Canada has been an active participant in NATO assurance measures in Central and Eastern Europe, introduced in April 2014. The total budget of the Canadian army is about 18,6 billion Canadian dollars (€12.6 billion). Canada has a total military reserve force of about 50,000, and 50% are considered primary reserve. Canada has the world’s second-largest landmass but in terms of population and GDP, the country is about 10% of the USA.
We meet Canadian Major Eric Beauchamp in the offices of Jeanette Stovel, the Canadian Chargé d’Affaires in Vilnius. Major Eric Beauchamp is the Canadian Commander of Operation Reassurance, the Land Task Force in Central and Eastern Europe.
As a member of the distinguished Canadian Royal 22 Regiment based in Val Cartier, Québec, Major Beauchamp assumed the six-month duties of the commander for a unit based at the Drawsko Pomorskie in north-west Poland. From these Polish facilities, where the troops engage in bilateral exercises, the Canadians travel to participate in exercises in other peripheral NATO states.
Since early May, exercise ‘Hunter’ is taking place in Lithuania and the Major is on a visit. ‘Hunter’ is a NATO multinational anti-tank exercise and part of the assurance measure of NATO in Central and Eastern Europe.
Lithuania Tribune: What role has Canada played as part of NATO in Lithuania?
Major Beauchamp: We have been present here in Europe for two years. Although we are based in Poland, we travel a lot to various countries to participate in all small and larger exercises, such as the present one in Pabrabė. We aim to increase the visibility and resolve that we want to support. We need to demonstrate that we (in NATO) work together well and that when a call is made, we can respond fast and well.
The future is at the planning level where it will be decided to maintain present size or increase the number of troops involved. That planning is at the top level, including with the elected government officials, and we should have these answers soon, perhaps around the time of the Warsaw Summit, but unfortunately, we do not have details at this moment.
Jeanette Stovel: We can say that there are at this moment 45 Canadian soldiers participating in the anti-tank Exercise Hunter in Pabrabė and there will be Canadian soldiers participating in military exercise ‘Iron Sword‘ in November. That will also take place in Pabrabė.
LT: Can you say something more about the specific role that Canada fulfils?
Major Beauchamp: At this moment we are focussing more on the land component, we also have a maritime component. On the land component, we are interacting with other armies. Equipment and procedures may be different and the level of experience of each army is different. Canada’s army is a professional army (has no conscripts) and we are good at what we do. We like to share our knowledge and that is a large part of Canada’s contribution. We are a relatively small army, too, but at the level of soldiers, every army likes to work with Canadian soldiers, and that we like.
Lithuanians should know that Canadians are happy to be here and although it has been a long time that Canada has been in this part of the world. Our soldiers are proud to do this. They have a good feeling what is going on and they want to contribute to the global security. We have no problems finding volunteers in our ranks to come here on duty and we can easily find more troops if needed.
LT: Many Lithuanians may equate NATO with the USA, why is that?
Major Beauchamp: The Americans are contributing a lot in terms of people and money, but NATO is more than the US, although most of the other armies are small in comparison. These other countries, small and medium-sized, want to be involved and are proud to be participating.
Jeanette Stovel: All the decisions are made collectively, so it is collective defence and decision. It is not the Americans deciding for everybody what is going to happen with NATO, it is a collective decision-making process.
LT: We always hear about the millions, billions, and big figures that the US army deploys in Central and Eastern Europe. What are Canada’s contributions in Europe in dollars and cents and in terms of boots on the ground?
Major Beauchamp: We have last year’s figures with about 40.5 million Canadian dollars (about €27.5 million). We do not have precise figures for this year yet. Here in Europe, we have 230 soldiers assigned to the Operation Reassurance that includes one of our navy vessels. That ship has been re-assigned at this moment to the Mediterranean to help with the refugee crisis.
Jeanette Stovel: That recent reassignment of the ship is part of the many challenges that NATO often faces simultaneously.
LT: What is Canada’s contribution to the NATO Force Integration Unit, based in Vilnius?
Major Beauchamp: There are three Canadians working there (out of a staff of about 100). This unit is still in the start-up phase, all these people are putting systems into place, and that (unit) will involve a large number of armies.
