Canada re­sponds to Trump’s mus­ings on NATO: ‘We’re step­ping up’

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - LEE BERTHIAUME

OT­TAWA — Don­ald Trump’s com­ments that, if elected pres­i­dent, the U.S. wouldn’t au­to­mat­i­cally come to the aid of al­lies are “not help­ful,” Canada’s de­fence min­is­ter says.

The Repub­li­can nom­i­nee caused a stir this week when he said some NATO mem­bers aren’t spend­ing enough on de­fence, and are in­stead re­ly­ing on the U.S. to pro­tect them. That would change if he’s elected, Trump told the New York Times.

“We’re talk­ing about coun­tries that are do­ing very well,” he said.

“I would ab­so­lutely be pre­pared to tell those coun­tries, ‘Congratulations, you will be de­fend­ing your­self.’”

While Trump ap­peared to be di­rect­ing his com­ments at Euro­pean al­lies, Canada spends less than one per cent of its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on de­fence. That is half the NATO tar­get and puts Canada near the back of the pack among the al­liance’s 28 mem­bers.

In an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press Thurs­day, De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan de­fended Canada’s mil­i­tary con­tri­bu­tions and NATO. He pointed to Canada’s re­cent prom­ise to lead a NATO force in Latvia and its role in the fight against the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant as proof the coun­try is pulling its weight.

“We’re step­ping up in a much big­ger way,” Sa­j­jan said. “When you put ev­ery­thing to­gether, we have nothing to be em­bar­rassed about. In fact, we ac­tu­ally can be very proud of the fact of how much we’re do­ing.”

Ar­ti­cle 5 of the NATO treaty en­shrines the con­cept of col­lec­tive de­fence, in which an at­tack on one mem­ber is an at­tack on all. The only time it was in­voked was after the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which led to the war in Afghanistan.

Some East­ern Euro­pean mem­bers have wor­ried Ar­ti­cle 5 will not be hon­oured if Rus­sia takes ac­tion against them.

Trump’s com­ments have the po­ten­tial to stoke fresh con­cerns about the al­liance’s unity, par­tic­u­larly as it faces a new Cold War with Rus­sia.

Sa­j­jan said col­lec­tive de­fence is cen­tral to the al­liance, which it­self has been in­stru­men­tal in help­ing bring peace and sta­bil­ity to Europe and other parts of the world.

“So those com­ments that are made are not help­ful,” Sa­j­jan said. “But I un­der­stand there’s an elec­tion cam­paign and that’ll take its course.”

Sa­j­jan was speak­ing from Wash­ing­ton, where de­fence and for­eign af­fairs min­is­ters spent the past two days talk­ing about the cam­paign against ISIL — and what will come after.

The im­me­di­ate chal­lenge is the lib­er­a­tion of Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond­largest city, which ISIL, also known as ISIS or Daesh, has oc­cu­pied since June 2014.

The min­is­ter an­nounced in Wash­ing­ton that Canada will send up to 60 mil­i­tary per­son­nel to lead a nearby field hos­pi­tal in sup­port of the Mo­sul as­sault. That is in ad­di­tion to the 200 spe­cial forces troops al­ready in the area, many of whom are train­ing Kur­dish pesh­merga forces in prepa­ra­tion for the at­tack on Mo­sul.

Sa­j­jan would not com­ment on the role Cana­dian troops would play when the Mo­sul as­sault be­gins, cit­ing op­er­a­tional se­cu­rity.

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