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Polish president in Vancouver urges NATO members to adopt war footing

Andrzej Duda expected to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this weekend
Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks with former B.C. premier Christy Clark at event in Vancouver Friday.

Andrzej Duda, the president of Poland, is expected to meet this weekend with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Vancouver Island, and there appears to be just one thing on the Polish president’s mind: war.

At a speech Friday in Vancouver before a small audience of about 100 diplomats, business leaders and global affairs experts, Duda talked about the need for fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members to prepare for war, starting by increasing their defence spending to two to three per cent of GDP, continuing to supply Ukraine with weapons, and ramping up the West’s military industrial capacity.

“Unfortunately, the dark shadow of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine looms, not just over the Transatlantic security, but also over the entire global security system,” Duda said.

Friday’s meeting in Vancouver was sponsored by Resource Works and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He is scheduled to meet this weekend with Trudeau on Vancouver Island.

Earlier this week, on Wednesday, Duda met with Donald Trump, who has criticized “free riding” NATO members like Canada in the past for never meeting the agreed-upon defence spending targets of two per cent of GDP.

Canada's spending on defence has been 1.3 per cent of GDP in recent years. Poland has been spending more than four per cent of its GDP on defence, and has donated entire tank divisions to Ukraine.

Just last week, the federal government announced it will increase military spending by $8.1 billion over five years, which would bring Canada's defence spending to 1.76 per cent of GDP. Part of what is driving that increase is new spending in the federal budget for new F-35 fighter jets, which Canada plans to start taking delivery on in 2026.

Duda has lately been urging fellow NATO members to spend even more on defence than two per cent of GDP, now that there a real risk of Russia’s war with Ukraine spreading to other neighbouring countries – a risk that has resulted in both Sweden and Finland recently joining NATO.

Russia has been waging war with Ukraine for more than two years now, and the Poles are warning that the war could spread.

"If Russia succeeds in Ukraine, it will only become encouraged to challenge NATO," said Wojciech Lorenz, coordinator for the International Security Program at the Polish Institute of International Affairs.

Duda spoke of Russia’s “imperialist mindset” and warned that, if Ukraine falls, Russia will not stop at the Ukraine border with its military expansionism.

“It has, at its core, permanent expansion of the territory at the cost of its neighbours,” Duda said. “It’s a kind of very brutal, and very intensive colonialism close to its borders.”

Ukraine is not a member of NATO – Poland is. And if Poland is pulled into a war with Russia, Article 5 of the NATO pact would require other members of the alliance, including Canada, to aid in its defence.

Canada has roughly 2,000 troops assigned to NATO’s enhanced forward presence (eFP) battle group in Latvia. Both Canada and Poland are part of the Latvia battle group.

Duda suggested the West’s military industrial plant needs to be modernized and increased in capacity.

“We must all individually, but collectively, build powerful armed forces as this will result in the collective security of the alliance," he said.

“Russia never attacks those who are strong.”

In a panel discussion on NATO and the potential for a long war in Europe, Canadians were urged to not be complacent about the threats Canada could face.

For the last two summers, Russia and China have conducted joint naval exercises off the coast of Alaska, noted Ian Brodie, former chief of staff for Stephen Harper and current program director for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“If it’s off the coast of Alaska, it’s off the coast of British Columbia,” Brodie said. “We have two -- soon to be three -- large ports on the West Coast, once Kitimat is up and exporting natural gas. These Chinese and Russian navy exercises in the very north stretch of the Pacific…are also just off the coast of our three ports that face across the Pacific.

“So while I think it’s important to understand Poland and other countries on the eastern side have a front-line exposure to the Russian army, we’re exposed as well here.

“If the trendline continues, this summer’s exercises will put more Chinese and Russian ships off the coast of Alaska – and therefore off the coast of Canada – than we have based in the west coast navy in Canada. It’s a development we need to keep our eye on.”

As for contributing to a "war effort," should it come to that, Canada is not a major arms producer. It doesn't produce fighter jets, tanks or guided missile systems. But it could help in a war effort by ramping up its energy and industrial outputs, Brodie said. 

"We could drill or mine for everything that's needed for a war effort in Canada," he said. "If you need to fight a war, British Columbia and Alberta alone have everything you need. Add in Quebec and Ontario and the rest of the country, we have everything that you need. We have the people that are needed to produce that in industrial quantities. We need the kick in the pants to do it."

Poland is also interested in Canadian nuclear energy expertise. Poland, which relies on coal power for much of its electricity production, has contracted Westinghouse to build three nuclear power plants for the country.

“A lot of Canadian companies work with Westinghouse as well to provide parts for the nuclear reactors, so I think that will be a great opportunity to see Canada and Poland working together in that sphere as well,” said Pawel Markiewicz, executive director for of the Washington-based Polish Institute of International Affairs.

“Beside the three large nuclear reactors are the small modular reactors, which is something that’s also well-developed here in Canada and something that Poland wants to add into that mix.”

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