottawa Defence Conference in a session dominated by the ongoing war in Ukraine and as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues his tour of Europe to meet with allies.
Trudeau announced Tuesday in Latvia that Canada will extend indefinitely its contribution of troops as part of NATO’s deterrence mission in central and eastern Europe.
Stoltenberg said he also welcomed Trudeau’s suggestion this week that the government would look at increasing defence spending. Canada currently spends about 1.4 per cent of GDP on defence, below the two per cent NATO members pledged to spend by 2024.
“So Canada is contributing in many ways and I welcome the announcements of further support and the Canadian contributions,” Stoltenberg said, in conversation with former Canadian ambassador to NATO Kerry Buck.
“But then of course I would like to see all allies to do even more, and therefore I call on all allies to step up.”
It is a “dark time” for collective security, Stoltenberg said, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent rhetoric on nuclear weapons “reckless and dangerous.”
“Russia has shattered peace in Europe,” he said. “President Putin has instigated a brutal war against a peaceful, sovereign Ukraine, simply because it dares to choose its own path, the path of democracy and freedom.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Berlin where he met with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and spoke at the Munich Security Conference about the need to defend democracy more than ever. He also spoke by phone to Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelenskyy to offer more military aid. (The Canadian Press)
The invasion has meant that NATO must do a “serious assessment” of its long-term posture and presence in Eastern Europe, “and also how we can strengthen our ability to reinforce quickly,” Stoltenberg said.
It will be a topic for discussion at a NATO defence ministers’ meeting next week, though Stoltenberg doesn’t expect any decisions until the NATO summit in June.
He said Canada has been playing a “leading role” in NATO’s response, by training members of the Ukrainian armed forces over the years and sending military equipment and millions of dollars in loans to the country.
Stoltenberg doubled down on the alliance’s decision not to impose a no-fly zone over non-NATO member Ukraine, despite the worsening humanitarian crisis. He pointed out it would require direct confrontation from NATO allies “massively attacking” Russian air defence systems.
“This will significantly escalate the war, the fighting in Ukraine, but also of course risk a full-fledged war in Europe,” he said.
“This will lead to so much more human suffering, civilian casualties, destruction, and it will be extremely dangerous. So it is a painful decision made by NATO allies, but we need to make sure that this conflict ends. We have to avoid that it expands, escalates.”
He said NATO’s message remains that Ukraine as a partner gets support, while NATO allies get “absolute security guarantees.” An attack on one member is an attack on all, as outlined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
That could include a cyberattack, although Stoltenberg declined to say Wednesday at what point such an attack could trigger Article 5.
“We will never give the privilege to a potential adversary to tell exactly where that threshold is,” he said.
“When we trigger Article 5, then of course we can respond in cyber, but also respond in another domain. We have now established cyber as a military domain along with air, sea, land and space.”
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