2018 NATO Engages
“Our Shared Global Values”

Karen Donfried, 
The German Marshall Fund of the United States

The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau MP
Prime Minister of Canada

The Hon. Chrystia Freeland MP
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada

The Hon. Harjit Singh Sajjan MP
Minister of National Defense, Canada

Location: Brussels, Belgium

Time: 10:00 a.m. Local
Date: Wednesday, July 11, 2018


DONFRIED: Good morning. A warm welcome to everybody in the room. I have the great privilege of welcoming to the NATO Engages stage Canada’s dream team led by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who is joined by Foreign Minister Freeland and Defense Minister Sajjan.

Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much for taking the time to be here. Now we know that Canada has participated in every NATO operation since the founding of the alliance almost 70 years ago. I followed with interest your visit to Latvia yesterday where you announced that Canada would be contributing additional troops and also extending the stay of those troops in Latvia for another four years until 2023 as part of NATO’s mission to deter potential Russian aggression.

The success of NATO rests both on shared interests but also very importantly on our belief in common values. I’d love to ask you to start by sharing with all of us your view of why NATO is vital to Canada’s security and why you see the alliance as relevant to our 21st Century challenges.

TRUDEAU: Thank you, Karen. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to engage this morning. I think we have to remember a little bit how and why NATO came into being. NATO exists and existed because the great democracies had just countered communism and fascism and it remained or was an ongoing existence of pushing back against communism.

It’s about enhancing and protecting the democratic principles that we all hold as our core values. That is something that continues to be as relevant as it ever has been. How we help burgeoning democracies like Latvia … As you mentioned I was there yesterday. It was extraordinary to see how …

One of the things we don’t talk enough about NATO is what happens when diversity of voices from within NATO come together. The battle group that Canada is leading for operation reassurance for the enhanced foreign presence is the most diverse in terms of nations. There’s about seven or eight different nations coming together and not just side by side but integrated with each other.

The learning that we do and the opportunity to grow together and reinforce those shared values in a way that is tangible and real while supporting the Baltic states is an extraordinarily important thing beyond just the military combat capacities.

It’s about remembering that we stand together in very important ways. As you say, we were glad to extend our mission for another four years to continue with Canada’s leadership on this. That actually brings me to another announcement that Canada is proud to be making.

We are going to be looking with great interest this afternoon as NATO announces that we are going to engage in Iraq as an alliance, capacity building, training, that next step in the challenge in Iraq, which was first defeating Daesh and now we have to rebuild that democracy and strengthen it.

NATO is going to take a significant role in that and Canada is going to commit 250 troops, a number of helicopters, and we’re actually offering to command that mission for the first year. This is something that we believe in deeply.

Your question, Karen, was about how does this matter for Canada’s security? Well, Canada knows that a peaceful world, a more resilient world, a more democratic world is good for Canada and it’s good for all of us. That’s why we believe so deeply in NATO. That’s why we stand so strongly with the Trans-Atlantic Alliance and we’ll continue to step up everywhere we can.

As you’ve said, we’ve been in every mission. Not because of any other reason than we believe deeply in the values that we’re putting forward and we know that NATO is as necessary as it was in the height of the Cold War. It’s as necessary now to promote the peace, security, and strength of our true democracies and those democratic principles, which are under threat everywhere around the world it seems.

This is a moment for us to stand together and understand the perspective that we fight for and stand for is essential today and tomorrow.

DONFRIED: Well, thank you so much for making news here in this tent with the announcement about Iraq, that’s really terrific news, and for that inspiring endorsement of the alliance. Minister Freeland, I noticed that last month you received Foreign Policy’s Diplomat of the Year Award. Congratulations.

FREELAND: That would be a surprise to my husband and children.

DONFRIED: No, it’s wonderful. I read with interest the speech you gave there. You focused on a key challenge that we’re facing, which the Prime Minister also just referenced. I want to quote you. You talked about the weakening of the rules-based international order and the threat the resurgent authoritarianism poses to liberal democracy itself.

After the speech you were talking with reporters and you said, “I believe very strongly that it’s important for those of us who believe in liberal democracy to strike back.” As you know, there are concerns about rising illiberalism in NATO countries. Just to follow up on the Prime Minister’s remarks, NATO is an alliance that’s based on shared values. If Canada is committed to the rules-based order how does NATO fit into that frame?

