Trudeau to 'double' Canadian commitment to Latvia NATO mission

Parliament will commit $2.6 billion in funding over three years to cover the cost of mobilizing additional troops. Of which $1.4 billion comes from Budget 2022.

Trudeau to 'double' Canadian commitment to Latvia NATO mission
Facebook/ Justin Trudeau
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that Canada will "double" its contribution to a NATO mission in Latvia, adding 1,200 military personnel to its contingent. Not all will be deployed immediately.

Trudeau confirmed full mobilization efforts could take up to three years but will not dampen Canada's strategy to lead a regional brigade.

Parliament will commit $2.6 billion in funding over three years to cover the cost of mobilizing additional troops. Of which $1.4 billion comes from Budget 2022.

"This is the way forward in modern defence," said Trudeau in the Latvian capital of Riga.

"Almost a dozen countries from across NATO are co-operating, training and working alongside each other and learning valuable lessons from each other that strengthen our collective defence."

On July 5, the prime minister renewed Canada's mission to deter Russian aggression as part of NATO. Cabinet extended its mandate in the region indefinitely following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year.

As part of Monday's announcement, both countries signed an agreement towards creating the NATO brigade. It made no mention of specific commitments or timelines.

Before the announcement, 1,000 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members served in Latvia to deter Russian aggression and train NATO and Ukrainian forces as part of Operation Reassurance.

Trudeau said the reinforcements would strengthen Canadian land, maritime and air capabilities and bolster special operations in Central and Eastern Europe.

"Canada and all countries must be clear that Russia's unprovoked war on an independent country, on a free and democratic Ukraine, is a threat to freedom, international law, human rights and the whole set of shared democratic values that generations of soldiers have fought to defend," said the prime minister.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada will subsidize Ukraine until it "wins the war." 

Budget 2023 proposed an additional $200 million in military aid and $84.8 million in civilian assistance to pay Ukrainian pensions and deliver essential services to the country.

Last month, Trudeau pledged another $500 million to war-torn Ukraine for $8.5 billion in military, financial and humanitarian aid.

"It's one thing to promise the money. It's another thing for that money to hit Ukrainian bank accounts," said Freeland on August 25. "You don't need to trust me about this."

Canadian military aid to date includes artillery, air defence systems, rocket launchers, defensive equipment, ammunition, hundreds of armoured vehicles and 15 Leopard 2 tanks.

The battle tanks have been used to mount a counteroffensive in southern Ukraine, according to a top security official on June 9. 

The federal government also donated 200 armoured vehicles as part of a larger $500 million assistance package announced in November, with $406 million in NASAMS and an unspecified number of air-defence missiles.

The $406 million air defence donation went through despite the Canadian military operating without similar air defence capabilities since 2012.

Military personnel operating out of the eastern bloc nation, including Poland, continued their mandate without sufficient military equipment and food.

Roughly 660 Canadian soldiers stationed in Latvia have had to purchase military equipment, including helmets, rain gear, tactical vests and ammunition, to maintain current ballistic protection standards.

The Department of National Defence said procuring new military equipment for its troops in the region is in the works. However, they did not commit to any timelines or provide pertinent details.

In April, media reports surfaced that nearly 1,000 Canadian troops in Poland incurred thousands of dollars in debt to cover food costs abroad. 

CAF did not send military cooks on the mission but has pledged to expedite reimbursement for affected soldiers by "[taking] immediate steps to address" the backlog. 

A recent defence report revealed 35% of active troops reported insufficient equipment to complete missions, exposing 'serious gaps' in the readiness of the Canadian military. Auditors said this is a chief concern. 

"There may not be enough personal equipment to adequately outfit CAF members, as 35% of members surveyed indicated they did not have the personal equipment needed to complete their assigned tasks," reads the report.  

According to auditors, their limited inventory forced them to rely on allies to meet their demands. "The CAF will be challenged to meet its commitments to NATO without [correcting] its strained human resource levels," they said.

Per a leaked Pentagon assessment, Trudeau privately told NATO that Canada would never meet the GDP spending targets for the collective security bloc.

Canada spends an estimated 1.29% of its economic output on defence — well short of the 2% of GDP guideline that members agreed to try to meet. 

Amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said many countries view the benchmark "as the floor, not the ceiling."

While Canada's defence policy calls for spending to increase by more than 70% from 2017 to 2026, defence spokesperson Daniel Minden said it falls short of the 2% baseline.

The document acknowledged that Canada suffered from "widespread" military deficiencies that harmed relations with allies owing to a 26-year shortfall in spending.

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