Recent Posts

The Green and Northern Stars: Opportunities for Reorienting Canadian Commitments within NATO

Written By:
This commentary is published as part of IPD’s project, European Security in a Shifting World Order: Debating Canada’s Role.

Former Senator Raoul Dandurand is often famously quoted in international relations circles for likening Canada to a “fireproof house, far from inflammable materials”. Delivering this speech in 1924, he spoke to the insulation provided by the nation’s geography and history from a world of conflict. Traditionally, this has allowed Canada to play a more selective role in its contributions to the international community, mostly in helping define the liberal order based on rules-based governance and establishment of multilateral institutions within the international framework. This conception of Canadian strategy has particular relevance for the country’s commitment to NATO over the past seven decades, as the Alliance has represented a diplomatic bargain of sorts: At the modest cost of selective contributions, NATO allows its smaller members to remain well informed about global developments, contingency planning, and the opportunity to inject opinions in time to influence great power politics.

The return of hard power within the sphere of international relations, attributed by many to the failure of liberalism and the liberal order since the end of the Cold War, has altered the global security architecture. Notably, these changes are some that Canada is likely unprepared for.

Yet today the bargain has changed. With conflict raging once more both in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the return of hard power within the sphere of international relations, attributed by many to the failure of liberalism and the liberal order since the end of the Cold War, has altered the global security architecture. Notably, these changes are some that Canada is likely unprepared for, as its national security approach has failed to keep pace with the challenges that now face us. In light of these developments, Canada should consider reorienting its NATO commitments in a fashion that aligns more evidently with the country’s natural interests, privileging the realms of climate and Arctic security.

Canada’s NATO Commitments in a Changing World: Changing Priorities?

Questions surrounding Canadian contributions to NATO are not new. In fact, extensive research is published annually speaking to Canada’s role within the Alliance, mostly pertaining to the pledge of spending 2% of GDP on NATO defence and security commitments. However, debates on Canadian merit within the Alliance have resurfaced since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, with more than half of Canadians recognizing as of today that Canada’s military is lagging behind in its contributions, further underlined by a sense that Canada’s international reputation is severely in decline. One of the key issues remains the fact that a prolonged period of destitution has arguably left the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) with little ability to contribute more, even if it were to be provided further funding. Subsequent announcements of budget cuts of up to $1B have certainly not helped the case.

On the security front, Canada’s key contribution to NATO at present remains its provisions as a framework nation to the enhanced forward presence (eFP) battle group in Latvia. This is part of the Forward Land Forces (FLF) initiative on NATO’s eastern flank within the overall deterrence posture against Russian aggression. As announced at the 2022 Madrid Summit, the FLF posture has recently begun to grow in scope as NATO seeks to expand its presence from battle group to brigade level, a significant undertaking in terms of troop and assets contributions. This is notably occurring as NATO seeks to close the deterrence gap with Russia through “deterrence-by-denial” in preventing the temptation to seize land by force. Accordingly, Canada’s contribution along with the other framework nation allies within the FLF is quite important as part of this effort.

Yet although Canada has published a roadmap for this upscale, concerns remain rampant regarding the ability to execute such a feat effectively while concurrently balancing other security commitments, as mentioned by the Chief of Defence Staff  himself earlier this year. Worth noting here again is that this issue is not a new one, with Canadian commitments in Germany throughout the Cold War being questioned on the notion that “there have always been too many missions and not enough forces or resources to perform them all effectively.”

Canadian contributions of troops in Europe have been debated at length. Certainly, such contributions have always been tied to the political overtones and the symbolism of the presence rather than the strategic calculus of the resources, even during the Cold War. Nonetheless, the question is not if there is value in maintaining the eFP as a framework nation for NATO, but rather if Ottawa can continue to contribute effectively to the growing FLF initiatives while concurrently supporting Ukrainian armament, contributing to continental defence, and dealing with the security implications of other issues such as climate change moving forward. In other words, in an age of growing complexity and mounting security challenges, are there policy files and specific actions that should be prioritized by Ottawa and the CAF moving forward?

Climate Security

One such issue in this regard is climate change, to include the growing reorientation towards climate security and its considerations from a NATO perspective. At the Madrid Summit Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recognized once more climate change as “the defining challenge of our time”, committing NATO to being at the forefront of understanding and mitigating the effects of climate change within the security framework. Considerations include the likes of forced migration, food security and extreme weather events plaguing the member and partner nations of the Alliance, all of which exacerbate existing security tensions and further impact nations’ ability to operate effectively in impacted areas.

Canada is no stranger to the effects of climate change, as the recurring domestic disaster responses resulting from climate change-induced weather events have put a strain on already struggling defence forces that sees the CAF tapped more or less as the default option for emergency response as of late. A strengthened focus on climate security provides an opportunity for Canada to assume a leadership role on a key topic of interest for NATO that neatly aligns with broader Canadian priorities.

Canada is well positioned to seize this opportunity, mostly considering its previous linkages within the climate security and environmental protection communities of interest. Since its own “Canadian approach” commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement, Ottawa has sought to be at the forefront not only of climate change considerations, but also of their impact on the security framework within the Alliance. Accordingly, the CAF currently staffs the position of the Allied Command Operations Environmental Protection Officer – notably the training authority for all environmental protection and climate-related training material within the NATO command structure. Further, Canada is one of the more involved nations within the NATO Environmental Protection Working Group, and has just recently moved forward with the founding of the NATO Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence (CCASCOE), having signed the founding document with eleven other nations at the recent Vilnius Summit.