FREELAND: Well, Canada is … There’s nothing conditional about it, Karen. Canada is 100% committed to the international rules-based order. Not just because it sounds good in a room like this but because we need that international rules-based order to survive and thrive in a really big world.

Canada is a big country geographically. We’re the 10th largest economy in the world but there’s only 36 million Canadians. We understand very profoundly that that framework of a rules-based international order is essential for us.

On the point about liberal democracy, Karen, and the Prime Minister has already addressed it, I think it is important. It is important for those of us who believe in liberal democracy, and I hope that’s everybody in this room, to be proud of that and to understand that, yes, populism, nativism even, authoritarianism, they are resurgent in very many parts of the world. Even in countries that had seemed to be successful democracies. Some of them seem to be moving backwards.

I think those of us who believe in liberal democracy have to talk about why we hold our values, why our values work. I think it is absolutely relevant to the NATO discussion. For me, I was thinking about it on the way here. As the Prime Minister said, we were in Latvia.

In a way, the NATO discussion shouldn’t happen principally in a room like this or even in a meeting of our leaders. NATO is not chiefly an alliance of heads of state. NATO is an alliance of all the citizens of all of our countries who are collectively pledged to support each other. NATO really has to start at home if it is going to be an alliance that has legitimacy moving forward.

These kinds of conversations should be the kinds of conversations that we have. I do have them. We celebrated Canada Day just over a week ago. At the barbecue in my neighborhood, in my constituency, believe or not a lot of people were talking to me about NATO and the rules-based order.

The Prime Minister talked about how we’ve just come from Latvia where we visited the Canadian women and men in uniform in Latvia serving an enhanced forward presence. I have to tell you, people, think tankers here, you all remember a few years ago the big question was how does NATO remain relevant? Remember all those papers people wrote about that? How does it remain relevant in the 21st Century?

I can tell you in Latvia it is extremely clear to people the relevance of NATO. That is not an abstract philosophical question. Probably the best conversation I had was with a former comrade at arms of Harjit’s who served with our Minister of Defense when he was serving in Afghanistan.

She’s an amazing Canadian woman. She was just finishing a six month rotation in Latvia. We talked about her family. She has a seven year old and a four year old. That’s hard, right? She’s been away from her kids for six months.

I asked her how she explains to her kids what she’s doing and why she has to be away for so long. She said, “I told my kids that there’s a big bully who is threatening our friends. Russia is threatening our friends. I explained to them that I tell them in the schoolyard they have to stand up for their friends if their friends face a bully. I said, ‘That’s what your mom is doing. Your mom is standing up for Canada’s friends.”

I think that’s a beautiful explanation. We have to make clear to real, regular people, not that any of us are androids but to people who don’t spend their days thinking about NATO why this really matters.

DONFRIED:I do love this idea of NATO barbecues. If everyone in this room starts having barbecues where we talk about NATO that could have a big public diplomacy impact.

Minister Sajjan, we’ve hit on some core principles of why NATO matters but in all likelihood this NATO summit will focus on burden-sharing. That’s because the President of the United States Donald Trump has focused so particularly on the issue of progress that NATO member states who are not yet spending 2% of their GDP on defense when will they get there?

Reportedly, though Canada is of course increasing its defense spending, it isn’t at 2%. Reportedly, Canada received a letter from President Trump that was quite sharply worded. Canada wasn’t alone in that. Many other NATO countries received a similar letter where Canada was criticized for not spending enough on its own defense and warning that Americans are losing patience with Canada’s failure to share NATO’s collective security burden. I would very much appreciate hearing your perspective on this subject.

SAJJAN: No, thank you, Karen. First of all, I just want to give a shout out to all our NATO troops who are doing tremendous work on our behalf of our countries around the world. We were just able to meet not only our Canadian Armed Forces members but many of the many nations who were taking part of the battle group in Latvia and how well they’re working together. It sends a tremendous message of interoperability, unity, and of deterrence.

