November 19, 2017 11:47 am
Updated: November 19, 2017 6:42 pm

The West Block, Season 7, Episode 11

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, November 19, 2017. Hosted by Vassy Kapelos.



Episode 11, Season 7

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Senator Jeanne Shaheen,

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan

Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Good morning, it’s Sunday November 19th. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.

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We’re here in Halifax covering the Halifax International Security Forum, where more than 70 leaders and decision-makers have gathered to discuss and debate the state of security in our world. One of those leaders is NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. We had a chance to sit down with him and he has some pretty pointed words for the Canadian government. Have a listen.

Well, thank you so much Secretary General for joining us on the program, it’s great to have you. Does Canada spend enough on defence?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Canada is spending more than it did before, and I welcome very much the strong commitment of Canada to significantly increase spending in the coming years and they have seen a significant increase this year. Canada, as many other NATO allies, reduced spending on the fence after the end of the Cold War and that was quite natural because then tensions went down. But now, tensions are increasing again and therefore we have to again, invest more in defence.

Vassy Kapelos: The goal or the target that many NATO allies set back in 2014 was 2 per cent of GDP. Even with the pledge to increase spending in Canada, the target we will hit is only 1.4 per cent of GDP by 2025. Does that disappoint you?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I have underlined many, many times that burden-sharing within the lines is partly about spending and spending is important, but it’s also about contributions to NATO missions and operations and the output of what we invest in defence. And Canada has stepped up its contributions to NATO missions and operations, and Canada has many high end deployable capabilities which are high value for NATO, so I of course very much like to see even more spending. But I welcome also very much the fact that Canada has increased and has also started to deliver even more contributions to NATO missions and operations.

Vassy Kapelos: What is the consequence because we talk a lot about the spending and how much countries are spending? What is the consequence of not having the level of burden-sharing that you’re talking about?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: It will undermine the solidarity and the unity of the alliance, and NATO is the most successful military alliance in history because of unity, because we have been able to stand together based on the principle one for all, all for one. And that has kept us all safe for almost seven decades, because any potential adversary knows that an attack on all NATO allies will trigger the response from the whole alliance. And to be able to continue to be united, to continue to say that we protect each other, we need fair burden-sharing. And those countries that are spending 2 per cent or more on defence, of course it’s absolutely understandable that they are calling on all the others to step up.

Vassy Kapelos: So applying the pressure is working?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Yes, but I think the reality is that we speak about political leaders who are in the same room and promised that they should step up. And European allies and Canada are now stepping up with more spending, but also with more military presence. Canada and the U.S., is increasing their military presence in Europe and European allies are also stepping up when it comes to defence spending and capabilities. And you have to remember that strong NATO is of course good for Europe, but it’s also good for North America. The only time we have invoked Article 5 or the collected defence clause was after an attack on the United States, 9-11, and hundreds of thousands of Canadian and European soldiers have fought alongside U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan as a direct response to terrorist attack on the United States, which shows that yes, NATO is extremely important for European allies, but NATO is also important for North America.

Vassy Kapelos: Let me ask you about Afghanistan because I know NATO has announced its intention to send an additional 3,000 troops there. Will you be making an ask of Canada to contribute to that?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We are welcoming contributions from all NATO allies, and of course we are also welcoming any contributions from Canada.

Vassy Kapelos: Specifically troops, though? Are you looking for that?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: But we are in dialogue with all NATO allies, but I’m not going into the details on what kind of asks we have from the different allies. I think the best way to approach allies is to sit down with them and discuss potential contributions. Canada has contributed for many, many years to our mission in Afghanistan and Canada is not present now. And several Canadians lost their lives in Afghanistan. What NATO has decided as the alliance is that we will continue to be there because for NATO it is extremely important that Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for international terrorists, once again.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to move to North Korea. I know you were recently in Japan and South Korea. When speaking with people there, what is your sense of how real the threat from North Korea is to them?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: This is a real threat but it is a threat that has been there for a long time, especially for people living in that region. What is of great concern is that North Korea has stepped up its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and also long range missiles which will be able to hit cities in North America and in Europe. And therefore we have to put maximum pressure on North Korea with diplomatic means, with political means, but especially with economic sanctions. And the good news is that the UN Security Council agreed on tougher economic sanctions in September and that the sanctions are now implemented to a higher degree than we have seen before and this is then increasing the pressure on North Korea. We have to make sure that they stop developing nuclear weapons, stop developing the missiles and engage in a constructive dialogue to de-nuclearize North Korea.

