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On the Baltic Watch: The Past, Present and Future of Canada’s Commitment to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Latvia

On the Baltic Watch: The Past, Present and Future of Canada’s Commitment to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Latvia, is a new study by Class of 1965 Professor, Professor and former RMC  Principal Joel Sokolsky, and Jayson Derow of the NATO Association of Canada released this week by the Macdonald Laurier Institute and referenced by Maclean’s and the CBC.  The study explores the nature of Canada’s involvement in the region, its leadership role to date, and the responsibility that Canada has in providing concrete contributions to Canada’s regional allies.

In 2017, in solidarity with its NATO allies, Canada took on the role of a Framework Nation for the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroup in Latvia. This month marks the one-year anniversary of this deployment, which is up for renewal in 2019. It’s time for Canadians to think about the importance of this country’s commitment to transatlantic security.  “Canada should renew its commitment to the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP), because it is in Canada’s strategic interest to do so, and because of the dilemma in which Canada, allies, and fellow NATO members would find themselves were Canada not to renew.”  Leuprecht, Sokolsky and Derow find that in the face of rising Russian aggression, there should be little doubt that Ottawa ought to continue to support NATO’s collective efforts on the Alliance’s north-eastern frontier.  With low risk, low cost, low domestic visibility, and high payoff among allies, the eFP Framework Nation commitment is a genuine Canadian international peacekeeping operation. According to the authors, contributing to the eFP is Canada’s way of paying into an insurance premium to maintain peace and stability in the region: “Strategically, then, it is thus much more efficient and effective for Canada in the short- and medium-term to incur the financial and political cost of a modest contribution to reassure a NATO member ally.”

But there could be challenges, particularly given uncertainty about the US role under an unpredictable Trump administration.  Leuprecht, Sokolsky, and Derow suggest that the greatest threat to NATO and the eFP specifically is the possibility of US disengagement, a scenario made even more troubling by recent US behaviour in other regions.  The decision to renew the mission comes in the context of continued pressure from the Trump administration for NATO allies to do more. Indeed, a recent letter from the White House to Prime Minister Trudeau “singled out Canada for underspending on defence.” While Canada may resist pressure from an otherwise unpopular president to spend more, the authors make the case that Canada’s mission in Latvia demonstrates Canada’s contribution is about more than dollars and cents.