We are facing challenges around the world to our threats to rules-based order, whether it’s from a counter-terrorism, whether it’s Daesh, the migrant crisis, and because of those challenges NATO is also stepping up. Hence the reason why many of our nations have done our assessments on how are we going to contribute?

How are we going to contribute and the prime minister gave me a very strong mandate to conduct a very [thorough 00:13:09] defense policy review so that we can determine what is needed for Canada and how Canada is going to contribute. If there’s a reason why our defense policy now is called strong at home, secure North America, and engaged in the world because we also have to make sure that we could look after our citizens. Our north American defense with our very important ally, the US, is part of our very unique command of the binational plan which is NORAD so that we secure North America, but also engaging in the world.

Canada will always do it’s part. We’ve been part of every mission, but to making sure that we have the right capabilities. We went through a very thorough assessment. Not only talking to expert or our allies, but more importantly talking to Canadians. It is very relevant to Canadians, the importance of NATO. There was a very strong message from Canadians of Canada playing its part. But Canada also needs to play its part in a meaningful role. It can’t be just a check in the box. All of us coming together as [Christie 00:14:15] has said. This is about countries coming together, bringing our collected experience and that’s what we are doing.

When we talk about the Enhanced Forward Presence, this is about nations that are coming together, but making sure we have the right capability to support one another. In Canada’s role here, we are making a very significant contribution into our defense. 70% increase in the next 10 years which is going to modernize all our community services including our special forces, but more importantly not only the roles so that they can play. It’s making sure that our women and men in our forces can actually make that meaningful contribution and we are seeing that. Whether it’s in Europe, whether it’s our naval taskforce that we have committed to, whether it’s our Air Policing, but let’s not forget some of the other challenges that we are facing together and particular very excited about mission and how is it involved?

We have defeated – on the ground in Iraq. But now, this is about capacity building and training. Making sure we have the right leadership and we’ll always offer up where Canada can contribute hence one of the reasons why this announcement is very important. About sending a very strong message of unity because we do have challenges to face.

DONFRIED: What I hear you saying is the input metric is important, but let’s also look at the output. And Canada’s contribution across NATOs history and now this new contribution in Iraq is a very clear example of that. I do now want to open it up to all of you. I’ll try to get in as many questions as I can, but we’ll start right here. Please just introduce yourself.

QUESTION 1: Once again thank you for what you’ve done. My question is not about NATO, but the European Union. Would you agree that the EU is an equally important partner in the transatlantic relationship and would you think PESCO or any other EU activities to promote greater cooperation on defense are a threat to NATO or to what Canada is doing or is it a compliment?

TRUDEAU: I think European Union matters significantly. Canada has been very pleased over the past couple of years to have concluded a landmark progressive trade deal with the European Union in CETA. At a time where trade deals aren’t necessarily particularly popular around the world, we’re actually signing stronger trade deals with Europe. We did one with Asia with the CPTPP. We’re working on renegotiating NAFTA and keeping our fingers crossed on that one, but we are actually moving in the right direction on that.

But Europe is a valuable and important partner not just to Canada, but to the world. I think there’s a lot of interest in conversations the Europeans are rightly having about their responsibilities around defense through the European Union. I think our big concern is there’ll not be overlap with what NATO is doing. I think real clarity on what NATO is and what the European Union can specifically do more is quite frankly a welcome conversation. I think there is really a time for countries of similar values, approaches and democratic principles to look for all the different ways and levels that we can work together well.

Because we know that there are a lot of forces, some explicit, some more subtle that are trying to degrade or break up the kinds of alliances that have led to unparallel peace and prosperity around the world over the past seven or so years.

DONFRIED: If anyone else wants to jump in, just signal to me.

TRUDEAU: Try and get as many questions as you can.

DONFRIED: Yeah. Yes please.

RADMILA SHEKERINSKA: Radmila Shekerinska, Defense Minister of Macedonia. I wanted just to ask an additional question following the comment about liberal democracy. I think that Macedonia is an example that autocratic rulers can seem to be very stable and strong, but that crisis is looming behind. And I think it’s also an example that liberal democracy can fight back and it can create new hope for democracy, rule of law, media freedom, and also cohesion in a very diverse region and country. But I also think Macedonia is an example that NATO honors its words and the decision that we expect today, the offer of an invitation to join NATO is an example for other countries in the region and elsewhere.