Vassy Kapelos: Who should be leading the charge when you talk about upping the pressure?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Well, there is something called a six-party format, which is a group of nations which has negotiated and talked with North Korea before. What I welcome now is that the UN is again playing a key role. We have the decisions in the UN Security Council and we see that China is playing an even more active role in trying to find a solution. China supported stronger economic sanctions in September. China is a permanent member of the Security Council. China is also a neighbour or North Korea and China has also now sent an envoy to North Korea to try to convey a clear message from the international community. So, the whole international community has a responsibility, but I think especially China being a neighbour and a permanent member of the Security Council, gives China a special responsibility and a special role to play.

Vassy Kapelos: And just before we go, I want to ask you. I have to ask you about the role Donald Trump plays in all of this because there’s a lot of attention being paid to the rhetoric he’s using. He’s calling Kim Jong-un short a fat in a tweet. Should he be doing that?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: President Trump has a strong language and that’s the way he expresses his political opinions. What matters for me and Secretary General NATO is that NATO is united in our approach to North Korea and the missile and nuclear threats, meaning that we are seeking a peaceful negotiated solution. But to achieve a peaceful negotiated solution, we need maximum pressure on North Korea, especially with the economic sanctions.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay. We’ll leave it there. Thank you very much, sir. I appreciate your time today.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, what’s really behind Russia’s interference in the American election? We’ll ask a U.S. senator to get her take. That’s coming up, after the break.


Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. It’s not easy to make sense of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump’s relationship, or Russia’s interference in the American election. U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, was the first senator to call for public hearings into Russia’s interference and she doesn’t want Donald Trump to go easy on Putin. Here’s our conversation.

Senator, it’s wonderful to have you here. Thanks so much for your time, I appreciate it.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen: It’s wonderful to be here in Halifax.

Vassy Kapelos: I wanted to start off by asking you, you are the very first senator who called for a public inquiry into Russia’s interference in the American election. Why were you prepared to make that call before so many others?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen: Well I had gotten some of the early reports that suggested that they had hacked into election systems and states in the U.S. And I thought we needed to begin investigating as soon as possible before the election to see if we could take measures to try and prevent any damage they might do. Sadly, we’re hearing now, as the result of hearings and investigations, that the interference in our elections was much more widespread than even we believed.

Vassy Kapelos: Are you surprised by how widespread it appears to be? Did you think it would be that much?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen: You know, the more I investigated and learned about what was going on, the more I’ve learned about what they’ve been doing in other European countries. It’s not surprising. It’s disturbing and it’s the reason why we need to take action so that they understand that they’re going to be held accountable for what they’ve done.

Vassy Kapelos: When you talk about action, specifically as it relates to this epidemic of fake news that has become a big part of the story, how difficult is it to balance the type of action you want to pursue versus censorship and the idea of freedom of speech?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen: Well first of all, one of the things that the Congress did was impose sanctions that had overwhelming bipartisan support. So those are sanctions that are on the Russian economy and on individuals, and we need to very strongly enforce those sanctions. And I think there are other ways in which one of the things we heard at today’s panel was looking at increased financial sanctions to address money that’s coming in from oligarchs in Russia who are really supporting what Putin is doing. So I think that was very important.

Vassy Kapelos: What about when it comes to fake news, though? Is there a strategy that your country or ours even, could employ to mitigate some of the action that has been taken in that respect?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen: You know, I think we need to work on that. I introduced legislation that would address RT and Sputnik, two Russians channels that are funded by the Russian government that have direct links to make sure that they have to register in the United States so that people know who’s funding them and the fact that they are a propaganda tool of the Russian government. I think we need to think about ways in which we require disclosure for what’s happening. There’s legislation in the U.S. Congress now for social media that would say if you took out ads and you were the Russian government or some other government that you would have to disclose who’s paying for those ads. So that’s one thing that I think we can probably all agree on that disclosure, transparency, the more we can do of that, the better. The challenge is with the fake news arena and how do we address the disinformation. And as you point out, in a free society where we believe in freedom of speech, that’s more challenging and it’s something I think we have to continue to work on.

