Despite Canada’s international reputation as a peacekeeping state, our international military engagement has grown over the last decade.
Only this morning, on January 3rd, a National Defence press release announced the completion of its third deployment with NATO’s enhanced air policing in Romania. During the mission, Canada deployed 135 Canadian Armed Forces personnel and Five CF-18 Hornets.
This undertaking is only one part of the much larger NATO Operation REASSURANCE based in Central and Eastern Europe, intended to deter Russian aggression and reinforce NATO allies.
Despite political differences, Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy is a continuation of Stephen Harper’s, especially with respect to Ukraine and the Eastern European war theater.
Canada’s strategic interests in Eastern Europe
It was initially the Harper government that promised non-lethal assistance to Western Ukrainian forces shortly after the outbreak of the Ukrainian civil-war. This assistance included access to Canadian military training and various non-lethal equipment.
The Liberals then took it one step further, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland announcing that Canada will move towards providing the Ukrainians with small arms.
The question on everybody’s mind is this: What are we doing in Eastern Europe and what are Canada’s strategic interests in the Baltic and in Ukraine more specifically?
There are two aspects to this, Canada’s involvement and long-standing commitment to NATO, and its own geopolitical position toward Russia.
Geopolitically, Canada shares a northern border with the Arctic, an increasingly contested and politicized region that Russia desires to dominate.
The Arctic is growing warmer, meaning more accessible inter-continental shipping routes are becoming available. Several nations, including Canada have a desire in laying a claim over this territory.
In October, the Royal Canadian Navy announced its plans to acquire the designs of Britain’s Type 26 frigate, an anti-submarine and aircraft vessel intended to be deployed in securing the north.
The arctic is rapidly becoming another theater of military and defense activity, so Canada has an invested interest in projecting an image of territorial integrity.
A briefing by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress reiterated this claim.
“The long northern border between Canada and Russia makes Russia a potential threat to Canada’s security. By continuing to support Ukraine’s right to defend its territorial integrity and independence, a clear message is sent to the Kremlin that changing borders by force is unacceptable in the 21st century, and discourages Russia from becoming emboldened to threaten Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.”
In a sense, keeping pressure on Russia’s east and engaging in the European theater of war distracts it away from its northern territorial ambitions. This buys valuable time for Canada to prepare its northern defences.
Canada’s involvement with NATO: Operation Reassurance
On the other hand, Canada’s military and defense interests are married to its role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
For the past 5 years Canada has been involved in a combined sea, land and air effort in Eastern and Central Europe called “Operation REASSURANCE”. Through this operation Canada has taken a leading roll in deploying combat ready units and training national armies.
The latest mission concluded in Romania by the Air Task Force included 135 members of the Canadian Air Force and five CF-188 Hornets.
The main goal of the task force was to police NATO airspace, primarily around the black sea. The Constanta, Romania task force base is stationed along the black sea with access to the Kerch strait, where the recent Russia-Ukraine confrontation took place.
Operation Reassurance mission timeline:
- April 29, 2014 – the CAF sent its first CF-188 Hornet Air Task Force to Europe. Since then, the CAF had periodically sent air task forces to Central and Eastern Europe.
- May 3, 2014 – the CAF sent a Land Task Force to Central and Eastern Europe, based in Poland.
- May 13, 2014 – the CAF sent a Maritime Task Force of one frigate to Central and Eastern Europe.
- June 19, 2017 – Canadian-led NATO enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup Latvia was stood up during a ceremony at Camp Adazi, Latvia.
- August 17, 2017 – The Land Task Force in Poland completed its final deployment.
- July 10, 2018 – The Prime Minister of Canada announced the renewal of Canada’s contribution to NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence until March 2023. The CAF will also increase the number of members deployed to Latvia from 455 to 540.
Alongside air force deployment, the Canadian navy has a Maritime Task Force stationed in the Mediterranean sea alongside an allied naval force.
As part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence mission, Canada also leads a land battlegroup in Adazi, Latvia that mobilizes 445 of it’s own forces alongside Italy, Poland, Spain, Albania and Slovakia.
“It’s about bringing together the great strengths of each nation to provide a coherent and valid deterrent. Currently there is absolutely no intent to conduct aggressive patrolling or show of force,” said Brig.-Gen Simon Hetherington.
This is the fourth such battlegroup deployed in the Baltics.
“These battlegroups, led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States respectively, are multinational, and combat-ready, demonstrating the strength of the transatlantic bond. Their presence makes clear that an attack on one Ally will be considered an attack on the whole Alliance. NATO’s battlegroups form part of the biggest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence in a generation,” says a June 2018 NATO fact sheet.
Canada has taken on an active and leading role in NATO operations. This is a trend that has encompassed both Liberal and Conservative governments.
Despite Canada’s peacekeeping reputation, our country has as of late partaken in several offensive and defensive operations throughout the world.