I would like to hear your views about how the enlargement in NATO should continue and how some of the other countries that have voiced their concerns can predict the future of NATO allies. Finally, let me thank Canada for its steadfast support for our NATO membership. Thank you.

TRUDEAU: Chrystia.

FREELAND: I think that’s all really, really well said and I think we should all really congratulate Macedonia on the tremendous work you guys have been doing in a difficult neighborhood, in difficult circumstances. I think the point also about the brittleness of authoritarian regimes is very, very well made. I began my professional life as a journalist covering the collapse of the Soviet Union and actually one of the stories that I wrote was covering the famous Chicken Kiev speech in August 1991 and a few weeks after that speech, the … That was a speech saying the Soviet Union needs to stay together given in Kiev and a few weeks later the Soviet Union fell apart.

So, it’s a very important point for us to bear in mind. Authoritarian regimes can seem so strong and so implacable, but they are also very, very brittle. In terms of the path forward for membership, I think that’s also really important. And one of the strengths of I would say NATO overall, but even more broadly I would add the EU to that mix and I would say the whole idea of the Transatlantic Alliance. Is this was about creating an international rules based order with liberal democratic values, that was not a closed club, that was open to membership for people and countries aspiring to share those values. I think that openness needs to be one of our core values as a group and we need to be true to that value.

DONFRIED: Please, right here.

ISKANDER AKYLBAYEV:  Thank you very much. My name is Iskander Akylbayev and I’m coming from Kazakhstan. I’m also part of the Atlantic Council Millennium Leadership Program. My question is actually basic. What is your prediction, how do you see the future development of NATO? I think sometimes we do not speak about the … One of the greatest assets of NATO is their global partnership around the world. How do you view the global partnership of NATO in Asia specifically?

TRUDEAU: Harjit.

SAJJAN: Thank you prime minister. I think it’s very important. When I was just recently at the Shangri-La Dialogue and talking about the challenges. Again, whether we talk about NATO and some of the challenges that we faced when we worked together, we collectively as nations also are working together in dealing with some the challenges there. I’ll give an example. Some of the work that’s happening in the Middle East, especially in Iraq when dealing with the [inaudible], we have to be mindful of the displacement that occurs with some of the foreign fighters.

We are working together to making sure that are we putting the right tools in place to be able to monitor some of this. To prevent cells being created in other places and especially in places like the Asia Pacific. So, we are doing our part. I’ll give Canada’s approach to this. We in the past haven’t had a consistent engagement in the Asia Pacific, but now we do. We do have a consistent engagement, we do capacity building in the area with our partners as well. This is not about when you see a challenge, everybody wanted to jump in. This is about looking at, if there’s a challenge, analyze it and look at which nations experience can be best suited. That’s the approach that we’re taking and that’s the approach that we’re taking for Asia Pacific.

DONFRIED: Super. Thanks.

CHRISTIAN SCHMIDT: Christian Schmidt, Member of Parliament Germany. Very, very impressive to hear your report about Latvia and I think this Enhanced Forward Presence is indeed one of a very strong signal that NATO wants to have a unique soon of common responsibility and security. My question is, knowing that this is a very strong symbol, but symbols are not the end of politics and the end of situations. We talked and you talked in length about the necessity to have some deployability in case of developments. This we talk about infrastructure, but we talk as well about capabilities, being prepared to be deployable in due time. Do you see that there should be this all work done nationally and the NATO level or what you expect that there has to be more enhanced commitment?

TRUDEAU: I agree entirely with the symbolism of our standing together is extremely important, but that’s ultimately what it’s about. Before the Advance Forward Presence, there was a real risk that what happened in Crimea could happen somewhere else and the Baltic States would not be able to stand against a Crimea like event. The fact is, now with the Enhanced Forward Presence, that could not happen. We have actually demonstrated capacity and presence in a tangible, concrete, real way that means that is no longer the risk that it was just a few years ago. That’s what we have to remember.