Vassy Kapelos: When American intelligence agencies originally presented their assessment that there was interference in the election, they refrained from saying whether it affected the outcome of the election. How difficult do you think that will be to prove?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen: Well, it’s not clear yet. I’m not sure that we’ll ever know the extent to which they influenced the outcome of the election. The investigation continues to look for ways in which the Trump campaign and members of the White House staff may have colluded with Russia on the activities. And that’s part of what’s still being investigated.

Vassy Kapelos: Does it matter if the outcome was affected? Or is what’s most important the fact that it happened?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen: I think the most important thing at this point is trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And that’s why getting the background on what happened, how it happened, gives us the best information that we can to prevent it from happening in the future. And I think as we’ve learned more and more, we’ve discovered that it wasn’t just about the last election. This is a deliberate tool that’s being used by the Russian government to undermine western democracies. So it happened in the United States. It happened in England with Brexit. It happened in Spain very recently with Caledonia and their efforts to leave the rest of Spain. It’s happening across Europe, in the Balkans. So we have to recognize that that’s what’s happening and prepare not just as individual countries, but as an alliance with NATO in every way that we can to understand that this is another way that Russia is using to undermine the West.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to ask you about Donald Trump because it’s hard to talk about Russia without asking about him and his relationship with Vladimir Putin. I want to read something, a quote of his, when he said, “It doesn’t make sense not to have some kind of relationship with Russia. We’re a tremendous nuclear power and so are they.” Does he have a point?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen: Well, I think most people who have looked at the relationship with Russia understand that we should try and have lines of communication with Russia. Now my argument is not with the Russian people, it is with Vladimir Putin with what he’s doing through the Kremlin, with what he’s doing in his own country around human rights for individual Russians, what he’s doing in countries across Europe. And so I think that’s the argument that we have. Are there things that we should be cooperating on? The answer is yes, of course.

Vassy Kapelos: Finally, when President Trump said that he believed Vladimir Putin very recently that there was no interference in the election, what was your reaction?

Senator Jeanne Shaheen: I don’t believe Vladimir Putin, and you would have to be naïve to believe that he’s going to admit to what they’ve done. But we have, on the one hand, President Trump saying oh, I believe Vladimir Putin. And on the other hand, we have 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that have all come to the same conclusion. So, I think it’s very clear that Russia interfered in our elections.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay. Thanks very much for your time, senator, wonderful to have you here. Thank you.

Still to come, will Canada intervene in the brewing battle between the Iraqi government and the Kurds? We’ll ask the defence minister after the break.


Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. One hundred and fifty Canadian Special Forces are in a holding pattern in Northern Iraq. They were deployed there originally to train Kurdish forces to fight ISIS, but then the Kurds voted for independence from Iraq. Ever since then, they’ve been embroiled in a bitter, at times, violent internal battle with the Iraqi government centred in Baghdad, and Canada is caught in the middle. So will we intervene? Here’s the defence minister.

Thank you so much for joining us, minister—great to have you on the show.

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Thanks for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: I wanted to start off by asking about our country’s role in Iraq. We’re hearing from Kurdish officials that they want Canada to intervene and sort of mediate, bring both Baghdad and the Kurds to the table together. Are you willing to perform that role?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: When I was at NATO, and on the margins we have, the wider counter Daesh meeting and all the defence ministers were given an update. And we were told that the discussions were actually going well, so that’s good to hear.

Vassy Kapelos: So just to be clear, your information is that the talks between Baghdad and the Kurds are going well?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Yes, that’s from our gathering. The discussions have gone well. Hopefully that that will continue and we’re encouraged by that, but we’re always ready to provide any type of support that is necessary. But our number one mission was always to making sure that Daesh was defeated. Ninety-five per cent of the territory has been retaken, but what we want to focus on is the capacity building, making sure that the Iraq security forces have the ability to deal with any type of threats of the future. And the last thing we want is conditions to be set again for a group like this to be reconstituted or a new version of it created.

Vassy Kapelos: So can you qualify what you mean by support? Do you support the Kurds bid for independence?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Well for us, we’re not going to be diving into the internal issues and we’ve been very clear about this. Any type of support that we provide has been in consultation with the Iraqi government. Our work that we have done with the Peshmerga was in the same way.

