Justin Trudeau to visit Canadian troops in Latvia ahead of NATO summit

03 Jul 2018 | Canada
Justin Trudeau to visit Canadian troops in Latvia ahead of NATO summit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will visit Canadian troops in Latvia before attending the NATO summit in Brussels next week.

The visit will be an opportunity for Trudeau to reaffirm Canada's commitment to the NATO alliance and Euro-Atlantic security, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement Tuesday.

The Canadian-led multinational NATO battle group was established in Latvia as the alliance's response to Russia's surprise annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Canada's leadership of the battle group represents the country's largest sustained military presence in Europe in over a decade. Trudeau's visit will mark the first-ever bilateral visit to Latvia by a Canadian prime minister.

The announcement of the stop comes as Canada and other alliance leaders prepare to head to the NATO summit in Belgium — meetings that are already promising to elicit some fireworks thanks to Donald Trump.

The U.S. president has sent pointed letters to the leaders of several NATO allies, including Germany, Belgium, Norway and Canada, calling on them to meet the alliance's defence spending targets.

In the June 19 letter to Trudeau, Trump says there is "growing frustration" in the U.S. with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies like Canada that have not increased defence spending as promised.

"This frustration is not confined to our executive branch. The United States Congress has taken note and is concerned as well," Trump writes.

"The United States is increasingly unwilling to ignore this alliance's failure to meet shared security challenges."

Trump's threats
The letter arrived with tensions between Canada and the U.S. at a dramatic high, thanks to an ongoing dispute over American tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that have prompted Canada and other European countries to impose politically targeted retaliatory tariffs.

It also comes in the wake of a stormy end to the G7 meetings in Quebec, when Trump called Canada's prime minister "dishonest and weak" and backed out of the final joint communique issued by the G7 leaders after hearing Trudeau's defiant comments over the tariff dispute.

The Liberals promised last year to increase spending on the military by 70 per cent over the next 10 years, but Canada continues to fall short of NATO's target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence.

Trump has threatened to leave NATO if member states do not follow through with pledges to increase their annual contributions to the alliance.

Reinforcing peace and security
The NATO spending letter Trump sent to German Chancellor Angela Merkel was especially pointed, the New York Times reported. A series of presidential tweets last month specifically mentioned Germany's NATO spending, complaining that the U.S. "pays close to the entire cost of NATO — protecting many of these same countries that rip us off on trade."

Trump is not the first American president to complain about NATO member countries not living up to their spending commitments and relying too heavily on the U.S., which spends approximately four per cent of its gross domestic product on defence.

In his letter to Trudeau, Trump says Canada's continued defence spending of less than two per cent "provides validation for other allies that also are not meeting their defence spending commitments."

Trump sends letter to Trudeau calling for increase in NATO defence spending
"I understand domestic political pressures, as I myself have expended considerable political capital to increase America's defence spending," he writes. "It will, however, become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries continue to fail to meet our shared collective security agreements."

On Tuesday, the PMO said Trudeau is looking forward to meeting with NATO leaders next week to discuss ways to reinforce peace and security among nations.

"Throughout the summit's discussions and working sessions, the prime minister will reiterate Canada's commitment to playing an active role in the alliance, and a strong and constructive role in the world," Trudeau's press secretary Eleanore Cantanero said in a statement.