That as much as it’s nice to come around and talk about values and principles. Unless we’re willing to step up and stand for them, that doesn’t really mean a whole lot in the face of authoritarianism or backsliding democracies or the strong arm tactics that we’re increasingly seeing in different places around the world. That’s where NATO actually, really, deeply matters.

Yes, a lot of people talk about the 2%, but [Karen] as you said, one of the things we’re trying to do as a government in over the past two and a half years is get away from the kinds of announcements that governments used to make which is, “We’re spending 20 million dollars on this program.” “We’re spending 100 million dollars on that program.” And thinking that that’s all you have to do to announce. Announcing money put in, announcing inputs isn’t nearly as important as demon …

TRUDEAU: Announcing inputs isn’t nearly as important as demonstrating outputs, and we’re trying to shift our government’s approach around deliverology, around actually looking at metrics. No, we’ve created this many jobs, or these many children are out of poverty. 300,000 are out of poverty because of our Canada Child Benefit.

So we’re looking at the actual metrics. When we talk about 2%, and Canada is very proud to be increasing by 70% over the next 10 years our investments in our military, we also don’t just look at the costs. We talk about the capability and we talk about the contributions. Well, in terms of capability there’s a 20% metric, that Canada is up to about 35%. We are significantly investing, getting new fighter jets, getting new surface combatants for our Navy, investing significantly in our military in very real and tangible ways so we can continue to deploy around the world, but it also comes to commitments, an ability and a consistency in being there and stepping up regularly in tangible ways.

This mission we’re taking on in Iraq, which is an extension of what we’ve been doing within the coalition that’s moving into that next phase of how do we help in governance? How do we build institutions and capacity in Iraq to make sure that it stands as a fledging democracy that becomes stronger and stronger? Those sorts of tangible elements are at the heart of what NATO stands for.

I mean you can try and be a bean counter and look at exactly how much this and how much money and that, but the fundamental question is is what you’re doing actually making a difference? Is it having a tangible deterrence or support or positive standing impact in a real way in the folks standing around a barbecue?

In the everyday lives of Latvians, certainly all the other Baltic states, people around the world that are receiving the impacts of NATO don’t just benefit from the security elements of it, but benefit from this story we are telling, that democracies matter, that our values, our principles matter, and we stand together, yes, embracing the differences and the different perspectives across our 29 members in little ways, but on the big things we remain committed to protecting and supporting democratic values and principles around the world. More important now than ever before, and not just symbols. Thank you.

DONFRIED: Very powerful. We have just about four minutes left and there were lots and lots of hands. I’m just going to take the last two together and pair older generation and younger generation, so you, and then we’re going to come to the front row. Yes?

STEFANO STEFANINI: Thank you. Stefano Stefanini, Atlantic Council. My question, Prime Minister, is a follow up to what you just said. Canada is participating in every single NATO operation or deployment. Do you think that Canada has carried more than its share of the burden, if not in expenses in blood and treasure, and how do you explain it to your barbecue people that it was worth it, the price they paid, especially in blood?

DONFRIED: Let me just grab this real quick.

RIHARDS KOLS:  Thank you. Rihards Kols from Latvia, Member of Parliament. Thank you, Prime Minister, for a very passionate answer about values. I mean there’s no doubt we share them. But I was thinking of another ingredient that unites us all together. It’s common memory. This is something that we see in Europe that divides member states, but also we can see it in NATO, that we lack common memory, the memory from 20th century, and also the recent memory for the last two decades in the 21st century, and that is something I would just love to hear how would we bring and shape the understanding? Understanding only comes when we have shared values, and also the memory. Thank you. 

TRUDEAU: Thank you. Two great questions. First of all, has Canada done more than its share? No. Canada has done its share. We do what we feel is right and we don’t think about share, we don’t think about who’s doing more, who’s doing less. We will do what we can and what we feel is right. Canada stepped up consistently in Europe in two World Wars. We have a tradition of understand that Canadians are lucky to be where we are geographically in the world, and with that luck comes a responsibility to reach out and do what we can to make the world a better place.

That’s why there are millions of Canadians around the world in NGOs and organizations, very much engaged with the international community in trying to contribute, trying to shape a better world, because … Not just out of altruism, but because we know very much that if we can help provide some answers to how to build more resilient societies and stable, peaceful democracies in the 21st century, then it’s better for everyone economically, but also in terms of tangible lives.

