After a visit to the Pentagon with his U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan hinted a defense budget raise could be announced for 2017.
Sajjan and Mattis met at the Pentagon for a 45-minute formal meeting, followed by a dinner. Surrounded by a six-person entourage on both sides, it is pretty evident the talks were focusing on defense spending, the situation in the Middle East, NORAD, as well as NATO’s intervention against Russia. That said, Sajjan refused to answer questions about the meeting.
The meeting between the two former officers was the first between the newly-elected Trump administration and the Canadian Liberal government.
Currently, Canada spend 1% of its GDP on defense, half of what NATO requires. By doubling the defense budget, Canada would allow approximately $40 billion to its Armed Forces—a significant boost considering the urgent need of new aircraft, ships and ground equipment.
Although nothing was publicly mentioned about the discussion on a possible deployment of Canadian troops to Mali as U.N. peacekeepers, I believe it will most likely influenced Canada’s decision to send troops or not. Unfortunately, the Canadian government might back out of their engagement solely based on what the United States wants from our soldiers.
Canada pledged more than 600 additional peacekeepers around the world last summer, and the U.N.’s intention was to send the Canadian to Mali where more than 100 peacekeepers have been killed in action since 2013.
According to the Globe and Mail, “sources told The Canadian Press last week that, because of Ottawa’s vacillation, Canada lost its chance to command the Mali mission.” It is, however, impossible to know if it’s true or not.
The Situation in Iraq
I wouldn’t be surprised that both Mattis and Sajjan agreed on the role of the CANSOFCOM in Iraq. Currently deployed to advise and assist Kurdish troops, members of CANSOFCOM were actively taking part in the liberation of Mosul by supporting their allies.
Both parties must’ve reiterated on the importance of Canada’s contribution to ISR and refueling operations in the sky over Iraq and Syria.
Once Mosul is liberated, the Canadian operators will most likely remain in country to train the Iraqi forces as well as the Kurds against a possible ISIS counterattack coming from Syria.
I don’t believe we’ll see conventional forces in Iraq, however.
The Situation in Eastern Europe
Canada pledged more than 1,000 troops to Latvia organised under a battle group. It will also lead troops from Albania, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. The first Canadian troops should be in Latvia by May, with all elements in place by July or August.
The deployment of Canadian troops is directly aimed at Russia. NATO has been accusing Russia of massing troops on its borders. That said, NATO’s eastward march is clearly more provocative than seeing Russian troops move in their own territory.
Canada was one of the first country to impose economic sanctions on Russia as well as pledging support to Ukraine. As a matter of fact, Canadian soldiers are actively taking part in training Ukrainian troops in Western Ukraine.
Canada had the intention of renewing diplomatic relations with Russia when the Liberal government was first elected but with the recent troop commitment and additional sanctions, it is pretty obvious that it is not in Canada’s priority to do so.
The Situation with NORAD
NORAD remains the most important partnership for Canada. Our aerial and maritime defense is in need of a major upgrade. Raising the defense budget could lead in a better coastal security as well as a strong presence in the Arctic.
The Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS), build by Irving Shipbuilding, will enable Canada to sail for a longer period in the Arctic Ocean, especially with the new Nanisivik Naval Facility.
As for intercepting foreign aircraft, the acquisition of 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet will give Canada the possibility to fly for a longer period in a more advanced aircraft.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see more cooperation and joint exercises in the Artic as well since it is a vital part of Canada. We could see new radar installation to detect incoming aircraft in the near future as well.
The meeting was the first of many to come. Two former staff officers in those roles will most likely increase the communication between the two countries. However, Canada needs to understand that we are a sovereign country and it is our job to decide whether we deploy troops or not and where we do so.
Having a great relationship with a country can also mean telling them “no” is possible, especially when it comes to our foreign policy. Everyone knows that Canada’s foreign policy and Trump’s plan are not on the same line.
Nevertheless, the first meeting was a success and both countries will benefit from a good relationship between Sajjan and Mattis.