NATO and Canada adapting to new and evolving threats

This week, The House is at the Halifax Security Forum to talk to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, and the U.S. representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison, about the most pressing security concerns facing the West today.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday. (Virginia Mayo/Associated Press)
Listen to the full episode50:00

Canada and other NATO countries must do more to counter Russia's growing and increasingly sophisticated use of cyber warfare, says the head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

​"This is a constantly evolving threat, and we have to constantly adapt," NATO's Jens Stoltenberg told CBC Radio's The House from the Halifax International Security Forum.

Stoltenberg says the digital threats come in many forms, and can target anybody.

"In some ways, every country is a neighbour of Russia because cyber recognizes no borders, so you might also say that Canada is a neighbour of Russia," Estonia's Defence Minister Jüri Luik told The House in Halifax.

That digital proximity, Luik argued, means that Canada should not be surprised if Russia attempts to mess with the 2019 federal election.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization sits down with The House. (Nick Gamache (CBC))

"There's no doubt at the moment that we're dealing with a Russian government who has a very aggressive approach towards the West. It's not only the Baltic states, but really if you look at what's happening in other countries, in big allied countries, interference in elections, in various referenda, I mean, this is a very aggressive hybrid approach towards the West at large," he added.

"This is not a game, this is serious stuff."

The Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization discusses the Alliance's efforts to adapt the changing and emerging threats. 11:05

Canada's electronic spy agency has already warned that online attempts to influence or undermine the country's electoral process are on the increase — and  that steps must be taken to counter the efforts.

For NATO, the priorities are to protect its own networks and counter disinformation.

When 400 German troops in Lithuania to take part in NATO operations, they faced a series of bogus stories of sexual misconduct aimed at undermining their credibility.

"We have seen that before most of the attacks were on the cyber networks of the NATO headquarters, now we are seeing more attacks against mobile phones of the soldiers," Stoltenberg said.

NATO now considers massive cyberattacks on member nations on the same level as those conducted with bullets and ballistic missiles, but the organization is still adapting.

The Defence Minister Estonia talks about what Canadians need to know about the Russian threat. 9:12

The U.S. priorities for NATO: Russia and counterterrorism

Kay Bailey Hutchison, Permanent Representative, United States Mission to NATO, sits down with The House. (Nick Gamache (CBC))

The United States is not only fully committed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it has several keys priorities for the organization, says the U.S.'s representative to NATO.

Key Bailey Hutchison says Donald Trump has moved beyond the concerns he expressed about the organization during the presidential campaign.

Now the United States has a long to-do list for NATO.

"We have two major priorities," Hutchison told The House.

"One is the deterrence of Russia after 2014 when they illegally invaded Crimea and they are still causing a lot of tension in the Ukraine as well as Georgia," she said.

"And the other is counterterrorism. They are very different threats, but they are common threats to our alliance and all of our members."

Hutchison also told The House that there may be a role for NATO in defusing tensions with North Korea.

Tensions have escalated since North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in early September.

"It's becoming more of a global threat," Hutchison said.

"I think NATO is going to continue to look at this as a potential for us to share."

The Representative of the United States to NATO talks about the biggest threats facing North America. 8:52

Canada in Eastern Europe for the long haul, Defence Minister says

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan sits down with The House. (Nick Gamache (CBC))

Canada's Defence Minister says he's ready to support a long-term presence in Eastern Europe, even it means keeping Canadian boots on the ground for more than a decade.

"Absolutely," Harjit Sajjan told The House.

"The last thing you want is sporadic support," he added.

Canada has committed 450 Canadian troops to the NATO operation created to deter to Russian aggression in the region, that began with the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and continues with the conflict between Russian-backed rebels and Ukraine forces in the eastern part  of that Ukraine.

Several thousand troops operating under the NATO umbrella are currently in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, as well as eastern Poland.

Sajjan, though, ruled out a NATO peacekeeping operation in Ukraine, something the Conservatives have been calling for. 

"The last we want for any proposal is freeze the conflict, and that's exactly what Russia wants," he said.

Canada's Defence Minister discusses peacekeeping, Iraq, Russia, and Canada's ongoing role in NATO. 11:02