Canada’s government has eagerly embraced NATO’s new strategic concept. The plan is astonishingly frank in its calls for renewed military readiness — it is a return to more explicit Cold War–era principles of “deterrence” through confrontation. In a purported effort to “contribute to a more peaceful world,” NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept promises a “360-degree” extension of military force.
The proposal compels Canada and other NATO members to prepare to engage “regions of strategic interest” now and in the future. It aims to project NATO power in order to more boldly surround powers it identifies as aggressive.
While denouncing “aggressive” governments such as China and Iran, NATO’s new strategy tasks members with preparing for “high-intensity, multi-domain warfighting” across “all domains.” The strategic concept promises to “deter and defend forward with robust in-place, multi-domain, combat-ready forces, enhanced command and control arrangements, prepositioned ammunition and equipment and improved capacity and infrastructure to rapidly reinforce any Ally.” In the short term, this means increasing NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force to forty thousand troops, “pre-position[ing]” more ammunition in Eastern Europe, and expanding NATO’s “integrated air and missile defense.”
But it means more than just bolstering NATO members’ military force in Europe. The Strategic Concept proposes to also extend NATO power further into “regions of strategic interest to the Alliance, including the Middle East and North Africa and the Sahel.”
After the concept was approved, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lauded the document, saying: “NATO has reaffirmed its enduring transatlantic bond. NATO Allies are united and determined to uphold the Alliance’s values, and to strengthen our defensive alliance, for now and for the future.”
Canada’s Commitment to “Scale Up Rapidly”
The Trudeau government’s commitments to expanding NATO power go beyond mere words and wearing flashy socks. Trudeau has said that “Canada is always part of NATO missions and continues to step up significantly” and has promised “to scale up” Canada’s military power and presence “rapidly.”
As the Toronto Star revealed, the Canadian government, in a series of backroom meetings, has been one of the most active members pushing for Finland and Sweden to join the self-described “nuclear alliance.” The Canadian government was also the first member to ratify their membership in early July, saying Sweden and Finland’s “membership will make NATO stronger.”
In a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky, two days before Ukraine submitted its September 30 application to join the nuclear alliance, Trudeau promised to maintain Canada’s military support. If the bid is successful, it would presumably give Ukraine the right to muster a military confrontation under article 5 of the NATO charter. In the past, Ukraine’s application was explicitly endorsed by former prime minister Stephen Harper — provided Ukraine promised to continued to open up its economy to Canadian finance.
The Trudeau government has also already pledged to continue the deployment of one thousand Canadian Armed Forces personnel and aircrafts and warships to Eastern Europe as part of Operation Reassurance. Defense Minister Anita Anand told Bloomberg that the military presence will “move towards and surge to a brigade-level force in Latvia,” ready to “provide critical capabilities to operations, such as ammunition and explosives, air defense systems, and anti-tank weapons systems.”
The Prime Minister’s Office has further pledged an additional 3,400 soldiers to the Response Force. More immediately, it will also continue Canada’s military presence in Iraq as part of NATO’s “capacity-building” mission, and add “personnel to NATO’s Kosovo Force.”
Projecting “Hard Power”
At a campaign stop during the 2021 election, Trudeau pledged to ensure Canada is a “strong member of NATO,” committed to being “a partner in defense of North America, and in projection of our values around the world.”
Since February, NATO officials have renewed their push for members to hike their military spending. In a NATO press conference, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg remarked that he would like to see member countries do even more, and called “on all allies to step up.” Trudeau has eagerly obliged.
Canada’s 2022 budget proposes to raise the country’s annual military spending from $36.3 billion to $51 billion by 2025–26 — bolstering Canada’s “hard power” — to meet NATO’s defense-spending target of 2 percent of GDP. Leading up to the 2022 budget, Defense Minister Anita Anand told CBC News that “I personally am bringing forward aggressive options which would see [Canada], potentially, exceeding the 2 percent level.”
This massive planned increase in military spending, the budget notes, is meant to build upon the government’s 2017 defense white paper, Strong, Secure, Engaged. In the document, the Trudeau government promised to meet NATO’s target on an ever-rising basis by 2037, spending $63 billion on the military annually. This included the purchase of fifteen warships and eighty-eight new fighter jets.
