U.S. increases its firepower in eastern Europe as Canada signs deal to bolster NATO presence in Latvia

U.S. President Joe Biden announced that thousands of additional troops, as well as more aircraft and anti-aircraft systems, are headed for Europe to bolster existing defences as NATO goes through its biggest organization since the Cold War. Canada has signed a deal, however, with Latvia to bolster NATO's presence in Latvia.

Permanent U.S. Army headquarters announced for Poland amid Russian threat

Canada to add troops as NATO boosts European presence

3 months ago
Duration 2:01
Canada will increase the number of its troops in Latvia as NATO increases its presence in Europe and the U.S. sends ships to Spain.

The United States opened the NATO leaders summit in Madrid on Wednesday by putting some serious firepower on the table to bolster the alliance's defences throughout Europe while Canada separately signed a declaration with Latvia to increase the Western military alliance's presence in the country.

How many additional Canadian troops will be dispatched to the Baltic country — or whether they will come from other allied nations — is unclear. The deal was hastily signed Wednesday afternoon.

Both the secretary general of NATO and Estonia's prime minister thanked Canada publicly and through Twitter for its additional support before the agreement was formally announced to Canadians.

Defence Minister Anita Anand described the declaration as a first step and said consultation with the nine other nations that makeup the Canadian-led multinational battle group will be needed to determine who can contribute what to bulking up the force to brigade size as NATO has ordered. A brigade can involve anywhere between 3,000 and 6,000 troops depending upon its composition.

"It requires us to enter into conversations with our allies to understand what they can commit respectively, so we can grow this together with our allies," Anand said during a last minute press availability at the summit.

She could not say how long the process will last, nor when the new NATO brigade will be "combat ready."

Both Britain and Germany, before the summit, signalled that they intend to bulk up their contingents in the Baltic states.

The U.S., meanwhile, has a clear sense of what it can offer to NATO's beefed up presence in Eastern Europe.

It will be adding a rotational brigade of troops to Romania where a battle group led by France was recently established, and plans to further bolster contingents in the Baltic states, President Joe Biden told other Western leaders as the meeting opened.

WATCH | NATO secretary general commends quick accession of Sweden, Finland:

NATO chief lauds 'fastest accession process ever' for Finland and Sweden membership

3 months ago
Duration 1:42
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg lauded the quick accession process for Finland and Sweden, saying the historic move demonstrated NATO's doors remain open.

The U.S. will also send two more F-35 squadrons to the United Kingdom and set up surface-to-air defence systems in Germany and Italy. 

Also, significantly, the U.S. will establish a permanent headquarters in Poland for the Fifth Army Corps, which will co-ordinate defence in eastern Europe in the event of further Russian aggression.

"Article Five is sacrosanct," Biden said referring to NATO's self defence clause. "And we mean when we say an attack against one is an attack against all."

The measures announced Wednesday are on top of the existing 100,000 U.S. troops that are already based in Europe.

Russia 'shattered peace'

"In a moment where [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has shattered peace in Europe and attacked the very, very tenets of the rule-based order, the United States and our allies — we're stepping up," Biden said at the summit. "The steps we're taking during this summit are going to further augment our collective strength."

NATO leaders are discussing what amounts to a two-step process to bolster the security of its 30 — soon to be 32 — members.

The Western military alliance will beef up existing battle group deployments in the region, making them brigade-sized forces, which run anywhere between 5,000 to 6,000 troops. 

Increasing high-readiness troops

It also plans to have member countries put more forces — 300,000 in all — on high readiness to act as rapid reinforcements for the troops already in the field.

Both the Latvian defence minister and the country's chief of the defence staff praised the agreement with Canada.

Lt.-Gen. Leonid Kalnins said the declaration is much broader than just dropping troops into foxholes.  It will involve working with Canada to get the right equipment to defend his country, things like modern artillery, including rocket-propelled system, known as HIMARS; air defences and anti-ship missiles — all the things Ukraine has asked for in its war with Russia.

"It's not just a question about the number of soldiers," he said. "This is mostly a question about capabilities, what kind of capabilities." 

WATCH | NATO stresses importance of member states' spending contributions:

NATO chief expects all members to meet 2% spending target

3 months ago
Duration 1:37
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the world has become more dangerous, so member nations 'have to be able to increase defence spending' when tensions rise.

Both Spain and Denmark are also major troop contributors alongside Canada in Latvia. 

Trudeau met with Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Wednesday, just ahead of the opening of the summit.

"All Europeans have been surprised and shocked that war is back on the European continent," said Frederiksen.

Following the invasion of Ukraine last winter, Denmark rushed nearly 800 troops to Latvia to reinforce the NATO contingent.

Frederiksen talked of the seriousness of the situation and the need at this moment for allies.

"We really need our friends ... in this situation," she said. "It's a difficult situation for Europe. I think the most important thing to say about the war in Ukraine is that we have to win it and Ukraine has to win it."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears at the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky addressed all 30 leaders — plus new applicants Sweden and Finland, via video link — Wednesday morning.

He said his country needed more weapons and money to defend itself against Russia and warned that Moscow's ambitions will not stop at Ukraine.

"Russia must be isolated. It must not be present in the international bodies that it wants to destroy," Zelensky said.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.