We as a Land Task forces are mainly contributing in the exercises, upon the invitation of the local Lithuanian Army and that gives us a chance to participate. That is all the resold of the collective planning, and then a calendar of exercises is prepared.
Individual armies then decide in which exercises to participate. Therefore, we need to select, although we Canadians like to be everywhere. We work in Canada, but we also participate in all other periphery (NATO) countries.
LT: Shortly after the NATO meeting in Wales two years ago, there was a lot of tough talk addressed to Putin’s Russia with warnings about red lines not to be crossed. Shortly thereafter, Russian security people threw a smoke bomb across the Estonian border and kidnapped an Estonian border guard. Where are the real red lines?
Major Beauchamp: That is a very difficult question.
Jeanette Stovel: That is indeed a very difficult question to answer. All NATO allies are committed to Article 5, which is the governing principle that when a government requests assistance, then all NATO allies stand by and ready to assist. In that (Estonian) case, it was an individual case, the Estonian government did not invoke Article 5 and did not request assistance.
LT: Russian airplanes have been crossing into West and Nordic European countries with transponders shut. More recently, there have been a number of incidents with planes ‘barrel rolling’ around US navy ships in the Baltic Sea. During the Cold War, incidents with Russian planes returning home from Cuba, ‘clipping corners’ into Canadian airspace happened frequently. What is your view, as a Canadian Land Commander, about these Russian provocations?
Major Beauchamp: To be honest, at this moment we do not feel as Canadians we do not feel this pressure. It is hard for us to assess. Wherever we go, we do not go against Russia, but (we go) to make NATO stronger. We all have some pressure on us and we do hear stories from other countries, but we never experienced it. We do not feel directly provoked. We have now been present here for 2.5 years and nothing has happened where Canada is involved. It might be different, here more north, but we have participated in exercises in Poland and Romania and none of our troops have experienced incidents.
Jeanette Stovel: It is fair to say that Canada, like all our NATO allies, is very concerned about the safety of air traffic and of our troops that are in and around the region, therefore any activity that could result in accidental loss of life would be tragic.
LT: Many Lithuanians feel that the threat of a Russian invasion is never too far away. How real is that fear?
Major Beauchamp: We feel that (fear) when we speak with people in the streets and talking to the (local) army personal. Army personal (seem to) have all the scenarios in their head. For them it is real and we can feel it. It is different from one country to another, but especially in the Baltics we feel it and it is all the same fear. In Poland, that fear is also present, particularly with business people. They tell us that they save their money and are afraid to lose what they have. Nobody wants to go back to the ‘old (Soviet) times’. The fear is (indeed) often expressed.
LT: What is a higher priority for NATO and US allies: Syria, where Russia is also a big player, or preventing further escalation of Putin’s dream to restore the Soviet Empire?
Major Beauchamp: At our level that is hard to say. That is a very difficult question.
Jeanette Stovel: I would say that there is not a hierarchy of priorities. What we see for NATO is a big picture, and I do not speak for NATO, but it is my understanding of it, is that we have many crises. That is our big challenge, we have many competing challenges. Sometimes these challenges require action in one direction, but it does not lessen the other priorities.
LT: There is a lot of anticipation in Lithuania for the next NATO summit this year in Warsaw. What is it that you are looking forward to as a realistic or ideal outcomes from this summit?
Major Beauchamp: As Jeanette said earlier, we still do not know our government’s priorities and where they will be going. We have some indication that this (region) is a priority and we are still waiting. From a military point of view, we like to see more resources here, but I cannot answer for the political side of this. I do see a willingness to help more. We are a small army.
LT: I understand for Canada, but what about NATO as a whole, what results do you expect?
Major Beauchamp: At this moment we can see an increase (of presence) coming to the Eastern side. For a long time, there was a presence to the West. We see this also on the part of the Americans. We see a desire on most countries to put more troops (here).
LT: Any thoughts on combating hybrid warfare in the framework of the Warsaw summit?
Major Beauchamp: We also see these stories about hybrid warfare and we should be better at combating that. It should be part of what we need to do. Canada plans to do more in that area.
Jeanette Stovel: We are not au courant of what they are going to discuss in Warsaw, but I think what we can say is, that we think they are seeking an agreement as an alliance on the way forward and how we can keep this region safer and that we as an alliance agree on that, because it is not always that all members have the same point of view and with competing priorities.