Vassy Kapelos: So the Canadian government doesn’t have an official position on Kurdish independence?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Right now we’re encouraged that the Iraqi government and the Kurds will be able to resolve this and hopefully do something to encourage them to do so.

Vassy Kapelos: Does that mean that you hope that the Kurds stay?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Kurds stay in–?

Vassy Kapelos: Within Iraq or–?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: That’s a decision that we’re going to have to make. For us to be able to take any sides here, it would be inappropriate. We want to encourage unity. And the unity is to making sure what the coalition is there for, is to defeat Daesh and preventing any type of a situation like this from reoccurring again.

Vassy Kapelos: The Special Forces mission in that part of Iraq has been suspended. At what point or what criteria do you have for lifting that suspension?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Well I’m still waiting for the situation to be, I guess, materialized that both the Iraqi government and the Kurds are able to work things out amongst themselves. We don’t want to—

Vassy Kapelos: What does that look like, though?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: It’s hard to say right now exactly what it’s going to look like. What we were doing before, for example, any type of support that we provided with the Peshmerga was always with the approval of the Iraqi government and we’ll continue to do that. So we’re going to work within. I’m very proud of the work that has been accomplished. To bring the country 95 per cent free of Daesh is a very big accomplishment and that’s what we want to do is making sure that all parties remain focused on the mission at hand because at the end of the day, if any type of disunity at the early stages—you know, it potentially allows for any type of radical group or a new version of Daesh from being created.

Vassy Kapelos: Is that suspension indefinite? Are you reviewing it, you know, on a weekly basis how long does it go on for?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: We get briefed on it regularly. Any time the situation changes I get briefed up.

Vassy Kapelos: If six months from now, though, for example, we’re in the same place and there is still no resolution. Do those 150 men and women stay there or do they come back home?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: We can’t make that decision. It’s hard to say about six months from now. Things could be changing within the next week or month. So it’s hypothetical situations that you can’t really answer those types of questions, but we’re monitoring the situation. Nonetheless, we’ve already made the changes to the contribution. For example, we made adjustments very early on. Hence the reason why we have our counter ID folks on the ground helping to train the Iraqi security forces to deal with a horrible threat that’ll not only save the Iraqi security forces lives but civilians as well.

Vassy Kapelos: Before we go, I just want to switch to the peacekeeping announcement you made last week. When will Canadians know where our troops are being deployed?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Well, I can’t give you an answer just exactly on that. We’ll continue our discussions with the leadership at the UN. The military is also doing their prudent planning. Plus, it’s not just a military portion where we’re going to be going. We need to also assess the wider integrated whole of government approach. Can it have that type of impact? So, we have to look at the timelines. We have to look at the type of affect that we can have, but we’ll work with the UN. But I can’t give you a timeline exactly when it’s needed because it’s more pledges, not about getting in as quickly as possible. It’s about filling the capability gaps so that current peacekeeping missions themselves can all have a consistent amount of resources moving forward. So even when you make those decisions, it’s about coming in at the right time.

Vassy Kapelos: So you’re internally not even working within a specific timeline.

Minister Harjit Sajjan: No, we don’t have any exact timeline to say we must get this done because that wouldn’t be responsible.

Vassy Kapelos: It’s been over a year since you made the initial announcement. Could it be another year before we know where anyone’s going?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: No, I think what you’ll see is from the more pledging side of things. We’re going to be looking at where those gaps are because the missions themselves have certain resources. We need to assess what are those types of gaps and do our capabilities that we’re offering up, can they fill those gaps? So those are the types of things. We can’t give you an exact timeframe.

Vassy Kapelos: Will there be people deployed, men and women, from Canada before the end of your mandate?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: I can’t give you an exact timeframe. We will have people deployed. Canadians expect us to make sure we get involved properly with the peace support operations, but they want to make sure that we get this right.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay. Thanks for your time, minister.

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Great, thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: Appreciate it.

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Thanks.

Vassy Kapelos: Enjoy the conference.

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Thanks.

Vassy Kapelos: That’s our show for today. I’m Vassy Kapelos. We’ll be back in Ottawa next Sunday, hope you can join us then. Have a great day.

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