NATO eager to size up Trudeau government
By Murray Brewster for The Canadian Press
BRUSSELS — Stephane Dion hasn’t even arrived yet in Brussels, but a lineup is already forming to meet Canada’s new foreign affairs minister.
By Murray Brewster for The Canadian Press
Canadian staff at NATO headquarters are fielding requests from alliance members keen to size up the new Liberal government’s point man on the evolving confrontation with Russia and the growing influence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Libya.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Dion will meet foreign ministers from the 28 NATO member countries. Several of them are eager to take stock of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to end Canada’s participation in the bombing campaign against extremists in Iraq and Syria and refocus military effort on training local forces.
While NATO is not formally involved in the 62-country, U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, its members see Canada’s plans as important.
One of Dion’s most important tasks will be to reassure allies that the country remains stalwart, especially in light of the terror attacks in Paris and the security lockdown in Brussels.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, as well as the American and British permanent representatives to the alliance, are underscoring growing concern about ISIL domination of ungoverned territory along the Libyan coast, mostly in Sirte.
“NATO is stepping up its efforts to deal with the challenges from the south,” Stoltenberg said Monday, noting that the alliance’s 40,000 strong rapid reaction force — originally conceived as a bulwark against Russian expansion in the east — could easily be deployed to face ISIL-back threats in the south.
Surveillance is being increased in the region with the stationing of drones in Sicily, he said.
The Islamic State presence in Libya is not new, but it is swelling and the fear it could be used as a springboard to launch Paris-style attacks in Europe is growing. NATO finds itself in an ironic position because it was the alliance’s air campaign in 2011 that unseated dictator Moammar Gadhafi and helped create the instability on which ISIL feeds.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, will join the NATO discussion on Tuesday as that organization also comes to grips with the threat.
Particularly significant for Canada, there will be a review of what alliance countries are contributing and are prepared to further contribute to the U.S.-led coalition.
Doug Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said he expects to see strong support from all allies who are contributing and military efforts will be “sustained and maybe even expanded.”
Concern about fallout from the downing of a Russian fighter which crossed the Turkish border from Syrian airspace last week has also gripped the meeting. Stoltenberg said the alliance’s independent data backs Turkey’s version of events. Moscow has repeatedly denied that its warplane crossed the border.
Stoltenberg appealed for both sides to de-escalate the crisis and said Russia should be targeting “our common enemy” in the Islamic State, rather than focusing its bombing campaign on opponents of the Syrian regime.
A resurgent Russia and its proxy war in Ukraine were to be the subject of discussion at dinner Tuesday.
Some NATO members urged a kid glove approach at the Wales Summit a little over a year ago and suggested the invasion of Crimea was a “one-off.”
However, a senior eastern European diplomat, speaking on background because of the sensitivity of the issue, said those voices have largely been silenced by the Putin government’s ongoing support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Adam Thomson, Britain’s ambassador to NATO, was more blunt, saying the world has changed dramatically in the last 12 months.
“What NATO is evolving to meet is totally new and so the way in which the alliance meets these threats is going to have to be totally new,” he said.
“NATO is going to be taken back to the 20th century. It’s not going to be — as some people assume — a return to the Cold War in any way. It’s going to have to be completely new answers to completely new challenges.”