OTTAWA — The deadly bombing in Manchester has thrust the familiar scourge of terrorism back under the spotlight as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares for high-level meetings with allies overseas.
Trudeau leaves Wednesday for Brussels for the NATO leaders’ summit, the first such meeting since U.S. President Donald Trump moved into the White House.
The prime minister will then jet to Taormina, Italy, for this year’s G7 gathering, before ending his foreign tour with a stop in Rome to meet Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and the Pope.
The NATO and G7 summits were already slated to touch upon the global fight against terrorism, which has been a hot-button topic for Trump.
But officials and experts expect the spotlight to fix even more firmly on the challenge after Monday’s suicide-bomb attack outside a concert in England, which killed 22 people and injured 59.
“It is going to increase attention on the fight against terrorism,” one NATO official, who was not authorized to comment publicly, said of Thursday’s meeting in Brussels.
“We expected that to be one of the two major themes of the meeting anyway, fighting terrorism. But I think (the Manchester attack) will increase the public’s attention on the immediacy of the threat.”
That could be a bittersweet shift for Trudeau, particularly during the NATO meeting in Brussels, where much of the emphasis was expected to be on the amount allies spend on defence.
Canada spends only around one per cent of GDP on defence, which is half of NATO’s target and puts the country among the bottom third of allies, setting up a potentially uncomfortable discussion for Trudeau.
Focusing on the fight against terrorism instead would allow the prime minister to highlight Canada’s contributions to the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, another Trump priority.
“We’ll be a lot more comfortable talking about the fight against ISIL, where we measure up quite well, than about burden-sharing,” said defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
Canada currently has about 200 special forces troops participating in the U.S.-led war against ISIL, as well as helicopters, medical personnel, two surveillance aircraft and an air-to-air refuelling plane.
Terrorism was also slated to figure prominently in talks among the leaders of the G7, which is made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
Roland Paris, who was Trudeau’s first foreign policy adviser, said Canadian officials would have “already be thinking about how to address and make common cause with the president on terrorist threats.”
That includes highlighting Canada’s contributions to the fight against ISIL, but also intelligence-sharing with allies and combating terrorist financing.
But it’s also unclear how Trump will react to the attack, Paris said, especially since he has no previous experience with large international meetings like NATO and the G7.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “I’m sure there is some trepidation about how Trump will approach both meetings.”
One of the questions is to what degree the attack in Manchester will draw attention away from some of the other topics that were supposed to be on the G7’s agenda, such as climate change and free trade.
Government officials have indicated Trudeau hoped to address both issues at the summit, given Trump’s plan to pull out of the Paris climate accord and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
John Kirton, director of the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, expected the other leaders to pick their battles based on Trump’s own priorities and how he responds.
— with files from Joanna Smith
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press