Canada’s NATO Priorities & The Stresses of Enlargement

Written by Mr Frederic Labarre


In November 2010, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization met at Lisbon to agree a new Strategic Concept, the first revision since 1999.[1] It was also the first Summit where NATO Allies met in the Organization’s probably final form, fully enlarged. Although it might be an unreliable indicator, all the flag poles at the entrance of the NATO Defense College in Rome are filled, and there are no additional spaces for new flags, and just recently, the ground has been broken in Brussels for the construction of the new Alliance headquarters. These observations suggest that enlargement has been completed.

As many experts (and nay-sayers) predicted, enlargement to regions not directly or geographically related to the North Atlantic region brings special challenges. One of the challenges is that of strategic coherence not only for the Organization itself, but for each Ally taken separately. With enlargement, the Alliance comes into contact with new neighbours, with new geo-political considerations, but always with the same overall responsibility of covering all the Allies’ strategic requirements equally. This inelegant formulation reflects the fact that the Alliance has undergone tremendous change over the last 15 years, when the possibility of enlargement (and its implications) were first put on the table through the “Study on Enlargement.” In particular, the Alliance has sought to move from a common defence to collective security posture, a difference which is, admittedly only academic, as collective security may mean common defence to some Allies. As always, reconciling the strategic needs of each member has proven difficult.

Enlargement means a larger geographic area to secure, and also a larger administration to carry out the work, which means more costs to each members, in a context of re-allocation of administrative postings for each member. Since the arrival of the new Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Organization has been in the throes of re-structuring itself for greater efficiency.

Although Canada supports the general direction depicted above, the parallel processes of enlargement and of administrative and strategic renewal of the Alliance have nevertheless generated some discomfort for Canadian policy-makers. Canada’s fundamental interests in the Alliance remain, but as the strategic scope enlarges with new members, political and strategic inconsistencies arise. The acuteness of these inconsistencies is accentuated by Canada’s financial and military contribution to the Alliance, and the return on “investment” (or lack thereof).

“Active Engagement, Modern Defence”, the title of the new Strategic Concept, can rightfully be called the “partnership” concept. By mentioning NATO’s “open door” only once (para. 27), and emphasising the need for cooperation and partnership especially in crisis management, it equates the Alliance’s traditional role of collective defence with that of general security. Crisis management and partnership cooperation are a euphemism for resetting relations with Russia. While most of the Strategic Concept’s premises mesh well with Canadian preferences, such as a “serious rethink on eastward enlargement”, a greater focus on security rather than merely NATO-area traditional defence, enhanced partner collaboration and of course administrative restructuring at NATO to avoid a “UN syndrome”, certain factors pose special problems to Canada.[2]

For example, cyber and energy security are factors that are clearly much more important to some NATO Allies than others. This author has heard it said that cyber-attacks should be responded to in kind, and feature as worthy of an Article 5 response. This is clearly unworkable because in Canadian parlance, cyber security (which is called cyber-alertness) is part of critical infrastructure, which is not the remit of defence or diplomacy. Canada’s perception is that cyber security policy should address predominantly the security of Alliance communications (that is, for example, cyber defence against threats to NATO HQ communications, or operational communications in the field between Allies and Partners). The limitations imposed by this formulation clearly will not satisfy countries like Estonia who were victims of cyber-attacks in 2007. On the other hand, the problem of attribution of blame makes the kind of response that Estonia is likely to prefer completely unworkable. This common-sense conclusion is also part of Canada’s assessment of the Alliance’s vulnerability to cyber threats.

In terms of energy security, Canada is one of the world’s leading natural resource exporters, so resource scarcity does not impact it the same way as some European countries. There is therefore an interest in not developing a NATO “pipeline police” although the anti-piracy efforts supported by NATO and Canada off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden clearly match policing activities for the securitisation of energy flows.[3] The relative inattention paid to this area of NATO policy is clearly related to Canada’s own economic and energy interests, which are better fulfilled than for other NATO Allies. Although some influential policy advisers in Canada firmly believe that security writ large should have a wider geographic scope than just the traditional NATO area, Canada would be reluctant to prioritise security along the lines of energy transfer flows. The other reason not to focus on energy security is not to attract unwanted attention to the resource-rich far North of Canada, some parts of which the sovereignty is disputed among NATO and non-NATO countries.