We are proud of having stepped up in the trenches of World War I, the beaches of World War II, and in international peacekeeping and NATO elements. It’s a sense of who we are as Canadians, and we will always look for more opportunities to do that, and we’ll always look for how we can best help. We’re not the biggest country, we don’t have the deepest pockets, but there are things that Canadians do as well, if not slightly better, than anyone else in the world, and we will always be ready to help shape and contribute that because we know that sharing our solutions and what we’ve done well can often help other people figure out what will work for them.

That sense of shared responsibility is something that Canada has deeply, perhaps because we draw people from everywhere around the world, and continue to, but also because we know that we have a responsibility to do what we can to create a better world.

And a big part of that, to flow into that, is understanding the mistakes and the challenges of the past. Canada has just celebrated it’s 150th birthday last year, but at the same time because our country is the one that has figured out better than anyone else that diversity is a source of strength, not a source of weakness, that it’s about resilience, we have learned from people who come to Canada everywhere around the world, whether it’s Afghan refugees, whether it’s Syrian refugees recently, or whether it’s some of the previous generations of people fleeing from Uganda in the Idi Amin years, boat people from Vietnam, or the wave of migrations we got in the post-World War II years from Europe.

We understand tangibly how things could be worse and where things have been bad around the world, and being able to remember that or reflect on how we can do better, how we can create a society that is based around values and not identity, based around principals and rights and opportunity, real and fair chances for everyone to succeed. Those kinds of principles I think are going to be extraordinarily important in the 21st century.

As we get flows of migrations of people looking for better lives, people fleeing resource depletion, environmental calamities and conflicts, we have to start thinking about how we create societies that look at different stories as opportunities to learn and grow within your societies rather than trying to keep the challenges of the world outside of your borders, and that reflection on how to open and stronger because of that openness and resilience is, I think, something that NATO, and indeed our sort of collective developed world, is going to have to grapple with in a more and more real way, and not just in an intellectual think tank way, with all due respect to everyone in this room, but in a tangible way how do we make ordinary folks who are living their lives, not thinking a lot about politics or international conflict, but how do we get ordinary folks to understand that resilient diverse communities is a better outcome? That being there to support your neighbor makes you better and creates more opportunities for you as well?

That, yes, being engaged on the far side of the world to rebuild a broken state is actually in your best interest? Yes, we need to take care of the poverty and the challenges we have at home, each of us, but we also have to look at what we do to alleviate stress, tensions, misery around the world, because if we don’t the trend lines we’ll be on as a world will leave us all poorer, poorer off in every different way.

So this sense of collective responsibility … We’ve figured out, NATO countries, a pretty good model of how to support citizens, how to create strong governance with freedom, with security, with all those things, and it’s under stress right now. It’s under tension from people who are anxious about where their paychecks is going to come from, where their kids’ jobs are going to come from.

Our responsibility is not to enhance or exaggerate or profit from those anxieties out there. Our responsibility is to allay those fears, to tell people look, we have faced down massive challenges as a world in the past, and we did it by coming together and standing side-by-side for what we knew was right. We can again, and we need to again do that, recognize that the rise of populism, of aggressive nationalism, of polarization in our public discourse in Canada and elsewhere around the world needs to be responded to with strong, confident, positive, rational messages about how we can solve these challenges together, and there is no better example of that than the extraordinary success that NATO has had over the past almost 70 years, and indeed will continue to have in a way that is more relevant today than it ever has been before.

DONFRIED: So I think we actually don’t need a coffee break, because I think we got shots of inspiration from all three of you that will keep us going over the next two days. But I think the resolve and commitment that all three of you showed to the NATO Alliance is what we’re hoping will come out of this summit overall. Mr. Prime Minister, the comment you made about we can articulate what our interests are and what our values are, but that only matters if we stand up to support and defend them, and that’s really what we mean by NATO engages.

So I think that idea of standing up for things we believe in is also a really powerful one. I want to ask you to join me in thanking our Dream Team from Canada, but I also want to ask you to please stay seated and allow them to leave the room, because as you can imagine they are on a very tight schedule. But please do join me in thanking them.