Two frigates, two coastal defence vessels, a Canadian Army light infantry battalion, 8 CF-18 fighter jets along with over 2,000 military personnel.
That was just some of Canada’s contribution to the largest NATO war games since the Cold War. It just came to an end on Wednesday and it took place right under Russia’s nose. And the country of Vladimir Putin didn’t like that one bit.
Operation Trident Juncture was the name of the two-week long mock conflict held in Norway. Canada was far from the only player, with 31 countries offering up a combined 50,000 participants.
The goal, according to a release from National Defence, is “to demonstrate that NATO forces are ready to counter any threat.” And another release from NATO said the skirmish was designed as a response to a “fictitious aggressor.”
The whole thing is based on the premise of what would happen if Article 5 was triggered.
That’s the Principle of Collective Defence contained within the NATO Treaty, stipulating that an attack on one member is an attack on all of them. Therefore they respond collectively.
But while no official source would name it, we all know who that fictitious aggressor would be. Norway is one of the few NATO countries that borders on Russia. And this was no coincidence. Trident Juncture was an operation designed to respond to any potential Russian aggression.
The Russians didn’t care for dozens of countries flexing their muscles right under their noses. Their response was muted but pointed.
It was the Russian embassy in the United Kingdom that took on the task of calling NATO’S bluff. “NATO constantly ‘assures’ us that its military exercises are not against Russia, yet for some reason they use particularly Russian-like uniform and military hardware during them. Wonder why?” the embassy’s social media account mused the other day.
That said, it’s not like Russia hasn’t been gearing up themselves. In September, they thumbed their nose at the West by rolling out Vostok 2018, their own largest war games since the Cold War. Their claim of a 300,000 troop count exceeded NATO’S 50,000 and included participants from China, Mongolia and — rather frustratingly — NATO member Turkey. So their indignation at Trident Juncture can be taken with a grain of salt.
It’s not like Canada could have sat this one out even if the government had wanted us to, given how it was all NATO hands on deck. But it’s still a good image to be participating in it and proudly publicizing it, as National Defence and Minister Harjit Sajjan have done.
There’s an impression out there than in the eyes of the public that over the past few years the Canadian Armed Forces have been somehow underused or neglected. It’s an unfortunately reasonable impression, given how the first decision Justin Trudeau made upon being elected Prime Minister was telling then President Barack Obama he was pulling our fighter jets out of the ISIS bombing mission. He’s still never given an explanation as to why.
Then there’s the Mali mission. The Canadian Armed Forces members I speak with are quietly asking why on earth we’re in the West African country torn apart by sectarian strife in the first place. The veterans are asking the same thing, but not so quietly.
But there will be no such questions about something like Trident Juncture though and the broader challenge it represents. After all, we’ve still got over 500 soldiers in Latvia, formerly of the Soviet Union now a NATO member, as part of an Operation Reassurance forward battle group.
Canadians sometimes get the impression, with the jets brought home and Afghanistan wrapped up, that the CAF isn’t doing much these days.
But that’s just not true. It’s a little something to keep in mind, especially with Remembrance Day coming up.