In considering the approach for NATO’s Climate Security Agenda, the Alliance offers a Climate Change and Security Action Plan that delineates lines of effort such as reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and energy transition. Recent substantive results have included the Compendium of Best Practices, the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Mapping and Analytical Methodology, and the newly announced NATO Energy Transition by Design. Markedly, Canada has been involved with all of these efforts through various departments within the public service including the Department of National Defence and Natural Resources Canada.

Ottawa can position itself to further postulate a message that is both compelling and relevant when it comes to climate change... Canada would not only allow itself to rebalance its commitments in alignment with its climate change priorities; it also allows it to make a unique contribution to a less visible but nonetheless crucial area of NATO engagement.

In assuming a leadership role on these initiatives, Ottawa can position itself to further postulate a message that is both compelling and relevant when it comes to climate change, specific to items such as prioritization, political will, and ensuring limited effect of any changes on military effectiveness. Overall, by seizing such a leadership opportunity, Canada would not only allow itself to rebalance its commitments in alignment with its climate change priorities; it also allows it to make a unique contribution to a less visible but nonetheless crucial area of NATO engagement, considering the place that Ukraine has occupied in the headlines for the past two years.

Arctic Security and Continental Defence

The other key opportunity for Canadian policy reorientation within NATO remains tied to a growing region of concern for the Alliance: the Arctic.

Arctic security has occupied a position of importance within the Canadian security paradigm since the formation of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) to deter against the threat of Soviet bombers. Evidently, Arctic security remains a priority for Canada considering the region’s growing importance tied to free ice passage and Russian second-strike capabilities, yet it is arguably one of the least addressed regions within an alliance focused now on Eastern Europe.

China and Russia – defined by NATO as a challenge and a threat, respectively, as per the most recent Strategic Concept – have already demonstrated heightened ambitions in the Arctic, with challenges apparent from Russia in the near term and China in the medium-to-long term. Further adding complexity is the fact that, although both are bolstering their Arctic capabilities, they pose different challenges in the region due to their respective interests. Whereas the Arctic remains central to Moscow’s security interests given its key second-strike nuclear assets on the Kola Peninsula and new Arctic Command, Beijing’s Arctic interests are mostly predicated on economic considerations. These include investments of billions of dollars into energy, infrastructure, and research projects in the High North, as well as plans for the procurement of the world’s largest icebreaker vessel. Consequently, this precludes the ability to infer any uniformity in terms of the future behaviour of potential adversaries in the Arctic.          

As with climate change, Canada has an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone in its security commitments when it comes to the Arctic. Renewed focus on continental defence symbiotically aligns with the requirements of NORAD modernization and strengthening Canadian security and sovereignty. Through NATO, this can be done both militarily and through industry.

The former method can be pursued through participation in the Joint Force Command Norfolk expansion, currently taking place since the headquarters declared initial operating capability in 2020. By reorienting staff provisions to Joint Force Command Norfolk, Ottawa has a rare opportunity to employ Canadian officers on North American soil for direct NATO purposes, almost in a bolstering the backyard mentality outside of the traditional European security architecture NATO generally addresses.

On the industry side, Canada has already committed to hosting the regional office for the NATO Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) in Halifax. Accordingly, as two of DIANA’s current priority challenges are energy resilience and sensing & surveillance, there exists further opportunity to align research efforts with early-warning NORAD developments, as well as tie in with considerations for climate and energy security as mentioned above. This includes through the NATO Energy Transition by Design efforts, which offers another leadership opportunity for Ottawa in corralling several entities within the same line of effort.

To commit efforts to these initiatives in North America, there is a requirement to reorient resources accordingly from somewhere else. This may necessitate a reduced Canadian presence in Europe to address the emerging opportunities in other areas of Alliance activity.

However, to commit efforts to these initiatives in North America, there is a requirement to reorient resources accordingly from somewhere else. This may necessitate a reduced Canadian presence in Europe to address the emerging opportunities in other areas of Alliance activity.


NATO provides Canada a venue to exert itself within the international community despite its isolated geography. Reciprocally, Canada has clearly contributed to NATO’s framework over the past seven decades as one of its founding members – namely through its selective contributions and in supporting key operations when it has been previously called upon.

Nonetheless, questions remain concerning the efficacy of current Canadian contributions based on resourcing. It would be mutually beneficial for both Canada and NATO if Ottawa were to reorient its commitments and unique capabilities towards climate and Arctic security. These remain important areas that NATO seeks to address as part of its 2022 Strategic Concept, but currently does not do so fully, considering its engagement in the FLF initiative and the fallout thus far from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In considering initiatives such as the NATO Climate Change and Security Action Plan, Energy Transition by Design, and the Joint Force Command Norfolk uplift, Canada can reorient its NATO commitments in line with its national priorities while simultaneously furthering less-addressed yet important areas for the Alliance.

It would be mutually beneficial for both Canada and NATO if Ottawa were to reorient its commitments and unique capabilities towards climate and Arctic security. These remain important areas that NATO seeks to address.

There is certainly some truth to Dandurand’s century-old words considering Canada’s distance from what seems to be an increasingly dangerous array of regions. Yet in modern times of power politics, it is worth remembering that fires do still happen in strange places, as climate change shows in knowing no borders. As such, Canada cannot avoid the need to fireproof. The way to do so lies in a re-evaluation and reorientation of its foreign and security policies.

Written By:
Alexander Landry
Alexander Landry is a Young Fellow at the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy and a Staff Officer at NATO Allied Land Command covering portfolios of Energy Security, Climate Change, and Environmental Protection.
Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor