Although it is winter in Ottawa, Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan is not being left out in the cold.
Much has been made over the past week of Sajjan’s failure to receive an invitation to an informal meeting in Paris of seven nations currently involved in the fight against the Islamic State.
During the meeting on January 20, 2016, the United States presented a plan to combat the spread of the Islamic State worldwide, strengthen national security, and drive the group from its strongholds in Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq.
Opposing politicians and pundits alike have hastily concluded that Canada’s decision to withdraw its CF-18s from the campaign against the Islamic State has resulted in its defence officials being snubbed from the gathering of the United States, France, Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. They claim that Canada has lost its place at the table and given up its status as a significant contributor to Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.
According to Minister Sajjan, this was one of a succession of meetings that occur regularly on the subject of the Islamic State. While speaking to reporters from last week’s cabinet meeting in New Brunswick, he insisted that meetings of this nature “happen all the time,” and that “there are a number of other meetings that happen that you may actually not be aware of.”
Currently, there are over 60 states involved in the US-led coalition to destroy the Islamic State; meanwhile, only seven were invited to attend the meeting. Certainly the seven attendees are important contributors to the endeavour, but it does not necessarily follow that all those present are somehow more esteemed participants than Canada. For example, Germany and Italy have not even conducted air strikes.
The United States’ strategy requires contributions from additional countries than merely the seven present. In fact, another meeting will take place in two weeks time in Brussels, with representatives from 27 coalition states. It is expected they will present further plans and discuss the varying capabilities of coalition members. Minister Sajjan has confirmed Canada’s attendance, and reassured Canadians that their forces will remain involved in the campaign in some capacity.
Regardless of the Trudeau government’s decision to withdraw its six CF-18s from Iraq and Syria, Canada remains an important contributor to the ongoing operations and will continue to capitalize on its capabilities and expertise. For instance, Canada’s remaining aircraft, the CC-150T Polaris aerial refueller and CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance aircraft, will continue to fly sorties to serve the coalition with intelligence and logistical support. Meanwhile on the ground, Canadian special forces will provide military training to bolster the capacity of ground forces in the region.
Furthermore, Canadian participation in military councils is not limited to this single impromptu meeting. Canada has been heavily involved in NATO planning, exercises, and operations in the European theatre as a response to Russia’s illegal military intervention in Ukraine. Canada’s multiple contributions thus far include announcing over $700 million in assistance, dispatching Halifax-class vessels to Standing NATO Maritime Group One in the Mediterranean, assigning fighter aircraft to train with NATO allies and conduct air-policing missions, deploying military trainers and planners, taking part in several training exercises with its allies, and providing Ukraine with non-lethal military aid.
Although critics have declared that Canada is losing its global significance and status as a reliable ally under newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and subsequently rebuked Canada’s decision to withdraw its CF-18s from the coalition, the Canadian public disagrees. According to a poll released on January 15, 2016, by Abacus Data, 85% of Canadians approve of Trudeau’s representation of Canada internationally, and a further two-thirds approve of how he is dealing with the Islamic State.
Despite speculation to the contrary, all indicators suggest that Canada’s commitment and resolve against the Islamic State remain steadfast.