NATO and Canada: what are our responsibilities?



Canada has been a leading voice for Ukraine in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian crisis, both as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and as a ‘ally.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced a $120 million loan to Ukraine to help strengthen its economy, and Canada has sanctioned more than 400 individuals and entities, in line with similar EU actions.

Last week, the Ukrainian embassy in Ottawa called on Canada to send defensive weapons to the country, an action Trudeau has so far refused to commit to.

Canada’s close relationship with Ukraine is under close scrutiny as the standoff continues in Eastern Europe, with the question: what is Canada, and by extension NATO, obligated to do in the worst case?


NATO has been an essential part of Canadian foreign policy since Canada signed on as an original member in 1949.

With the ongoing crisis between Ukraine and Russia, NATO members and its allies have placed several hard lines of deterrence against further Russian aggression in the face of thousands of Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border.

The alliance currently has 30 member states, including Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Iceland, Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Denmark, Norway and France.

A NATO “decision” is announced only after a consensus has been reached by all member countries.

Canada’s participation and contributions to NATO are profound.

“NATO has provided security and stability in the North Atlantic region, North America, Western and Eastern Europe, all areas important to Canada,” the phone Joel Sokolsky, professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada, to interview. “It allows Canada to participate in the collective defense arrangements between the various allies for this region, and it gives Canada an international profile that it would not otherwise have.

But membership also comes with adherence to the articles of the NATO agreement, one of which is “Article 5 – Collective Defence”, where an attack on an ally (member country) is considered as an attack on all allies, a principle enshrined in the Washington Treaty, which created the organization.

“The article itself does not specify what this answer is. This could include the armed forces. This could include any other form of attack assistance on an ongoing basis,” Sokolsky explained. “Our obligation is to provide and contribute to the combined military and political activities of the alliance to secure members and ensure stability, primarily in Europe.”

NATO invoked Article 5 for the first time in its history after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, but the alliance has taken collective defense measures on several occasions, including during the war in Syria and following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Now, with tensions rising between the West and Russia over Ukraine, NATO – and by extension Canada – may have an important role to play in what’s to come.

Since Ukraine is not a member of NATO, Canada has no direct obligation to provide a military response as it would if Germany, the United Kingdom or the United States were attacked, but in Due to the country’s close ties to NATO and the strategic ramifications of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, experts say Canada will most likely send some form of support and will closely monitor what other members of the NATO.


Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but has a long history with the organization since the 1990s, with Ukraine actively contributing to NATO-led operations and missions.

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO has strengthened its presence in the Black Sea and coordinated maritime cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia.

NATO’s support for Ukraine is spelled out in the “comprehensive assistance package” for Ukraine, which was decided at the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw, and the Ukrainian parliament passed legislation in 2017 which made NATO membership a political objective. added to the country’s constitution in 2019.

In 2020, with the election of President Volodymyr Zelensky, the approval of the new national security strategy of Ukraine was announced, which includes provisions for the development of a partnership with NATO and the goal of possible membership.

Although not a member of NATO, Sokolsky said Ukraine has a special relationship with the organization, which is why Canada and other NATO members and allies are keen on the to support.

“This is the way Russia conducts its policy, essentially threatening a sovereign country in Europe, on the NATO border, dictating conditions that it should not join NATO,” Sokolsky said. “The concern here is: is this just the beginning of a pressure that could be exerted on NATO member countries, especially the very vulnerable Baltic states? What confidence will these countries have in the alliance if efforts are not made to dissuade Russia from attacking Ukraine?

Sokolsky said if Russia is allowed to dictate to Ukraine what it can and cannot do, it raises questions about the veracity and effectiveness of NATO in the future.

Sokolsky’s sentiments were echoed by Aurel Braun, professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto and associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, in a telephone interview with CTVNews. .ca Monday.

“Any new attack on Ukraine is seen as a huge threat by many indigenous states that are on the borders of what used to be the Soviet Union or some of them were part of the Soviet Union,” Braun said. . “We have to understand that the alliance offers security to everyone…we live in a globalized system. What happens in little Estonia will affect Canada eventually, but not immediately.

Braun said it would be wise for Canada to do everything possible for Ukraine as an important deterrent signal for the Russians.

Braun describes deterrence vis-à-vis NATO, Ukraine and Russia as a “psychological relationship”, operating on the premise that it is an attempt to get the opposing side to engage in a rational calculation that would lead to the conclusion that any act of aggression that they engage in will incur costs that outweigh any possible benefits.

“The Russians have massed huge forces around Ukraine. Ready to invade. It’s like holding a gun to your head,” Braun said.

“We do not have the same obligations vis-à-vis Ukraine as vis-à-vis NATO member countries, [but] abandoning Ukraine would cause enormous damage to all the other native states of Eastern Europe and ultimately to us as well as they say… we have a dog in the running,” a- he continued. “It’s not just that we have a large ethnic population and we have a soft spot for Ukraine. This is called strategic thinking.


A big question is what NATO and Canada will do if the crisis between Ukraine and Russia escalates – either with strikes on Ukraine or with an invasion.

Canada has over 500 troops stationed near Riga, Latvia as part of Operation REASSURANCE. Canadian troops lead a NATO battle group that forms the core of the organization’s presence in Eastern Europe in response to Russian aggression and the annexation of Crimea.

“Canada is already on the ground in the area,” Sokolsky said of the potential contribution of Canadian troops to Ukraine. “I suspect that we could have some reinforcement of the position in Latvia, but we don’t have the large number of forces that we would send to the Baltic…we are already on the front line if we are in Latvia. “

Sokolsky postulated that Canada could send planes or ships to NATO bases, but said the prospect of “direct intervention” or Canadian soldiers fighting on the front lines in Ukraine against Russia is unlikely.

“I don’t think any ally is going to do this, including the United States,” he said, “If the Europeans were to move, the French, the British, the Germans – after all, it’s in their backyards – I think Canada will learn from what other allies are going to do.

Braun said Canada’s commitment to Ukraine through military training under Operation UNIFIER with about 200 troops deployed every six months is a “limited but valuable role.”

The military operation is currently functioning as a support mission for Ukrainian security forces with non-lethal military training and equipment such as communication systems, mobile field hospitals, explosive ordnance disposal equipment and medical kits.

“It’s not that we have a military engagement inside Ukraine,” Braun said of Canada-Ukraine relations. “We have provided significant economic aid to Ukraine, totaling up to $1 billion over many years because Ukraine has been struggling economically…The West must do all it can to deter this invasion. The aid to be given to Ukraine is therefore not only substantial, it is also symbolic.

Edited by Producer Sonja Puzic

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