Missile Defence: Another Factor of Contention

For the same reason, missile defence is another factor of contention. It is likely that Canada’s position on missile defence is informed by the spectre of loss of sovereignty, especially in the Arctic, as Cold War anti-missile preparedness was based along the Distant-Early-Warning line of US radars deployed in the far North. At a moment when most Canadians define themselves by the Arctic[4], a NATO-wide missile defence system would normally include Alliance-wide involvement in geographical areas where Canada insists it is sovereign. Missile defence is likely to remain destined to defend European allies for other reasons as well, not least because Canada would be forced to contribute to its common funding if the concept was applied NATO-wide, but also because one of the primary considerations for Canada is good NATO-Russia relations.


Stresses of Enlargement & Ottawa’s Unease over Rewards

At the heart of Canada’s Alliance policy is the core belief that security is indivisible, that Canada is committed to Alliance solidarity (in other words, that the Alliance not be split along issue-based considerations, which is now threatened with) and substantive re-engagement with Russia. Because Russia is a variable in energy security for Europe, as well as in missile defence (because of its reluctance to see missile defence systems deployed close to its borders), other Allies’ preferences may sometime clash with Canada’s. This is directly due to the stresses of enlargement, which diversifies values (although this would be the subject of another, lengthier debate) and interests.


The stresses of enlargement are also reflected in the resulting security allocations within the Alliance and among Allies. Canada is one of the leading contributors to the Alliance. Allusions to “burden-sharing” have re-emerged as Canada, the 6th largest contributor to NATO common funding, contributing some 7% of the Alliance’s budget, the 3rd largest contribution to the NATO airborne early warning scheme, and currently the 6th largest contributor of troops, with the highest per capita sacrifice in ISAF, nevertheless is awarded less than 1% of NATO defence contracts, and sees some of its policy and strategic preferences for NATO skewed in favour of new NATO Allies. Canada’s influence in regional security can be measured by the relief with which the NATO Secretary General received the news that Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan would not completely evaporate passed its July 2011 drawdown, and that Canadian troops would contribute to the training of Afghan national security forces – after all Canadian training and education has always been a focus of excellence within the Alliance, indeed a niche. Another indicator of Canada’s value in Afghanistan and for the Alliance as a whole is The Economist’s vignette in its new year special issue. The vignette reads “2011 in brief: After a decade with NATO forces in Afghanistan, Canada withdraws its troops.”[5] For The Economist to even mention it, the saliency of that decision must be significant. Without suggesting that Canada’s membership in NATO is in question, there is growing unease in Ottawa government departments dealing with NATO issues as to how the country is rewarded for its efforts in the Alliance.



[1] NATO Official website,

[2] Michel Maisonneuve, Paul Chapin, et al, Security in an Uncertain World: A Canadian Perspective on NATO’s New Strategic Concept, (Ottawa: Conference of Defence Associations Institute and Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, 2010), 31-35.

[3] Pierre Jolicoeur and Frederic Labarre, “NATO’s Engagement in the South Caucasus”, in Annie Jafalian, ed., Reassessing Security in the South Caucasus: Regional Conflicts and Transformation, (London: Ashgate, exp. 2011).

[4] Ekos Research Associates, Rethinking the Top of the World: Arctic Security Opinion Survey Final Report, January 2011.

[5] The Economist, The World in 2011, 72.





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A very good article
written by Christos, March 04, 2011 

The above article is realy interesting because shows the main thougts of NATO about it’s future. Always indicates clearly the special role of Canada in the Alliance. The same question it self E.E.



Lecturer, British History, Literature and Culture, Ionian University
written by Dr. William Mallinson, April 15, 2011 

This article is well written,and smooth. But it is simply public relations writing, for an organisation,NATO,that was designed to last until April 1999, and was then resuscitated for hegmonic and business reasons, to expand and bomb Serbia illegally, creating a far worse ‘humanitarian’ problem thab would otherwise have been the case. It is now the biggest threat to world peace, having been unilaterally bombing its way to its own oblivion,without any of its members having been directly threatened by a particular country.And at this very moment, we are witnessing its limitations, with, according tothe BBC, only six out of its twenty eight members agreeing to actually bomb Libya,and fuel a civil war, in one of the more liberal Moslem countries. The latest developments say it all: twenty two members refusing to help France and Britain in their illegal attempt at regime change. Shame on militarily insignificant countries like Belgium, Canada, Norway and Denmark for joining in the unilateral attack on a country that has threatened no other country. After NATO’s failure to establish a viable, internationally recognised Kosovo, and its failure in Afghanistan, perhaps the only bthing that will emerge from this latest business/oil war will be the final death of a vain organisation that is beyond its shelf life, whose original purpose is irrelevant.