OTTAWA – NATO has laid out plans to beef up its presence in eastern Europe, and Canada is noticeably absent from the list of countries that have acknowledged they’ll send military forces.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s secretary general, said Wednesday it will deploy additional air, sea and land forces to former East Bloc countries in response to the worsening crisis in Ukraine.
The United States, Britain, Denmark, Poland, Portugal and Germany are all planning to contribute fighter jets to increase air patrols over the Baltic region. France and the Czech Republic have also offered aircraft, but they might be employed in missions over Poland.
“We do have the necessary capacity to implement these measures that have been recommended by our military authorities,” Rasmussen said in Brussels.
“We already know that some Allies will come forward with concrete contributions and I’m sure that more will follow.”
The Harper government is still studying how to respond, despite being one of the harshest voices condemning Russian interference.
“Canada takes its role in NATO very seriously, and we have been, and continue to review ways that Canada can play a constructive role in this reassurance package,” Adam Hodge, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, said in an email.
“We continue to condemn Russia for its illegal and irresponsible actions in Ukraine and call on the Russia Federation to de-escalate tensions immediately.”
Baird will be visiting allies in the coming days, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Latvia, and Estonia in an effort “to show Canada’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Hodge added.
Rasmussen refused to detail how the new forces would be employed, but said in addition to increased air sorties there will be more NATO ships in the Baltic and in the eastern Mediterranean.
The announcement came as Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces battled each other in the eastern portion of the country, stoking fears of direct Russian intervention.
There are legitimate questions for Canadian officials to ask, especially about the alliance’s long-term plans for defending eastern Europe and the possibility of mission creep, said a NATO expert.
But the deployment of a handful CF-18s or a naval frigate would demonstrate the Harper government is putting its money where its mouth is, said Steve Saideman, chair of international affairs studies at Carleton University and the co-author of a recent book on NATO.
“It wouldn’t be that expensive,” he said.
“I know this government cares a lot about minimizing operations to get to the balanced budget in 2015, but if the secretary general of NATO starts knocking on Canada’s door, it’ll be very hard for these leaders to say Canada won’t participate given the statements they’ve made and given their interest in placating the average Ukrainian-Canadian voters.”
Canada is slated to take part in July in a long-planned, U.S.-led military exercise in Ukraine, known as Rapid Trident 2014, but the government has been not forthcoming about the size and scope of the country’s involvement.
Rasmussen’s statement was vague on the use of ground troops, and a NATO official, speaking on background Wednesday acknowledged it is a sensitive subject. Russia has long viewed the deployment of troops on its border to be a provocation.
But military planners are looking to increase the number of exercises in eastern Europe beyond the major ones previously slated for the fall.
Saideman said there are plenty of opportunities for Canada to demonstrate its resolve once a NATO consensus becomes clear.