NATO secretary general meets Trudeau in Canada amid Russia, U.S.-Iran tensions

PETAWAWA, Ont. — In a visit to an Ottawa Valley military base Monday, NATO’s secretary-general urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to not backtrack on boosting Canada’s defence spending and helping counter shifting threats facing the military alliance.

Jens Stoltenberg said “defence spending is now going up” in Canada and other NATO countries after years of reductions. He praised Canada’s contribution to one NATO mission in Latvia to counter Russian aggression and to another mission training troops in Iraq.

The federal government plans to invest billions of dollars less in new military equipment than promised this year, which has raised concerns about whether the Forces will fall short of broader NATO spending targets.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called NATO an outdated body, saying it was formed to defend the West in the Cold War but it’s now neglected and underfunded by its own members, leaving the United States to assume the burden of supporting it.

“After years of decline, we are now in the fifth consecutive year of rise in defence spending across Europe and Canada, and I encourage you to redouble your efforts,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference with Trudeau during a tour of Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.

“This is about fairness, but more importantly, it is about our security in a more unpredictable world.”

Trudeau said Canada has the will and capacity to make a difference in the world. The prime minister also noted that Canada has deployed three women in commanding roles on NATO missions, which Stoltenberg welcomed.

Trump’s complaints have created an ongoing tension within the military alliance, which is marking its 70th anniversary this year. Comments Trudeau and Stoltenberg made about the international order and multilateral institutions during the joint press conference — held at this base about 160 kilometres west of Ottawa — are routinely used in reference to Trump without actually saying his name.

The tensions in the alliance reflect sharply different outlooks on the world. Trudeau avoided using Trump’s name when he was asked about the president’s Twitter comments about four Democratic congresswomen.

Trump said the four women of colour should go back to the “broken and crime infested” countries that they came from in a series of tweets that Democrats called racist and moved to censure in Congress. Three of the four were born in the United States.

Speaking later at the White House, after Trudeau’s press conference, Trump said that anyone who doesn’t like the United States should simply leave the country.

Asked about the tweets, Trudeau said Canadians and people around the world “know exactly what I think about those particular comments.

“That is not how we do things in Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and the diversity of our country is actually one of our greatest strengths and a source of tremendous resilience and pride for Canadians and we will continue to defend that.”

Canada’s mission in Latvia is one of several in NATO countries that have borders with Russia, part of a show of force to discourage Russian President Vladimir Putin from threatening other countries in Europe’s east.

The increased NATO presence is a result of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and its fomenting of Kremlin-backed Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions. Ukraine is not a NATO member.

That may make Canada a target for Russian interference in this fall’s federal election. Stoltenberg said NATO allies share information on cyber threats after seeing multiple attempts to mettle in the democratic process. Trudeau said Canada has had talks with allies in the Baltic states that have faced “significant amounts” of interference to learn what “they’ve done to counter foreign propaganda.”

Canada also leads the NATO training mission for Iraqi forces in that country. There are heightened tensions in that region because of the escalating dispute between the U.S. and neighbouring Iran.

After the visit to CFB Petawawa, Stoltenberg is scheduled to travel to Toronto for a speech and question-and-answer session at the University of Toronto.

The visit started a week of transatlantic diplomacy for Trudeau, who will welcome European Union leaders to a summit in Montreal on Wednesday.

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