Tuesday, July 5, 2016

NATO chief sees Canada's troop commitment as 'open-ended'

By: Nahlah Ayed, CBC Foreign Correspondent 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg applauded Canada's decision to contribute land troops to a small force aimed at deterring Russia in Eastern Europe, a commitment that he describes as "open-ended."

In an exclusive interview with CBC News ahead of this week's pivotal NATO summit in Warsaw, the secretary general also dismissed critics suggesting the 4,000-strong force is an unnecessary provocation of Russia that risks raising the temperature in a region where tensions are already high.

The multinational spearhead force, initially announced by NATO leaders in 2014 in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea, is expected to receive final approval at this week's summit of 28 leaders, including Canada's Justin Trudeau, in the Polish capital.

After cajoling from NATO, including a public plea from Stoltenberg, Ottawa announced last week it would lead one of the four high-readiness battalions NATO wants to deploy in the Baltics, committing likely somewhere between 500 and 750 soldiers to Latvia.

Three other battalions in Estonia, Poland and Lithuania would be led by the U.K., U.S. and Germany.
Canadians troops take part in a joint exercise with Polish troops not far from Ukraine's western border earlier this year. Canada will lead one of four battalions in a rotating force to patrol borders in Latvia. (CBC)
"I…welcome the fact that now Canada will be back with land troops in Europe," Stoltenberg said in the interview at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Asked how long Canada is expected to maintain the commitment, he replied, "This is an open-ended thing."
Baltic countries worried

Russia's annexation of Crimea, and its role in destabilizing Eastern Ukraine has left NATO countries on Russia's border anxious they might be next.

The new force will see Western troops only rotating through the region, apparently to remain compliant up to a longstanding agreement with Russia that prohibits placing large numbers of combat troops on the Eastern edge of NATO.

Still, rotating or not, Russia has bristled at the idea of any Western forces pushing up on its border, describing the plan as reminiscent of "Cold War sabre-rattling," and a "waste of money" better spent on fighting international terrorism.
'NATO does not seek confrontation, we don't want a new Cold War'- Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general

Germany's foreign minister also criticized recent NATO military exercises in Poland, saying "the one thing we shouldn't do now is inflame the situation with loud sabre-rattling and warmongering.

"Anyone who thinks a symbolic tank parade on the alliance's eastern border will bring security is wrong," he said in a recent German newspaper interview.

Some Western military experts, meanwhile, have also described NATO's deterrence measures as half-hearted and inadequate.

In the interview, Stoltenberg countered that the force "will send a clear signal that an attack on one country will trigger a response from the whole alliance," he said.

He added that NATO is simultaneously pursuing a more constructive relationship with Russia.

"NATO does not seek confrontation, we don't want a new Cold War. We don't want a new arms race," he added.
Friendly overtures to Russia

At a pre-summit press conference held today, Stoltenberg said NATO was working with Russia to hold a meeting of the NATO-Russia council shortly after the Warsaw summit.

At the conference, he lauded Canada and other allies for taking on leadership of the high-readiness force.

"This is a great contribution to our common security. And a clear signal that our nations will defend one another, on both sides of the Atlantic."

Stoltenberg also told reporters NATO leaders will likely approve the deployment of AWACS surveillance planes in the fight against ISIS.

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