The white paper charts the plan to build up a Canadian military ready to commit up to 1,500 troops to combat “with decisive capability” in two theaters of war simultaneously. “To act decisively with effective military capability is the ultimate goal of Canada’s new approach to defense,” the paper reads. “The Canadian Armed Forces will be prepared to renew Canada’s strong commitment to NORAD and NATO, acting in multiple theaters simultaneously,” including “one as a lead nation.”
Attached to that priority list is a map of the world, with Canadian forces extending outwards into Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia. These areas are, coincidentally, also the top sites for outflowing Canadian foreign direct investment.
War Is Peace
NATO and its defenders claim it is strictly a system of “collective Western defense” and not a belligerent organization. But NATO is a military alliance that is developing a list of enemies — and potential enemies — as it builds up a combat-ready military force for deployment across the world.
The press materials for the new strategic concept maintain that NATO is neither a “threat” nor a force looking for “confrontations.” According to Stoltenberg, “We do not seek war, conflict with Russia. At the same time, we need to make sure there is no misunderstanding about our commitment to protect all allies.” Canada’s Foreign Affairs minister insists likewise that — despite massively expanding Canada’s military spending to prepare, explicitly, to lead new combat operations — Canada is not looking for an “international conflict.”
But the reality is that NATO has a mandate to enlarge itself. This, in effect, means surrounding the countries it claims are working to “disrupt” the “rules-based international order” with “integrated” land forces, naval power, and aerial power. It also has a mandate to extend its “reach” to regions of “interest” — most of which are well beyond Europe’s borders.
NATO’s bromides about peace have, since its founding, directly contradicted its aggressive operations. In 1952, just three years after its founding, NATO approved the infamous “Gladio network” of secret, heavily-armed guerrillas, perpetually ready to attack perceived pro-Soviet parties and left-wing organizations across Europe. The terrorist rings, often linking forces of the extreme right, had reported arms stockpiles in Belgium, France, Italy, Greece, and Germany.
From its earliest days, NATO directly aided its members’ colonial conquests. Canada itself, to this end, supported the development of NATO’s integrated military force and its “mutual aid program” with over $300 million. That support remained firm even as NATO powers like France and Portugal helped to fund wars of conquest against anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa.
Former prime minister and ardent cold warrior Lester Pearson, who attended the 1949 treaty signing and is credited as a NATO founder, acknowledged as much in a 1953 speech: “The assistance we have given to France as a member of the NATO association may have helped her recently in the discharge of some of her obligations in Indo-China.” He also steadfastly defended “those countries which still have direct responsibility for non-self-governing territories” from criticism or sanction.
Beyond aid dollars to member states, NATO has also long flirted with greater military expansion well outside of Europe. Minutes from NATO’s 1956 conference confirm that members, preparing to arm the alliance with atomic weapons, monitored the Bandung Conference and the “threat of Soviet penetration into the Middle East.” The conference further pledged to restore the Suez Canal to “full and free operation” after France, Britain, and Israel attacked Egypt to that very end that same year.
In 1963, Secretary General D. U. Stikker boasted that the “military strength of the alliance” had helped avert any subsequent “crisis” for Western interests “since the confrontation over Cuba.” In 1964, the US State Department leveraged its role in NATO to recruit its allies’ “material and manpower” as part of its campaign to “get more flags flying in South Vietnam.”
In 1980, in response to the Soviet-Afghan War, NATO members were pushed to increase their military spending and “act cohesively” with the United States as it prepared new naval deployments across “remote areas of the world.” At NATO’s 1980 Brussels conference, Secretary General Joseph Luns even discussed sending “NATO-allocated forces” to “South West Asia” to support US efforts and defend “the vital interests of member nations outside the North Atlantic Treaty area.”
Since the end of the Cold War, as NATO expanded from sixteen to thirty members and launched its first official interventions, Canada’s former ambassador to NATO, Jean-Pierre Juneau, boasted of the organization’s positioning of itself as “the alliance of the first resort.” NATO must task itself, Juneau said, with gradually building up “forces that can move quickly to sustain operations over distance and time.”
Since the Gulf War in 1991, NATO has launched enormously destructive bombing campaigns and military occupations in the breakup of Yugoslavia, the US-led war in Afghanistan, and the toppling of Libya’s government.
In all of these cases, Canada has been an eager participant. These are just a few of the more recent examples of what Prime Minister Trudeau calls “Canada’s steadfast commitment to NATO.”
NATO’s new strategic concept may be a step toward a world of greater military conflict. Canada’s support will be unwavering.