House extra: Canada's top general pushes back against critics of peacekeeping plan

The House brings you a special podcast from the Halifax International Security Forum featuring conversations with Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance, the Chairman of of the Military Committee of NATO Petr Pavel, and Abdullah Abdullah from the Office of the President of Afghanistan.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance speaks to the media at Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday March 29, 2017. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)
Listen to the full episode41:08

Canada's top general is forcefully rejecting the notion that Canada's new peacekeeping commitment isn't in line with the Liberal government's initial promise.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada's Chief of Defence Staff, argues that the plan outlined days ago by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Vancouver is consistent with what was first discussed 14 months ago, when the government committed to providing up to 600 troops and 150 police officers for United Nations operations.

The plan unveiled on Wednesday called for up to 200 ground troops, transport and armed helicopters, cargo planes and military trainers for future United Nations peacekeeping operations.

"There was a tendency to grasp at the number 200: 'Well, they said 600, now it's really 200.' That's not true, that's one smart pledge," Vance told CBC Radio's The House from the Halifax International Security Forum.

Trudeau has said he wants Canada to make "smart pledges" around peacekeeping.

"A mythology was created that had never been part of what we said, had never been a part of a mission description," Vance added.

The government's plan presented this week includes providing equipment, training, and a rapid-response unit of Canadian troops that would be called upon by the United Nations to fill gaps on certain missions.

"We are making these pledges today, because we believe in the United Nations and we believe in peacekeeping," Trudeau said. "What we will do is step up and make the contributions we are uniquely able to provide.".

The government was criticized for seemingly falling short of their initial promise.

Following the announcement, the NDP's foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière told The House that the Liberals had not lived up to their word.

"One has to wonder what they've been doing for the past year," she said.

Her Conservative counterpart Erin O'Toole was also critical.

The plan "was a shameful display of trying to hide a broken promise," he said.

Not so, Vance argues.

He explained that as he was looking at options to present to the government, one of the criteria he was asked to consider was the desire to improve UN performance.

Looked at Mali, but it was not a commitment

"You don't improve UN performance by sending a 600 block of Canadians to one spot and operate there. You'll certainly improve the situation in that area, but Canada has an aspiration to improve the institution across multiple missions," he told host Chris Hall.

Vance also rejected the popular notion that was circulating prior to the announcement that Canadian troops were going to deployed to the West African nation of Mali.

He says the military did carry out research on a variety of options and locations, and that created a lot of noise in the media.

But the country's top general says that once you factor in the various quick-response deployments and training missions, Canada's new peacekeeping blueprint will live up to what the Liberals first put on the table.

"There will be 600… very likely 600 troops deployed doing that," he said.

Canada’s top general is forcefully rejecting the notion that Canada’s new peacekeeping commitment isn’t in line with the Liberal government’s initial promise. 13:59

NATO keeping closer eye on the north Atlantic

NATO is adapting its command structure to keep a closer eye on the north Atlantic, with reports surfacing about increased Russian submarine activity in that region. 

"If we see increased intensity of Russian maritime activities in the north Atlantic, in the Arctic, we have to think about what kind of measures we'll have to take," Petr Pavel, the Chairman of the Military Committee for NATO, told The House.

Pavel also pointed out that strategic commanders recently identified gaps that, and he said those are being addressed.

There's a "new command to deal with Trans Atlantic issues," he said.

Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Czech General Petr Pavel. (Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press)

He pointed out that the protection of sea lines of communications between Europe and North America has been critical to NATO since its creation, and remains a something of fundamental importance to Europe.

The Chairman of the Military Committee of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization discusses the state of NATO and its biggest challenges. 10:59

That's on top of having to deal with emerging threats, such as cyberattacks.

​"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.

Afghanistan looking to Canada for training help

One of Afghanistan's top leaders is seeking additional help from Canada to help train Afghan troops.

Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who runs the country along with President Ashraf Ghani, was attending the Halifax International Security Forum where he sat down with The House.

On top of the ongoing development and humanitarian assistance from Canada, Abdullah asked Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan for help training Afghan forces, potentially in Canada or in Afghanistan.

He presented the idea of supporting "for our own military academies in Kabul."

"My sense was positive," he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, left, and Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah between sessions at the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, July 8, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"I didn't feel it was a no go."

The Trudeau government rejected a NATO request earlier this summer to take on a training role in Afghanistan.

"There are absolutely no plans to send any troops back to Afghanistan," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the time. "We have served there with distinction, with valour, over 10 years and made a significant impact."

Abdullah argued that his country has become less of priority, with the situations in Syria and Iraq taking precedence for many Western countries.

Abdullah Abdullah from the Office of the President of Afghanistan sits down with The House. 14:39